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ARE YOU TRULY HAPPY?

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Depending on when in history the question above is asked, it would mean something very different.

Today, we live in a time where our overall health, opportunities, and options would be considered nothing less than miraculous to our ancestors. Practical knowledge of how our choices, thoughts, and habits affect our own experience allows us to be active participants in our own happiness in ways that would have likely mystified most people through history.

The Ancient Greeks would say that we, as a culture, are incalculably lucky or blessed. I think most of us would acknowledge that, but we would also think that the creative acts of relatively free, conscious people had something to do with our blessings as well. In a way that the Ancients could not fathom, we have today the potential to more actively pursue the virtues that bring greater happiness.

Herodotus (484-425 BC), in his book The Histories, explores the meaning of happiness in the interchange between Croesus, the wealthy and powerful king of Lydia, and the sage Solon, lawgiver and traveler from Athens.

Croesus asks Solon, “Who is the happiest man in the world?” Believing that he is that man, Croesus is really just asking for confirmation of his belief.

To his dismay, Solon tells him that the happiest man is actually an Athenian named Tellus. While Croesus possessed great wealth and treasure, Tellus had lived a good life, with healthy children and grandchildren, at a time when his city was prospering, and then he died gloriously in battle, for which he was richly honored.

In a day and age where, even in the best of times, life was still nasty, brutish and short, the measure of a happy life was one that was endured well. At a time when most children would die within their first few years, and war and violence were much more pervasive than they are today, to last through adulthood, achieving some success and ending in a noble death was happiness.

The measure of happiness in those times was not something that people would assess during life, but only when the race was finished. As Solon says to Croesus, “…but before he dies, refrain from calling him [happy] – one should rather call him lucky.”

Happiness in the sense that Croesus was experiencing , described with the words albios, and makarios, was a matter of having been blessed – favored by the gods, enjoying prosperity and avoiding suffering.

This meaning of happiness stays with us when we imagine how happy we would be, “if only….” “If only I could own that house….” “If only I had a million dollars in the bank….” “If only I could go on that great trip… then I’d be really happy!”

Even the word eudaimonia, which I have referred to elsewhere as “success at being human,” generally meant having a good daimon or guiding spirit. One can imagine jiminy cricket with more gravitas, or the proverbial angel on one’s shoulder – a benevolent spirit that steers us toward good through our own actions.

This still puts the thoughts, choices, and actions that can lead to happiness outside of our own direction, outside of our own personal agency.

It was Aristotle, in his Nichomachean Ethics, who brought eudaimonia, and therefore happiness, into the sphere of one’s own initiative.

In contrast to his great teacher, Plato, who sought understanding of a greater reality behind and beyond our earthly experience, Aristotle sought to explore our earthly experience as fully as was possible.

In most of his theories of the natural world, by our present day knowledge, he was pretty far off. But his observations in the Nicomachean Ethics have held up remarkably well, and this work can be seen as the philosophical foundation of the field of positive psychology.

Further, the research today regarding what we can actively do to improve our overall well-being is impressive – even compared with a couple of decades ago, much less the approximately 2,500 years since Aristotle.

That same research has shown us, for example, that while positive emotions are indeed part of an overall happy life, a focus on hedonism, searching for pleasure or excitement in the moment, is not the path to a happy life over time. We are back to Aristotle’s conception of eudaimonia: success at being human – but with a great deal more specific understanding.

Practicing behaviors such as responding to people when they ask for our attention; performing kind acts; redirecting our emotions – particularly anger – rather than indulging in them; and actively, purposefully, and consciously striving for virtues such as self-discipline, integrity, empathy, gratitude, forgiveness, and earned success, are some of the ways to build a life that is worth living, a life that you can be happy about; a life you can be proud of.

I’ve spent decades – my entire adult life, in fact – studying, writing, lecturing, and counseling clients about mastering this more meaningful quality of happiness. While I strive to fill my books, articles, and lectures with practical and effective ideas, I’ve finally created something that is much more comprehensive: A Master’s Course in Happiness.

A Master’s Course in Happiness is a monthly, in-depth program to help you actively, purposefully, and effectively live a happier, more fulfilling life. What you will learn in this course are the skills and principles that are the common denominator for self mastery across all of the circumstances and personalities I have ever worked with.

A Master’s Course in Happiness is designed to give you all that I can offer in a course. I haven’t held anything back on this. It will give you the tools and the knowledge so that you can apply yourself fully to the mission of mastering yourself.

For the month of August, I am offering this course to TTPers at a discounted rate of $39/month. After which it will return to the regular rate of $47/month.

A happy life is not just a matter of luck. We play a conscious role in our own happiness through our thoughts, choices, and habits. Let’s learn together how you can move towards being truly happy.

Joel F. Wade, Ph.D. is the author of Mastering Happiness. He is a marriage and family therapist and life coach who works with people around the world via phone and Skype. You can get a FREE Learning Optimism E-Course if you sign up at his website, www.drjoelwade.com.