12 May The logic of happiness
Recently, on a ‘special boy’s day”, I was visiting the museum with my son. We spent a few lovely hours, mostly looking at dinosaurs, and chatting about humans, animals, gemstones and which animals are the strongest and scariest. Watching an educational video on skeletons I was enthralled and fascinated and, I’m not ashamed to admit, learning quite a lot until I became distracted by a particular comment which although I didn’t understand why at the time, disturbed me somewhat.
Reviewing skeletal differences between various animals (including those with external skeletons) the narrator described how the skeletons of birds differed from those of other animals, particularly land based mammals, and noted that birds’ bones are lighter “because they fly”.
At first, this comment did not seem out of place in any way but as previously noted there was something about it which bugged me and an hour or so later I worked out why. The more I contemplated this innocent comment the more I realised there was a logical error. Birds don’t have lighter bones because they fly; rather, I would have thought it more accurate to state that birds developed the ability to fly because, among their many other attributes, they have lighter bones.
Now this is, I’m pretty sure, more than just pedantic semantics. The cause and effect logic seemed to have been mixed up with the cart, metaphorically speaking, being placed before the horse.
I began to wonder how often this occurs; if a respected educational institution such as our National Museum can overlook such a mistake then how often do we “amateur (or in some cases completely unconscious) logicians” make similar mistakes. And specifically, how might this apply to or happiness or unhappiness? Because if we get the logic wrong then surely we’ll get the solution wrong (or, even worse, not be able to find a solution).
Do we, for example, think we’re unhappy at work because of poor conditions when in fact the reality is that the conditions under which we work appear to be less than ideal, or terrible, because we’re unhappy?
Do we, for example, think we’ll be happy when we have more things when in fact it’s the pursuit of more things that makes us unhappy?
Do we, as referred to in last week’s column, believe we’ll be happy only when we devote ourselves to ourselves when in reality, it’s the selfishness and self-obsession that causes our unhappiness?
Is there an answer to all these questions?
Yes and no; there’s no simple answer, or not an answer that will be right for everyone reading this. But there is a general answer that I invite you all to contemplate. Spend some time reflecting on what really makes you happy as opposed to what you think will make you happy; spend some time thinking about what really makes you happy rather than what other people have told you will make you happy; and spend some time clarifying your values and priorities because living a life “on purpose” (that is a life in which you spend the majority of your time devoted to activities that are consistent with your life purpose and goals) is the surest path to happiness.