CYCLOPS: Sense of purpose key to true happiness


The opinions stated in this article are solely those of the author and not of The Davis Clipper.

In Utah we hear many keys to a happy life. “You can’t be happy without going to church”…”You cannot be happy if you are not married”…”Happiness comes from having children”…”It’s hard to be truly happy unless you pursue an education and have a well-paying job.”

Yet a United Nations report on the happiest nations on earth (and a corresponding story in a Salt Lake Tribune interview with a University of Utah psychology professor) offers a different take on happiness.

Money is not a prime factor.  Faith can help, but the happiest countries are ones where organized religion had diminished.  Grandchildren are not critical.  In fact, the United States ranks only 14th in the world on the happiness scale.

“Nice weather” is not important either, since the Scandinavian countries (and their often dreary, cold skies) rank atop the U.N. happiness list.  What does make people happy is a health/emergency safety net, the ability to travel, a sense of community, and – maybe most important – having a purpose in life.

Money, if used correctly, can bring happiness.  That goes for the “super rich.”  Four years ago, for instance, actor George Clooney invited 14 of his friends he knew from his days as a struggling actor to dinner.  He told them, “I know we’ve all been through some hard times and some of you are still going through it. But don’t worry.”  He then gave each of them a bag filled with $1 million in $20 bills.  He had even paid the income taxes on their gift.

Similarly, in Las Vegas, Nevada this holiday, an elderly couple continued their 13-year tradition of handing out items to underprivileged children. The total: 5,200 pairs of shoes, 11,000 pairs of socks, and 4,850 toys.  The donation made the couple happy. “This is my joy. This is my Christmas,” said the husband.  “I just wish with all the money in this town, more people would do this.”

If happiness comes from helping others, it is not limited to the wealthy. On a recent trip my wife handed out inexpensive gifts to the flight attendants, coffee baristas, and hotel maids.  Former LDS President Howard W. Hunter offered advice to people of all income levels:  “Think first of someone else. Be kind. Be gentle.  Laugh a little more. Express your gratitude. Welcome a stranger.  Gladden the heart of a child.  Speak your love and then speak it again.”

The United States has resorted to tribalism, not a respectful community.  People of different faiths often don’t communicate with those who think differently.  We live in neighborhoods where most of us think similarly about politics and culture.  We have a president who calls people “morons.”  The University of Utah professor noted studies that show people earning about $100,000 are no more happy – and sometimes less happy – than those with much smaller incomes.  (He reasons that more money leads to more pressure to achieve ever-higher goals, increasing dissatisfaction.)

I’m not a happiness coach, but I believe the truth of Mark Twain when he said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you discover why.”

The more we cooperate with people and “slow down,” the more we learn from attending classes/lectures or book clubs, the more we donate time and money to those less fortunate, the more leisure time we demand – and the less time we worry about being judged – I suspect the happier we’ll be.


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