What is happiness?
To help people obtain a perspective, I usually tell an anecdote which is appropriate to the subject. When I give my workshops in Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, France, Italy, Denmark, Israel, Venezuela, and half the states in the United States, I try to make the participants feel good. When a person is happy and enjoys oneself, one learns more, better and faster. A happy person will tend to retain what has been learned and use it more effectively and efficiently.
The following story was told to me by Emanuel Revici, MD, a wonderful genius who has spent over 60 years in biochemical medical research. The facts and knowledge I share in my writings on the Biochemistry of Emotions are based on the information supplied by Dr. Revici.
The story: An American (or if you wish; Swede, Swiss, Israeli, Dutch, German, Dane); a Frenchman (or Italian, Venezuelan); and a Russian were talking about their concept of what is happiness.
“Happiness,” said the American, “is when I come home exhausted from the office and my wife recognizes it at once and says, ‘Oh darling I see you’re tired. Why don’t you sit in your favorite chair in the living room and I’ll mix you your favorite drink.’ And the kids see me and kiss me and say, ‘Here’s your paper daddy. Do you want us to turn the TV on? We’ll leave you alone because you’re tired.’ And the dog brings me my slippers and leaves the room. That gentleman is happiness.”
The Frenchman shakes his head. “Not for me,” he says. “For me, happiness is when after a hard week at the office I am able to fly away for a long weekend paid for by my company. As I am signing into my favorite luxury hotel, I smell this fantastic perfume, turn around, and there before my eyes is the most beautiful woman. Her eyes meet mine and she smiles. And then she says, ‘Are you alone?’ I say ‘Oui, Yes,’ and she says, ‘Me too.’ And then she asks, ‘Would you mind if I join you? Why should we pay for two rooms? It was obvious to me when our eyes met that we will need only one for the weekend.’ And gentlemen what a weekend it was! Early Monday morning, she kissed me and said, ‘Mon cherie, Je t’adore … Darling, I adored you, but now I must go. But if you like, perhaps we could do this again sometime, but only on a weekend.’ That, gentleman is Happiness.”
The Russian shook his head, “No, no,” he said. “Happiness is none of those things. Happiness, gentlemen, is when you’re peacefully asleep in your bed and the big quilt has kept you cozy and warm in the coldest January night in Moscow. Suddenly, at 4 o’clock in the morning, there is a loud banging on the door. As you sleepily open the door, four men from the K.G.B. barge in and surround you and they say, ‘Milan Milonovitch, you are under arrest.’ And you say, ‘But I am Igor Partovich. Milan Milonovitch lives down the hall.’ That, gentlemen, is happiness.”
Now, if you are not too unhappy, and you don’t live under a totalitarian regime, and when you stop laughing or thinking, think about it: What would give you happiness at this very moment?
Write it down so you will not forget or, more frequently, change your mind. If there were a few things that would give you happiness, write them down in the order that you thought about them. If you have already forgot the order, don’t worry, you cannot fail.
Is your concept of happiness the reduction of external pain, fear, or danger like the Russian?
Is your concept of happiness the reduction of internal stress and fatigue like the American? All you need is time to rest and sleep from a biologic – psychologic exhausting day, and gratified that people care enough about you to be sensitive to and respect your needs. “Leave me alone and let me rest. I appreciate your loving me and respecting my wishes, but all I want to be is left alone, to be by myself for a while.”
Is your concept of pleasure something you can do for yourself.
Is your concept of pleasure, like the Frenchman’s, a desirable need for a positive input of pleasure from someone else?
Or is your concept of pleasure some of these things, none of these things, all of these things, and other things too.
Cultural vs. Natural Based Happiness
There is a big and important difference between natural happiness and cultural happiness. Cultural based happiness varies from culture to culture. Our culture is in a constant state of change and is changing faster and faster, the so-called cultural revolution. The values of culture are in a constant state of change. The latest style in women’s clothing that we must have today in order to be happy, we would not dare to wear “even be seen dead in” a few years from now.
Not only clothing but the more important cultural values are also in a constant state of change, such as the role of women and women’s rights. Until 1893 not one woman on this planet had the right to vote. New Zealand was the first country where women got to vote. The United States voted women “in” after World War I.
There has been a sexual evolution in the past 80 years and a sexual revolution these past 20 years. As late as 1923, the medical textbooks still thought masturbation was very dangerous. They thought it might be the cause for insanity, tuberculosis, and syphilis. When I was a young teenager, we still were not sure if it was a cause of blindness. I got very worried when I had to wear glasses at the age of 15.
In those same medical textbooks, the treatment for “excessive” female masturbation was clitorectomy. I once treated a woman who had her clitoris amputated when she was eight years old because her mother found her playing with herself on two different nights. She was in her early 40s when I saw her. Beneath her tense social veneer, she was full of pain and rage. She never felt good enough as a woman or as a non-sexualized person. She hated to have sex which ruined her relationship with her husband. She was a victim of cultural stupidity. Most of us are a victim of cultural stupidity too even if we have not been physically castrated.
There are still moral rules and regulations given power by religious, political, and “hand me down” cultural beliefs that physically or psychologically kill or castrate us. [As of 1982,] clitorectomy is still a routine procedure for girls coming of age in several countries including Egypt and Ethiopia.
At the turn-of-the-century it was felt that only female prostitutes were entitled to have orgasms. If a wife were orgasmic with her husband, she was considered fallen from grace and a prostitute. Not long ago, a Pope said sex was not to be used for enjoyment even between a husband and wife.
Women can be stoned to death for having sex out of wedlock as happens in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. And China’s women’s feet were bound. In America women still wear shoes that lead to injury and pain if not outright crippling.
I write about these things to have you look at your own value system. Are they cultural (most of which are only a couple of hundred years old, none of which are more than 5000 years old) or natural (which some equate with God) which are millions of years old? Culture does tend to tell us how, when, where and with whom we can fulfill our natural-based needs. In America, we are lucky. If you do not agree with your cultural value system because it makes you unhappy, you can move to another section of town or to another town altogether where the value system is different. Large cities and Westernized lands are big enough to get lost in. People will leave you alone with your belief systems. For many, it is one of the major attractions of big cities.
Our basic cultural value systems, sex, religion, politics, are in a constant state of change. They certainly are not worth killing anyone, even fighting with anyone over. Hopefully we could live in peace if others do not try to impose their value systems on us. Every religion feels it is the God-given one. Every nation feels it’s political system is the best. They all cannot be correct.
Natural-based happiness does not differ from culture to culture or from generation to generation. It does not differ between male and female, between black-and-white, Jew, Christian, or Atheist, Democrat or Republican, Russian or American, rich or poor, powerful or weak, famous, and infamous, or unknowns. As metabolism slows down, there is a slight difference between the very young and the very old.
Natural-based happiness’s are those living biologically-based needs we need to fulfill for healthy survival. Physical good health we take for granted until we are sick. The lack of physical pain we take for granted until pain appears. It is difficult but not impossible to be happy when severe illness befalls you. However, one cannot feel happy in severe physical pain. Nor can we feel happy if we do not have sufficient fulfillment of all our biological needs including oxygen, food, water, sleep, rest, exercise, adequate temperatures, and periodic elimination of our products of metabolism; discharging carbon dioxide, urine, and feces. Sex, of course, is a biological need for the survival of the species, not of the individual. However, since we are all part of our species, we want to do our share. We recognize the symptoms of deprivation of these biological needs. Tragically we do not recognize the symptoms of the deprivation of the biological need for bonding.
When we are deprived of the biological fulfillment of the need for bonding, we frequently mistake it for something else. We look into our cultural value system for the solution to make us happy. And our culture, money, power, and fame are the things that many of us think will make us happy. Money makes us rich, not happy or unhappy. The severe lack of money, poverty, can make us unhappy if we do not have the where-with-all to buy the basic biological essentials to sustain life.
I have treated the famous, the powerful, and the very rich. Amazingly, most of their unhappiness is caused by exactly the same things that causes unhappiness among the unknown, non-powerful, and poor. Of course, as my mother said, if you are going to be unhappy, it is better to be rich than poor in your unhappiness. She was right. However, money has been used as a narcotic to alleviate the pain of unhappiness. Like a narcotic, the numbness does not last long and you need more and more which gives you less and less relief. Frequently, the money enables one to postpone the day of reckoning or the start of treatment until it is too late.
Many people try to take away the “blues” of unhappiness by buying something. Again, this may work for a while like a pint of whiskey for an alcoholic. But if you do not remove the cause, the symptomatic treatment will end up making you feel worse. Five percent of us are alcoholic, 20 percent of us are overweight, and most of us are not happy.
I hope my articles will help you know not to waste your time, effort, or money trying to fulfill a biological need by substituting culturally valued objects. All the gold in Fort Knox will not be a substitute for the lack of oxygen. Nor will all the alcohol, drugs, pills, or material objects. No one can buy their way out of their need for oxygen. They may buy oxygen but they cannot buy their way out of their need for oxygen. The only thing that will take away the pain due to the deprivation of oxygen is oxygen. There is one biologic need that one cannot buy, and that is the need for bonding.
The fulfillment or deprivation of biological needs are the basic causes of pleasure or pain. The important fact is that pleasure or pain is a feeling or an emotion, not an object or thing, or even an experience. A thing or an experience that may give one person great pleasure may give another person great pain, or even the same person great pain at a different time.