I’m surprised that so many people search for “What is happiness?” About 70,000 people a month are asking Google that question. What are they looking for? Do we not know when we are happy? Or, more likely, do we wonder how we can be happier?
As I see it, there are two kinds of happiness: a giddy emotion, and a comforting peace.
The first is fleeting, usually a reaction to a thought or an occurrence. The second is long-lasting, and can grow over time, to the point where you are always peaceful, no matter what is happening around you.
The source of that peace is truth.
There is so much evidence for this, on both the negative and the positive sides of the equation.
Living on the dark side
When one avoids or hides the truth, bad things happen. Problems remain unsolved; relationships go sour; individuals escape into denial and even addiction; and those closest to the truth-denier suffer. All crimes involve falsehoods.
People who commit crimes convince themselves they are justified, and that they will get away with it. They lie to themselves, and then lie to others. They also attract others to them who are also dishonest, so that sadness and anger become the norm in their lives. Needless to say, they are not very happy.
Almost all disappointments in relationships come from falsehoods. One person is expecting another person to behave a certain way because of things that person has said (“I love you, babe, only you”). When the truth comes out (and it always does, sooner or later), it turns out that the person was hiding the real truth about their intent or their actions. The other person is then unhappy, disappointed, and disillusioned.
Living on the bright side
On the positive side, when one faces the truth, one is at peace. You spend your days in “find it, face it, fix it” mode, solving problems and moving on.
In all situations, you tell the truth.
People come to appreciate that about you and trust you. In the everyday world of work, this means that they trust you with more and more responsibility. You move up the ladder inside companies, to the point where you even earn enough of a solid reputation that you can start your own company because there are people who want to become your customers or clients.
And, when you set out to sell that product or service, you tell the truth, and people appreciate that, too, and reward you with positive reviews and enthusiastic referrals.
In personal relationships, you are a person of your word. What you say and how you behave are in sync, and consistent from one situation to another. Again, you become a trusted individual who attracts other honest and trustworthy people.
Happiness starts with truth
You can’t be honest with others if you are not first honest with yourself. I think this is the hardest lesson of all. It is so easy to turn a blind eye to bad habits or poor decisions that we’d rather not face. And sometimes we aren’t even aware that there’s something we should be facing. It takes a good friend to help us see it, and then work our way through it.
What keeps us from facing the truth? Usually fear, and much less occasionally, greed or envy.
In the entertainment world, greed and envy are much more dominant; these emotions make for plenty of tension seeking resolution, which is the basis for all effective drama.
But in real life, when people avoid the truth, it is usually because they are afraid. Afraid that something they’re ashamed of will be exposed; afraid that they will be seen as insufficient by others; afraid that they’ll have to give something up or change something if they face the truth; afraid of what the truth means for their life; afraid that whatever they face won’t be something they can solve, and so on.
But the reality is quite different from these fearful imaginings. Facing the truth puts us back into what’s happening in the real world. There is power in reality.
One of the lessons I learned as a sailor is that your chances of success in any situation are exponentially improved if you work with the forces instead of against them. Out at sea, on a 48-foot by 26-foot tightly strung catamaran, with the wind and waves exerting their power over the boat, it is actually impossible for a single person to “fight” the forces, no matter how strong that person is.
First you have to face what is actually happening. Then you must do the next right thing. In these kinds of situations, that usually means you immediately reduce the effect of those forces on the boat. You decrease the amount of sail you have up. If you can, you change your course so you are going with the waves instead of plowing into them. The new heading should be one that lessens the pressure on the various parts of the boat.
But first you have to face reality. It does you no good whatsoever to deny what is happening. At sea, you can go from “just a little bit bad” to “catastrophic” in a matter of seconds in rough conditions.
Our daily lives are more forgiving—the negative consequences of our denials might take longer to appear—but the negative consequences will definitely occur. Ignoring a problem never makes the problem better. It always makes it worse.
Happiness in life is a direct result of making wise decisions in all situations, and then behaving appropriately. You end up with fewer regrets and the satisfaction of a job well done. Wise decisions start with an honest assessment of the truth.
So the source of happiness is, in fact, the truth.