According to academics, there are three things that you need to be happy (once your basic needs are met): meaningful social relationships, being good at what you do and being able to make decisions about your life.
I feel pretty confident that I have all three of these things in my life. That’s not to say that some of these don’t get shaken up once in a while, but overall I’m a pretty resilient person. Sometimes, however, I do get down.
Joe Pinkser of the Atlantic addresses this situation in an excellent interview with Raj Raghunathan, a professor of marketing at the University of Texas and author of “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?” Pinkser’s article, Why So Many Smart People Aren’t Happy, is a Q&A with the author, who tries to make sense of what gives people a a sense of happiness in their lives. There is a lot of important information in the article that I won’t rehash here (because you can read it for yourself, smarty pants), but I agree with him that a person’s outlook on life also makes a difference in that person’s life satisfaction.
Rajhunathan says that one should approach life with an attitude of abundance – meaning that there’s not a scarcity of success in the world. And he’s right. But that doesn’t really address the issue of smartness. What he’s talking about, mostly, is in people who are successful and educated. That doesn’t mean they’re necessarily smart. I know some very educated people whom I wouldn’t consider smart, but some uneducated people who very much are.
Disclaimer: I haven’t read the book, and I’m only going by the interview in the Atlantic. He may address this in the book and I’m just unaware. If the author reads this, he shouldn’t take it as real criticism.
My issue with happiness is that I know too much. I am about to graduate from my master’s program in history (hooray!), and it’s made me much smarter about the world. I’m really happy to be graduating, but now I know much more about the past, and it’s made me far more skeptical about the future.
When you look into the past and read real history with open eyes (not by reading Texas history textbooks), you see the awful things that human beings and even Americans have done, and you see that not much has changed. Fervor against immigrants is nothing new – we’ve been doing this throughout our existence. We’ve been horrible. Just read a little bit about the slave trade, smallpox blankets, Mai Lai, the Trail of Tears and more, and you won’t be waving that flag quite as high as before. Think the Holocaust was bad? You’re right, it was. But America didn’t exactly accept Jewish refugees from Europe with open arms. And we knew what was happening.
There are still people in this country who believe that Southern slaves were treated well by their owners, and therefore slavery wasn’t that bad. When I lived in Georgia, I heard a speech about how slavery was a good thing because it saved black people from being heathens by converting them (forcibly) to Christianity.
We suck, y’all.
When I see things like Donald Trump saying that Hilary Clinton is just playing her “woman card,” or that Mexicans are diseased drug smugglers – and he still leads in the polls, it paints a pretty bleak picture of the future of this country.
Perhaps the people who don’t educate themselves or read the news have gotten it right. It’s pretty easy to be happy and hopeful when you don’t actually know what’s going on.