HAPPINESS is the rarest, most prized and most misunderstood state ot man. Happiness in North America is widely believed to be a glossy four-color reproduction of hearty, handsome parents beaming in a garden where starched children play dreamily with unbroken toys. Throw in such additional lollipops as sunny weather, an electric dishwasher. relief from constipation and a passionate love affair. It might add up to five minutes of happiness.
Lasting happiness is what's inside the human skin. It’s related to how much maturity a man has been able to assemble, some of it available only to the desperately unhappy. It's a consequence of at least a moderate amount of education, because happiness requires a decently stocked mind. It's bound up with the ability to work well, to find a lot to do. to be readily interested.
It's also part of an unembarrassed and wholehearted relish of recreation and great stretches of quietness. A definite sense of religion can be a help and so is a fine eye for discerning folly in all its gaudy costumes. Most of all. happiness is attached to those dispositions which are prone to welcoming, a trait which assures a snug family, friendships and regard.
Happy people can be any age — above adolescence. Psychologists believe that a child is rarely happy: totally helpless in an adult world that disappoints and restricts more than it praises or rewards, "dependent as a slave" as William Lyon Phelps put it, a child is kept wretched by his unstabilized personality, which is more prone to hate and to be afraid than it is to love and to see the beautiful.
When a thousand elderly people were questioned in a research project, they claimed their happiest years had heen between the ages of twenty-five and forty-five, news that astonishes the harried group presently occupying those years. Young adults may describe themselves as "happy" — a vague and serviceable enough word that evades curiosity. But many of them are frantic at the slipperincss of time. They can sense the years wheeling by without any accomplishment and feel as if they w'ere being plucked at by a million selfish fingers. Grieving over their mistakes, they don paper hats for laughs, give anxious parties, drink too much, talk too much and say too little. To them, old age is a catastrophe, a final bad joke on the illusion that happiness exists.
Yet all over the world, men and women — most of them older than thirty — are turning a corner they didn't see. abruptly transfixed bv
the miracle of being happy. Nothing has changed in the room, in the family; nothing anywhere is different — but everything seems so. Putting together the balance of experience and thoughtfulness that finally enables man to make sane judgments, along with odd fragments of clarity and courage, the personality makes a soundless click and produces a steady state of happiness.
Nearly thirty years ago a radio series on a United States network dealt with human happiness. It drew an astonishing response, the most striking feature of which was that some people say they're happy in the identical circumstances which reduce others to self-pity. Precisely the same deformity had one woman wailing inconsolably and another bubbling with what seemed sincere praise for the kindness and compassion she was discovering in strangers.
Psychologists explain the incongruity wdth some new concepts about personality development. They claim that capacity for adult cheerfulness is built into babies. Infants with good-natured, fond mothers enjoy themselves and are readily intrigued and amused, faculties that flower into soundness and an educated mind.
Babies aren t born happy. Their first discernible emotions are nega-
tive ones — anger, fear and hatred when they are uncomfortable. A state of quiescence is the infant's response to being loved, fed and changed, though he may smile involuntarily as early as the fourth day. But by the third month, babies are beginning to delight in being comforted and they smile at human faces.
The responsive smiles of babies, the first entrancing show of happiness. have been studied by many scientists, notably Dr. René A. Spitz, with Dr. K. M. Wolf. They found a universal human pattern: until the age of six months, babies of every race will smile at any friendly adult almost invariably. Mankind shows this instinctive sociability in the fact that bahies infrequently smile at toys or feeding bottles, but almost always smile at people.
The researchers discovered that babies will smile at a savage grimace, so long as the teeth are bared, the forehead smooth and the head nods Hom time to time. They also smile meltingly at Hallowe'en masks and jiggling scarecrows that fulfill the same conditions, but they never smile back at a face with one eye or both covered, never smile at a profile, stop smiling if the face is motionless.
One baby girl being examined by
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Hollow people, lacking sureness of their worth, have nothing to give and are therefore unhappy
psychologists smiled in response to a smile when she was twenty-five days old. She promptly became the favored target for study. She was found to be mature for her age when she was a month old, and by the time she reached her first birthday she was a full four months ahead of her chronological age in development. Dr. Spitz explains she had an “unusually pleasant and devoted mother."
Institutionalized, love-starved babies don't smile at a smiling face: they are the exceptions. Dr. Spitz states that thcv never reach even the first stage of emotional development, but go on responding to narcissistic experience like newborns — knowing only those emotions between rage and quiescence. Lonely babies, raised by anxious mothers, or a turnover of disinterested mother-substitutes, may grow' up permanently upset, under the fallacy that happiness is a material matter, a castle accessible to anyone who can find the draw bridge.
No matter how comforted and cuddled they were as babies, children are only intermittently joyful — in a berserk style — and adolescents are full of dreads and passions. Young married couples and people at the beginning of their careers are frequently excited, sometimes enraptured and occasionally content. Then the momentum of what they have begun gathers behind them and hustles them towards their middle years, aghast at the rush and dismayed to have missed happiness.
According to the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, happiness is an achievement brought about by inner productiveness — "and not a gift of the gods." People succeed at being happy in the same way they succeed at loving, by building confidence in themselves. Hollow people, lacking sureness of their worth and self-respect, have nothing to give and are therefore desperately unhappy, since they must connive by trickery to extract love and admiration, and can't depend on keeping it.
Aristotle believed that the definition of happiness is self-sufficiency, a sentiment echoed with deceptive sparencss by Spinoza who three hundred years ago said. "Happiness consists in this: that man can preserve his own being.”
One of the most frequently quoted comments on happiness was made in a speech by Timothy Dwight, then president of Yale University. "The happiest person." he remarked, "is the person who thinks the most interesting thoughts." William Lyon Phelps was greatly impressed by this and was moved to develop it. "The principle of happiness is like the principle of virtue, he reflected. "It is not dependent on things, but on personality.
You will have days and nights of anguish, caused by ill health or worry or losses or the death of friends, hut you will not remain in the Slough of Despond, you will rise above the de-
pression and disaster beeause you will have in your mind the invincible happiness that comes from thinking interesting thoughts.”
One of the world's most respected psychologists, William McDougall, has a parallel comment: “The richer, the more highly developed, the more completely unified or integrated is the personality, the more capable it is of sustained happiness, in spite of intercurrent pains of all sorts.”
This alliance of maturity and happiness nullities the explanation many people comfort their misery with— that happiness is youth and naturally diminishes ever after. Bertrand Russell, now ninety, claims he grows happier every year. Joseph H. Choate, a nineteenth century U. S. diplomat, stated that the happiest time of life is between seventy and eighty — “and 1 advise you all to hurry and get there as soon as you can.”
Philosophers have been making the same point for, literally, ages. Plato thought of youth as a troubled time, and old age as the best of times, “beeause at last a man is freed from the animal passion which has hitherto never ceased to disquiet him. " But the regrets of this old man who lived to be eighty echo ruefully down the centuries: “Yet it should not be forgotten," he added, “when this passion is extinguished the true kernel of life is gone, and nothing remains but the hollow shell; or, from another point of view, life becomes a comedy which, begun by real actors, is continued and brought to an end by automata dressed in their clothes.”
Studies of old people, an everincreasing proportion of our present population, show that happiness usually depends on how busy they are, their ability to do some work well, their family ties, friendships, hobbies and other interests. One survey of a thousand people between the ages of sixty and one hundred revealed that most of them were happy between sixty and sixty-four, when they felt useful; after that, particularly in men, a decline began.
Most people, no matter what their age, search for happiness externally. They sometimes seek pleasure in getting drunk (“temporary suicide,” Bertrand Russell calls it, "making life bearable by being less alive"). Sadistic people find someone to dominate, masochists please themselves with humiliation and overwork. Greedy and frightened people pursue wealth ruthlessly, the envious fight for fame, the possessive covet human sacrifice, the near-impotent pant for frenzied sexual conquest —and all of it in the name of being happy.
Unhappy people rarely blame themselves for their state. Their jobs are at fault, or their marriages, or a sensible dread of aging, or a negligent fate. But the real cause of wretchedness is uselessness. Sterile, because they have no warmth to give work, play or love, the unhappy gloom throughout their lives in the hope of a visit from the Fairy Godmother. Many even call themselves content, hiding their boredom and barrenness from their own recognition in order to avoid the job of self-construction.
Ordinary expressions in a crowd are far from happy. Travelers, shoppers, idlers pass one another looking wor-
ried, or apathetic, or buttoned to the eyes. In social groups, men and women smile nearly constantly and laugh a good deal, but it’s a mirth that rarely interrupts the progress of an ulcer. In the general absence of happiness, life tastes like bad meat.
Some people get only a snatch of happiness during their lives, and then usually by an accident they can’t duplicate. Sophocles wrote the chilling line: "Count no man happy who is not dead.”
Nothing on earth renders happiness more elusive than a determined search for it. Historian Will Durant tells of looking for happiness in knowledge and finding disillusionment. He looked for happiness in travel and found weariness, in wealth and found discord and worriment. He sought happiness in writing and was fatigued. One day he saw a woman waiting in a tiny car with a sleeping child in her arms. A man descended from a train and came over and gently kissed the woman and then the baby, very lightly so as not to waken him. The family drove off together across the fields and left Durant with a stunning recognition of real happiness. He later wrote: "Every normal function of life holds some delight."
"The typical unhappy man,” observes Bertrand Russell, "is one who, having been deprived in his youth of some normal satisfaction more than any other, has given to his life a onesided direction together with a quite undue emphasis upon the achievement as opposed to the activity connected with it." Bertrand Russell, suicidally unhappy as a youth, gradually was cured of it as his interest in external matters crowded out his preoccupation with himself.
Happiness comes in an assortment of moods, from the calm of a woman baking through the bliss of a boy with a good report card to the ecstasy of a scientist with a find. There are what Dr. Fromm calls the lower pleasures of satisfying a physical need — eat-
ing. sleeping, elimination, sex, exercise — and the higher pleasures of usefulness, self-possession and the growth of insight.
Abraham Maslow. professor of psychology at Brandeis University, describes the higher pleasures as sensations of "functioning easily, perfectly, at the peak of one’s powers — in overdrive, so to speak.” His lyricism comes closest to defining the physiological condition of happiness, in which the body also seems to exceed itself.
A housewife who crossed over to a state of happiness last summer for no reason she could name was startled by the intensity of her vision for a period of several hours one afternoon. Lawns became separate graceful blades of grass, trees were full of individual leaves, tiny objects floated cnchantingly on rain puddles. Tolstoi recorded the same phenomenon in Anna Karenina when the hero Levin, steps into the street after his engagement and encounters a more vivid sky than he has ever seen, faces full of nobility and kindness, sounds of textured clarity. Novelist Brian Moore, in his book The Luck of Ginger Coffey, describes Coffey’s rapture at being found innocent by a court, and writes of his sense of mingled identification with a benign world, oneness w'ith the sky.
Joy is such a feeling of lightness that a doctor in 1775 declared positively that an actual decrease in body weight occurred when people are happy. The lightness, however, is derived from improved circulation supplying so much blood to tissues and organs that there is an impression of buoyant vitality. This rich nourishment of blood vessels is the reason happy people seem to age so slowly; despondent souls suffer a gray atrophy because their circulation is mean.
The lusty flow' of blood typical of happiness is particularly stimulating to the brain, which then delivers its delighted owner smells and sights and
sounds which no one else notices. "Increased circulation brightens the eye. color rises, lively ideas pass rapidly through the mind, affections are warmed,” commented Charles Darwin enthusiastically, marking such attributes of happiness as an erect body, lifted head, i m pro v e d digestion, smooth brow, arched eyebrows, wideopen eyelids.
Dr. Elizabeth Bagshaw, an eightyyear-old Hamilton. Ont., woman who is still in active practice, was interviewed while curling one day and declared. "People who are happy usually have a better degree of health than people who worry." A psychologist who questioned five hundred young men to determine their degree of happiness made the not-unexpccted discovery that happiness and health generally go together. In this case, it isn't difficult to decide between the chicken and the egg: since the dark emotions, hate, anger, fear, depression and guilt, are all destructive to organs and disrupt the body's immunity to infection. doctors believe that a happy state exists first and is followed by a healthy one, which then increases happiness, and so on in a heady cycle.
Everybody knows the secret
Early philosophers, considering the problem of human happiness, evolved a theory that pain is bad for man and pleasure is beneficial, ergo the sensible man should avoid all pain and partake of as much pleasure as he can find. Hedonism continues to appeal strongly to children and certain adults. Epicurus, an abstemious Greek whose name is regularly slandered, noted the singular unhappiness of such self-indulgers as drunks, misers and rakes. He was the first to suggest that some pleasures arc not good for man. Theology and philosophy have ever since closed ranks on this proposition: True happiness is none other than those staid sticks, virtue and wisdom. Modern psychiatry recently has added a third quality — productiveness.
Throughout history, great men who judged themselves happy have felt honor-bound to pass along the secret. Balzac declared for work and courage; C harles Darwin, domestic affections and the study of nature; Oliver Wendell Holmes, frequent contact with quick and well stored minds; Socrates and Thomas Jefferson, the intellect; Francis of Assisi, renunciation of comfort; Voltaire, w'ork. It is significant that while there is little agreement most ot these were men of wisdom, virtue and productiveness.
Laughter is never mentioned as proof ot happiness. Modern psychologists consider laughter a method of relieving acute emotions—almost any acute emotion. While people laugh when they are comfortable with friends, laugh at the expressions of small children they adore, laugh readily when they are feeling good, they also titter when they are afraid, roar at malicious jokes when they hate, make a valiant show of chuckling when they want to hide desperation. Laughter is pure disguise wuh many people. Lincoln, who suffered agonies of depression, observed, "If I did not laugh, I should die," and Voltaire, the happiest ot all philosophers, said he laughed to avoid madness.
It was Freud's humorless notion that humor is a foil for repressed venom. He cited as an example Will Rogers, who used to declare that he never met a man he didn't like but spent his lifetime composing shafts that deflated. Humor is so effective at siphoning off animosity that men are brutes without it. The playwright Eugene Ionesco once commented. "Where there is no humor, concentration camps arise, and where there is no laughter, we see anger and hate."
Stephen Leacock suggested that laughter originated as a primitive shout of triumph and has been toned down by civilization so that only minor misfortunes are considered amusing. Certainly hilarity at the bubbling of clowns stems from an agreeable sense of superiority .
There is some indication that tears are as poor an indicator of emotion as laughter. People weep when they grieve, fear, hate or are extremely happy. Penelope sighted her husband Ulysses, after twenty years of faithful waiting, and "from her eyelids quick tears did start." James Thurber wrote that perfection in comedy causes a "curious and instantaneous tendency of the eyes to fill."
Temple University 's P r o f e s s o r Frederick H. Lund believed that tears are a distinctly pleasant outlet for accumulating energy and can belong to any emotion. He found weeping most probable when emotions are mixed, thwarting one another in such a tangle that tears are the only relief —as in the case of mothers attending weddings.
Calm. serene happiness never laughs or weeps (Lord Chesterton thought both bad form for a gentleman, in any case) and it's the rarest type of all. It is a matter, as the philosophers decreed, of internal stability, a private conquest of self-dislike. The amount of joy in a man s lifetime has little relationship to what he does, depending rather on what he is.
Booth Tarkington once pointed out that nearly everyone possesses a certain amount of happiness. "Most people possess more than they realize . . . Comparatively few people have no happiness, for a person who has none at all is a person who could be no unhappier by any tragedy whatsoever."
A Frenchman once noted that wise men are happy with trifles, but nothing pleases fools. But wasdom, and happiness, arc attainable.
Count your blessings — only fools are tormented by the memory of former evils, says Cicero. Pause to enjoy; Goethe insisted happiness wasn't a transitory feeling, but a secret force of unsuspected power. Greet man and nature with the fullest degree of perception and intelligence, because understanding the unique meaning of each kind of aliveness is the heart ot happiness. Use yourself up. The great joy in life, according to George Bernard Shaw, is to be thoroughly worn out before being discarded on the scrap heap — "a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish clod of ailments and grievances." Don't delay: an important source of unhappiness is the habit of putting off living until some fictional future day.
Eric Fromm sums it up: "Happiness," he says, "is proof of partial or total success in the art of living." ★