But good people aren’t always happy. Why? Because goodness is an ideal state; it something you aim at, a kind of moving target. Happiness may be achieved but mostly it is occasional and fleeting. Conditions change and you aim again. Even the best archer doesn’t always hit the bull’s-eye. External conditions make it easier to achieve happiness. For example, an archer is more likely to hit a target if she uses the best-made bow than if she used a poorly made bow. No one, though, has everything that is needed—peaceful times, perfect health, a just society, loving parents, caring teachers.
No one can be happy all the time. But you can approach happiness with a good family, a good friend, a good government, good enough possessions, and adequate health. The great archer with the inadequate bow will oust the incompetent archer with the latest and best equipment.
I accept Goethe’s comment, “I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”
Happiness, while not possible all the time, is possible at least some of the time. More than that, you can look back on your life and say that you were happy. Happiness is the overall assessment of your life, not the episodic moments. It’s Seurat’s pointillist picture from a distance, not the dots up close.
True happiness is the gentle pulling away from yourself by which you find a better self that can prosper. Loving the right things and loving them in the right way is the key. Ethical relationships make it more likely than not that as you look back on your life you will be able to say, “I have lived a good life.”
Still, there is something about happiness that is independent of virtue. This is the happiness that is found in the joy of existence, the delight in simply being. This can be experienced either with others or in moments of solitude. Which form it takes, I suppose, is a matter of temperament. Individual dispositions and upbringing will lead people to find happiness in different ways. Some are, by nature, social, others more solitary. I may find happiness in the company of people while you may prefer a walk in the woods. You may enjoy the quiet of a good book, or perhaps it is the conviviality of the dinner table you seek. Some love cities, others the countryside.
But whichever way you find happiness, it is always accompanied by love, for happiness is ultimately the love of life, the celebration of living. The mark of happiness is that you are sensitive to the world around you, that you acknowledge your dependence upon your surroundings and that you are filled with loving-kindness.
You want to take care of that which you love, and you are solicitous toward it. The person who finds happiness through love is the person who can be trusted to bring happiness to others. This is the meaning behind Lao Tzu’s aphorism, “The person who loves the world as his own body may be entrusted with the empire.”
There are those who possess everything they claim to have wanted but still aren’t happy. They think they can be happy yet indifferent, happy while independent. The truth is the opposite: happiness requires gratitude and an acknowledgement of interdependence with that which is around you. More wealth doesn’t make you happier; deeper and better relations do.
The places of happiness are infinite, the sources never-ending. And you inhabit those places not because they have been pursued but because you have opened your heart and have allowed them in.