July 2011

Happiness

Ever since the Declaration of Independence, with its exhortation to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Americans have perhaps expended more energy on the search to be happy than any other people on the planet. 

The quest for a better life is one of the well-springs of our country. It’s what brought many of our ancestors to these shores and still draws immigrants and would-be immigrants from around the world.

The question of what happiness actually is, however, is one that philosophers have debated for centuries. The ancient Greeks spoke of “eudaimonia,” in essence a flourishing state of joy. In our own society—if the shelves filled with books devoted to “Ten Easy Secrets…” are any indication—the definition often seems to take the form of smiley faces and “feel-good” recipes.

Happiness is obviously a much more serious matter than that. Take the fact that some national governments are trying to measure well-being, recognizing that their citizens’ sense of contentment is a key component in a healthy social fabric. Or, more dramatically, take the uprisings we’ve witnessed in recent months, as populations in one country after another have revolted against regimes that denied their aspirations. 

Interestingly, a growing number of experts are concluding that what most deeply defines happiness is not how easy your life is or isn’t, but whether you have a sense of purpose and meaning. 

From that perspective, we are, I think, in a very privileged position at our Medical Center. We have a mission, and the extraordinary satisfaction of knowing that there is no higher calling than taking care of other people.