“There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy.” –Robert Louis Stevenson.
It sounds odd, perhaps, but we have a duty to be happy. Striving for happiness may appear to be a selfish goal, but it’s not. Think about it.
Studies show that happy people are generally more sociable, creative, forgiving, and tolerant of frustration than unhappy people, while unhappy people are more often withdrawn, brooding, and antagonistic. Happy people tend to be more responsible to others and to maintain relationships better. They’re more confident, optimistic, energetic, and likeable, and they tend to be more successful in their personal lives and at work. They do more volunteer work and give more to charity. They’re healthier. They commit fewer crimes. When people are in a good mood, they think more clearly and are more open to new ideas. Although depressed people are more vigilant against making mistakes, people think more flexibly and with more complexity when they’re in good moods.
And happy people lift other people’s moods (that’s “emotional contagion”). That’s why it’s so much fun to be around cheery babies. To hear the Little Girl shriek with laughter while playing “peekaboo” or to see her eyes widen with ecstasy when she eats ice cream…it’s such a cliché, but zoikes, it makes me happy.
In the same way, if I’m happy (or at least act happy), I help make other people happy.
This realization has led me to make a bigger show of my happiness—sometimes, even beyond what I really feel. For example, when my book, Forty Ways to Look at JFK, came out last fall, various people asked questions which were meant to elicit a response from me like, “I’m so thrilled it’s out! It’s so exciting to see it on the shelves! Everything is going great! I’m so happy!”
Now, as happy as I was that the book was in bookstores, and as much as I love the book (I always love my own books), I have a perfectionist, dissatisfied, worrying nature. I rarely feel a pure happy feeling. But I realized that I should highlight my happy feelings, and shut up about my fretful feelings. Let people take happiness from my happiness.
And of course, as research shows, acting happier will actually make me feel happier.
Saying that we have a “duty to be happy” makes being happy sound like hard work. It is.