No More Than Enough: Living Happily Ever AfterJul 18, 2022 06:57PM ● By Randall Niehoff
Happiness is the ultimate end and purpose of human existence. —Aristotle
If you search the seemingly endless nooks and crannies of online bookstores, you will find thousands of self-help books with the word happiness in the title. While this most popular of all emotions lures almost everybody, very few seem to have actually captured this “elusive butterfly.”
Perhaps something has been lost in translation: the Greek word Aristotle used was eudaimonia (literally good + attitude/spirit). It refers to the condition of human flourishing/living well/well-being. It results from an invisible decision made from the inside—not the visible/tangible experiences coming at us from the outside. He called happiness “a state of activity” that is “dependent on ourselves” and “requires intellectual contemplation” and the use of “our rational capacities.” An old folk adage puts it simply: The measure of happiness in life is not what happens to you but what you choose to do about it!
Recently psychologist Daniel Cordaro, founder of the Contentment Foundation, was hired by Yale University to conduct a worldwide investigation into the search for “happiness.” He writes: “…my new research team dove into over 5,000 years of human philosophy and 200 years of scientific research into the nature of the mind. When the dust settled, two different strategies emerged that humans have been using for thousands of years to find some form of well-being.”
The first is the “More Strategy.” The sweet satisfaction of achieving a goal or acquiring a new possession makes us feel elated—but it is a temporary high. As the emotion fades we experience a yearning for more; and even stronger grows our resistance to less.
That is why people with a million bucks feel like failures when their friends have a billion and famous Hollywood actors get bummed out when other celebrities receive more attention than they do. If we base our sense of worth on success, we careen from one victory to another, initially feeling good and then trying to avoid feeling awful. Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer quipped: “Wealth is like seawater; the more we drink, the thirstier we become, and the same is true of fame.”
The second strategy outlined by Cordaro’s research is what has worked through the ages: the “Enough Strategy.” Here well-being is described as contentment, where a person chooses not to be obsessed with desires for what lies outside of oneself but to be whole or complete within. Lessons overflow from the keenest insights of cultures from the East and the West. For example, both Buddhism and Biblical wisdom teach that worldly rewards are not inherently evil but can be used for great good—yet as ends instead of means (think “external attachments that make us look good on social media”). They cannot satisfy.
As a metaphor revealing how to use the Enough Strategy on your journey through life, consider the way people here on the Gulf Coast prepare for a day on the beach, a hike on a nature trail, a spin on the bike path, or a paddle on the water: We carry along not the things we could use, but only what we can’t do without! It makes for a happy day.
Ran Niehoff has been trying to find ways to be well on the Gulf Coast since 1991.