Is Happiness a Choice?

"I am H-A-P-P-Y! 
I am H-A-P-P-Y!
I know I am, I'm sure I am,
I'm H-A-P-P-Y!"

These were the words of a dreadful ditty I was taught in Sunday School. I didn't think they were dreadful then. I remember enjoying singing it, perhaps because my childhood was generally happy. There were further verses which gave reasons to be happy, such as "because I know God loves me so". I realize now that at least one of the other children singing with me was unhappy most of the time. How insensitive and damaging to require children to claim to feel an emotion that not all could share. How much extra false guilt was piled up in young minds because of the message that you ought to be happy because...?

I blame the BBC for bringing this song back into my mind today. They publicised the launch of a charity which is using the 'latest research' to tell people how to be happier. BBC Breakfast has lauched a 3-part challenge complete with downloadable workbook. If you want to try the Happiness Challenge, here's the link. I don't see anything wrong with wanting to be happy or with taking action to increase the happiness of others as well as oneself. But I do think that the pursuit of happiness for its own sake can be a moral cul-de-sac. In my experience happiness just 'happens' as a bi-product of something else.

The philosopher Pascal Bruckner has written interestingly on this in his essay "Perpetual Euphoria: On the Duty to be Happy" published 10 years ago in French but just translated into English. He points out how the 'right' to the pursuit of happiness has become a 'duty' to be happy, a social pressure that in itself causes unhappiness. It also enlarges the market of mood-altering drugs, therapies, surgery to modify the body, new religions in which 
"Jesus is no longer this transcendant God, but a life coach who helps you overcome addiction and so on."
He suggest that we have
"a lot of power in our lives, but not the power to be happy." 
Happiness, he says, is
"more like a moment of grace."
Perhaps that's what Jesus'  'Beatitiudes' are all about, moments of grace and true happiness that 'happen' to people when they are not expecting it.


  1. Hi, I am from Australia.

    Bruckner of course is a typical dismal "conservative" who would not have a clue about the Process that is True Religion, or the nature of Reality and Truth.

    Two quotes:

    "ALWAYS remember that your inherent heart-disposition wants and needs Infinite, Absolute, True, Eternal Happiness."

    "Happiness is the now-and-forever Mystery that IS the Real Heart and the Only Real God of every one."

    Plus some references on Happiness by the same author: The second quote above is taken from this book for children of all ages.

  2. Thanks for commenting John. You posted some interesting quotes and links about the nature of true religion. I've looked at one or two of them. I'm always interested in critiques of some forms of conventional religion. As a Christian, I go along some way with the idea of 'mystery' at the heart of all things. I think that sense of awe and mystery is one way we experience what I call God. My concept of the nature of God is that God is love, so love (not happiness) is at the heart of it all. although we may find God within our hearts, God is at the same time 'other' i.e. outside and beyond us. God reveals his love for us in creation, through relationship with others and supremely through Jesus Christ. It is in receiving God's love and loving God and our neighbour that happiness comes as a bi-product.


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