You’ve probably greeted a fair few people like this already, as I have. But how can you ensure that it is a happy one, for yourself and others? Here, as much for my benefit as yours, Dear Reader, are 11 principles that may make the pursuit of happiness just that little bit easier over the coming year and beyond. The principles themselves are taken from chapter 4 of Rationality and the Pursuit of Happiness: The Legacy of Albert Ellis, Michael E. Bernard’s excellent summation of the great psychologist’s life-work. The glosses and explanatory elaborations are my own.
Do stuff that gives you personal satisfaction. Hang out with people whose company you enjoy. Realise some personal goals.
Be kind to others, as to yourself. Do no harm, help where you can. Remember that no one is an island.
Don’t wait around for happiness to find you. It won’t (surprise, surprise). You’ve got to go looking for it and you’ve got to do things to make it happen.
The truth is, you’ll always make mistakes. When it comes to living were all amateurs, beginners even. You are a poor mortal human being and your personal hygiene is not always impeccable. Come clean; accept it.
Tolerance of Others
Ron Padgett once wrote: ‘I love it when people unlike me like me.’ Aim to be as accepting and appreciative of others as the wonderful Mr. Padgett.
Short-term and Long-term Hedonism
Make the moment marvellous but make sure you have plenty of them. So eat chocolate but fruit and vegetables too. Smoke, if you really want to, but don’t chain-smoke. Buy yourself a future but have fun now.
Commitment to Creative, Absorbing Activities and Pursuits
Find out what makes life worth living for you. Challenge yourself. Seek out activities that give rise to flow experiences (Csíkszentmihályi).
Responsible Risk-taking and Experimenting
Try something new. Take risks and chances but don’t foolishly place yourself in extreme danger. Take care not to waste, through inertia and laziness, the one life you have. That’s a perilous thing to do as well.
High Frustration Tolerance and Willpower
By ‘High Frustration Tolerance’ is meant mental toughness or maybe persistence. Sorry to tell you this, but happiness requires effort and hard work in its implementation. Here’s Ellis’s prescription:
Push yourself to achieve a goal, be determined to carry it through, gain knowledge of how to do so, take suitable action to back up your determination and knowledge, force yourself to persist at that action no matter how hard it is, and go through this process again if you fall back to having ‘weak willpower’.
Ellis writes that ‘as a human, you have to get organised, and then stay organised, which calls for ongoing problem solving.’ In pursuing goals, as you should, you will naturally encounter problems. Get a problem-solving mindset and get to work.
Scientific thinking and flexibility
Be rational, pragmatic, even scientific in pursuing happiness. Test out solutions to your problems in practice. Observe what happens. Confirm whether they work or not. Try out other, perhaps better solutions. Play.
Ellis expresses his general view like this:
Powerful wishes, desires, goals, purposes, and emotional attachments add to your life and make the world go round… The trick is to strive like all get-out, but not to think that you absolutely need what you want.
Have a Happy New Year!