Sunday, November 28, 2010

What Does Happiness Mean?

I've been reading this book "Letters To Sam" by Daniel Gottlieb. Its a book about a quadriplegic grandfather writing letters to his autistic grandson explaining life and experiences from his unique point of view. I posted this as a note on Facebook a few days ago but I thought it would be nice to share it here as well. It really got me thinking because this wise grandfather pointed out many important things in life that we know of but have sadly forgotten.


What Does Happiness Mean?
Letters to Sam by Daniel Gottlieb

Dear Sam,

A number of years from now, you may be sitting among classmates and friends as you listen to a commencement speaker tell you about your place in the world and the opportunities that lie ahead. I wonder what the world will be like then. I wonder about the person you will be. And I wonder what you will hear from the speaker.

But I might as well tell you what I would say.

Not long ago, I was asked to give a speech to graduating honor students at Lincoln University. The administrators who invited me wanted me to talk about adult responsibilities and the pathways to success.

I began my speech by saying that success and adult responsibilities can be harmful to your health. As I spoke, I was thinking of a conversation I’d had some weeks earlier with a hundred high-achieving, college-bound seniors in a very upscale suburban high school. I had asked those students why they work so hard. Almost unanimously, they agreed that their hard work was to help them get into the best possible colleges.

I asked, “Why?”

They replied,” So we can be happy.”

“Let’s talk about that,” I said. “What does it mean to be happy?”

One kid declared, “If I had a million dollars in the bank, I’ll be happy.” Another announced, “If I’m number one in my chosen profession, I’ll be happy. But I won’t settle for number two.”

The discussion continued with comments in a similar vein. All agreed that money, success, and achievement would make them happy. Not one of the seventeen and eighteen-year-old kids talked about love, children, relationships, marriage, community, or friends. Which made me wonder: When your resume is perfect, how does your soul feel?

I suspect I know why these children strive for the overflowing bank account and the perfect resume. As humans, we grasps at things that make us feel more secure. We go from our mothers’ breasts to pacifiers, from small toys to big toys, from cars to houses and vacation homes. Needing security we grasps at sex, wealth, food, power, drugs. I know it’s always been this way.

But the grasping seems worse than it has ever been. It’s more aggressive and desperate, less reflective, more selfish. And we are listening to leaders and teachers who tell us that greed is good.

What are we really hungry for? Security and happiness, yes. But the kind of security we yearn for is a feeling of security that cannot be attained by acquisition. If we can buy big houses and powerful cars, we may be able to achieve the illusion of security, but it is still just an illusion. If we can do well at school or work, we may get a sense of accomplishment, but there will always be something more to accomplish-happiness will always be around the next corner.

Real security only comes when we are comfortable with who we are (and the feeling is enhanced when we are in a relationship where there is mutual love and understanding). Real happiness is a byproduct of a life well lived.

These were some of my thoughts as I addressed the parents who had come to see their children graduate from college. I told them they had done their jobs, they had paid their dues, and their reward-their children-sat in front of them.
“Your job now,” I said to the parents, “is to enjoy the benefits, tolerate your children’s failures, have faith in their resilience, and never, ever offer advice without being asked for it.” (That brought a round of applause from their children.)

Then I turned to the students and said, “This is the time when the commencement speakers tell you what to do. So I’m going to tell you. Find someone you love, and feel that love in every pore of your body. Love that person even more tomorrow. And the next day, love one additional person; and every day after that, increase the number of people you love.”

I told them the longer the list of people they love fully, the happier they will be. That, I said, is true success. That is an essential adult responsibility.

Sam, I don’t know if I’ll be around for your commencement. Perhaps you won’t even have a conventional graduation ceremony when you make the transition from your school and classrooms into the working world of adults. But however your resume measures your success; I hope you will remember what your soul needs. Not wealth, prestige, and possessions, but the adult responsibility to love someone every day a little more than you did the day before.



  1. I know my happiness is to have a family, wife and friends to love. But one can't deny that we need financial security and quite a number of material stuff to have the peace of mind to enjoy it.

    Such is life. It should not be the yardstick to measure happiness, but it is essential.

  2. Yup very true. I just think that we need to check out priorities in life every now and then to see where we are going with it.

  3. Hi I would like to take Number 2. My email is Thank you very much.

  4. Sure thing albeit a little sesat in the wrong post. lol Merry Christmas anyways!


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