After 25 years of lecturing on happiness, writing a book on the subject (“Happiness Is a Serious Problem”) and devoting an hour of my radio show every week for the last 13 years to happiness, here are some conclusions about who is happy.
People who control themselves.
Happiness is dependent on self-discipline. We are the biggest obstacles to our own happiness. It is much easier to do battle with society and with others than to fight our own nature.
People who are given little and earn what they have.
That is why lottery winners are rarely happier than those who have far less money — they didn’t earn their newfound wealth. And they are often less happy after their win than they were before it.
So, too, those who get used to receiving unearned material benefits (such as government entitlements) are likely to be unhappier than they were before receiving those benefits — and much less happy than those who have earned whatever they have. That is why the entrepreneur who has worked day and night for years is usually happier than the person who inherited vast wealth.
People who do not see themselves or their group as victims.
Virtually every person can legitimately see himself as a victim — of an unloving upbringing; of bullies in school; of a loveless, or just plain bad, marriage; of financial problems; of membership in a victim group; of health problems; and of so much else. But however valid the fact of one’s victimhood, perceiving oneself primarily as victim is the road to misery.
If the primary conclusion you have reached after years of therapy is that you are a victim, you really are a victim — of lousy therapy.
The post-’60s labeling as victims of virtually everyone except WASP males (blacks, women and Hispanics, etc.) has exponentially increased unhappiness in America.
People who rarely complain.
Complaining not only ruins everybody else’s day, it ruins the complainer’s day, too. The more we complain, the more unhappy we get. Want to raise children who will be happy adults? Teach them not to whine.
People who have close friends.
Close friends not only prolong people’s lives; but on a day-to-day basis they contribute more to most adults’ happiness than even their children do. From their teenage years on, children are considerably more capable of causing parents unhappiness than bringing them happiness. That is one reason parents who rely on their children for happiness make both their children and themselves miserable.
People who are in a good marriage.
A good marriage — having a real partner in life — is so contributive to happiness that it is almost enough. Almost.
People who act happy.
A fundamental rule of life is that the deed shapes feelings more than feelings shape deeds. We feel what we act. Act loving, and you’ll feel loving. Act happy, and you’ll feel happy, or at least much happier than if you don’t act happy. The notion that acting happy when we don’t feel happy is “inauthentic” is foolish.
People who aren’t envious.
No matter how little or how much one has, envy destroys happiness. We naturally envy those who have more money or a nicer home, and those we think have better kids, better spouses or better jobs. But the fact is that we almost never know the pain and suffering of anyone we envy. As a wise woman said to me when I was in high school, “The only happy people I know are people I don’t know well.”
The next time you envy another person’s life, just remember that you don’t know anything about their inner demons, their childhood, their battles with life. Even friends often know little about their friends’ marital problems. The unhappy think that those who walk around with a happy disposition have had less pain than they. They’re almost always wrong.
People who don’t have high self-esteem.
Low self-esteem doesn’t contribute to happiness, and some self-esteem can add to one’s happiness. But high self-esteem contributes to unhappiness. People with high self-esteem rarely have close friends. First, almost no one is good enough for them. Second, such people are usually insufferable, and while they attract sycophants, they repel friends. Self-respect, not self-esteem, should be the goal.
People who have few expectations.
The more we expect, the less happy we will be — because the more we expect, the less grateful we are for what we receive. And ingratitude is the mother of unhappiness.
People who are grateful.
Gratitude is the mother of happiness.
Dennis Prager hosts a nationally syndicated radio talk show and is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He is the author of four books, most recently “Happiness Is a Serious Problem” (HarperCollins). His website is DennisPrager.com.