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We tend to think that we owe it to ourselves to be as happy as we can be. And this is true. But happiness is far more than a personal concern. It is also a moral obligation.
After one of my talks on happiness, a woman in the audience stood up and said, "I only wish my husband had come to this talk." (He had chosen to attend a talk on business instead.) She explained that he was the unhappy one in their relationship and that much as she loved him, it was not easy being married to an unhappy person.
This woman enabled me to put into words what I had been searching for--the altruistic, in addition to the obvious personal, reasons to take happiness seriously. I told the woman and the audience that she was right; her husband should have attended the talk because he had a moral obligation to his daily partner in life to be as happy as he could be.
Upon a moment's reflection, this becomes obvious. We owe it to our husband or wife, our fellow workers, our children, our friends, indeed to everyone who comes into our lives, to be as happy as we can be. This does not mean acting unreal, and it certainly does not mean refraining from honest and intimate expressions of our feelings to those closest to us. But it does mean that we owe it to others to work on our happiness. We do not enjoy being around others who are usually unhappy. Those who enter our lives feel the same way. Ask a child what it was like to grow up with an unhappy parent, or ask parents what pain they suffer if they have an unhappy child (of any age).
There is a second reason why happiness is a moral obligation. In general, people act more decently when they are happy. The chapter on seeking goodness explains the connection between goodness and happiness at length. It will suffice here to answer this: Do you feel more positively disposed toward other people and do you want to treat other people better when you are happy or when you are unhappy?
There is yet a third reason. I once asked a deeply religious man if he considered himself a truly pious person. He responded that while he aspired to be one, he felt that he fell short in two areas. One of those areas, he said, was his not being a happy enough person to be considered truly pious.
His point was that unhappy religious people reflect poorly on their religion and on their Creator. He was right; in fact, unhappy religious people pose a real challenge to faith. If their faith is so impressive, why aren't these devoted adherents happy? There are only two possible reasons: either they are not practicing their faith correctly, or they are practicing their faith correctly and the religion itself is not conducive to happiness. Most outsiders assume the latter reason. Unhappy religious people should therefore think about how important being happy is--if not for themselves, then for the sake of their religion. Unhappy, let alone angry, religious people provide more persuasive arguments for atheism and secularism than do all the arguments of atheists.Happiness Is a Serious Problem
A Human Nature Repair Manual. Copyright © by Dennis Prager. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from Happiness Is a Serious Problem: A Human Nature Repair Manual by Dennis Prager
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