I remember reading a letter to Ann Landers written by a woman who had just turned 40. She was lamenting that her “life was over.” She just didn’t know how she could cope with being a middle-aged woman. She felt betrayed and could no longer look forward to a bright future.
Shortly after Ms. Landers published the woman’s letter, she received one from a man who, in essence, said, “To the 40-year old woman, what in the world are you complaining about? I am 26 years old and suffer from a terminal illness. I have only a few months to live. I will never see a 40th birthday. You, on the other hand, have experienced forty birthdays and will undoubtedly experience many more. You have much for which to be grateful.” He went on to express his gratitude for having enjoyed life during the time which he been allotted.
This man found happiness in his earthly existence even though he seemingly had been dealt a bad hand in the game of life. He could have lamented his condition, cursed his fate and perhaps even have cursed God who had granted him life. But he chose instead to be happy and thankful in spite of it all. The woman, on the other hand, had been granted 40 good years and yet was miserable. I wondered then, and continue to wonder, what accounts for the difference in the perceptions of the two.
Back in the 80’s, “Happiness is” became a fad. “Happiness is a snow day from school,” or “Happiness is a warm puppy,” or “Happiness is a cherry on an ice cream sundae.” David “The Happy Guy” Leonhardt is author of a self-help happiness book and also runs a “this happiness” website. He provides quotes from people from around the world and across generations who define happiness from their myriad perspectives. I give you but a few:
“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence” (Hugh Downs). “Happiness is mostly a by-product of what makes us feel fulfilled” (Dr. Benjamin Spock). “True happiness is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose” (Helen Keller). “Remember that there is no happiness in having or in getting but only in giving. Happiness is a perfume you cannot pour on others without getting a few drops on yourself” (Og Mandino). “A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy? (Albert Einstein).
“There is work that is work and there is play that is play; there is play that is work and work that is play—and in only one of these lies happiness” (Gelett Burgess). “By all means marry; if you get a good wife, you’ll become happy; if you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher” (Socrates). “Money can’t buy you happiness, but it does bring you a more pleasant form of misery” (Spike Milligan).
James Talmage distinguished between happiness and pleasure: “The present is an age of pleasure seeking, and men are losing their sanity in the mad rush for sensations that do but excite and disappoint. In this day of counterfeits, adulterations, and base imitations, the devil is busier than he has ever been in the course of human history, in the manufacture of pleasures, both old and new; and these he offers for sale in most attractive fashion falsely labeled, ‘Happiness.’
“Happiness includes all that is really desirable and of true worth in pleasure, and much more beside. Happiness is genuine gold, pleasure but gilded brass, which corrodes in the hand, and is soon converted into poisonous verdigris. Happiness is the genuine diamond, which, rough or polished, shines with its own inimitable luster; pleasure is as the paste imitation that glows only when artificially embellished. Happiness is as the ruby, red as the heart’s blood, hard and enduring; pleasure, as stained glass, soft, brittle, and of but transitory beauty.
“Happiness is true food, wholesome, nutritious and sweet; it builds up the body and generates energy for action, physical, mental and spiritual; pleasure is but a deceiving stimulant which, like spirituous drink, makes one think he is strong when in reality enfeebled; makes him fancy he is well when in fact stricken with deadly malady.
“Happiness leaves no bad after-taste, it is followed by no depressing reaction; it calls for no repentance, brings no regrets, entails no remorse; pleasure too often makes necessary repentance, contrition, and suffering; and, if indulged to the extreme, it brings degradation and destruction.
“True happiness is lived over and over again in memory, always with renewal of the original good; a moment of unholy pleasure may leave a barbed sting, which, like a thorn in the flesh, is an ever-present source of anguish.
“Happiness is not akin with levity, nor is it one with light-minded mirth. It springs from the deeper fountains of the soul, and is not infrequently accompanied by tears. Have you never been so happy that you have had to weep? I have.” (Improvement Era, vol.17, no.2)
One cold winter, our water heater went out. We didn’t have central heat in the house and bathing turned us blue and covered us with goose bumps. When we were finally able to install a new water heater, I discovered the true meaning of happiness–it was taking a hot shower on a cold, winter morning.