July 26th, 2009  |  Published in Articles, Philosophy

By Dennis Prager

Happiness is largely, though certainly not entirely, determined by us – through hard work and through attaining wisdom (developing attitudes that enable us not to despair). Everything in life is attained through hard work. Happiness is not an exception.

Essential to happiness are thus a sound mind and intelligence. Often this requires the self-discipline to overcome the natural inclination to do what is more pleasurable at the moment rather than what is more happiness-inducing in the long run.

The magic words to unhappiness are “not completely satisfied”. Who is completely satisfied with anything?

There is also often the mistake that “Fun” equals “Happiness”. Fun is important to happiness, but it acts like a drug. The dose must be stronger and stronger. Think of how much fun you had the first time you went on vacation. The excitement of just being in a plane or going abroad. Now look at what kind of a vacation you need now to have “Fun”.

People who are unhappy are constantly looking for something better. A better party, a more beautiful partner, a better car. And as soon as they have this they again want something better, more fun, more exciting. People who are really happy, understand that they can be very satisfied by what they have. That they are healthy and lucky. They can still strive for more – but they are happy with what they have got.

A major difference between animals and humans is that humans need to have a meaning in their live. Often it is argued that we created god so that we would have meaning in life. But beyond pure existentialism, we can have a meaning – conserving nature, taking care of old or sick or orphans or veterans or our children.

It is essential for children to develop as many passions as possible. Who is likely to be intellectually deeper (and happier) – the person who devotes most his evenings to reading good books, talking with likewise friends and studying a foreign language or musical instrument, or the one who devotes most evenings to watching television?

Unfortunately, for most people happiness bounces up and down, determined by the day’s events and the immediate emotions they elicit. Without putting these short-term events into perspective-which comes from having a philosophy of life- we are at the mercy of events!

You have to be moderate in your habits but passionate about life.

Happiness is not just having fun and getting what you want. Happiness is impossible without self-control (because we can and will never get everything we want).

  • If you want financial success, you need self-control to waste little time on fun things that don’t contribute to your long-term well being.
  • If you want happy and healthy children, you need the self-control to spend a great deal of time with them, thus depriving yourself of the fun-time to watch movies, do sports, etc.
  • If you want to be physically fit and healthy, you need the self-control to eat less enjoyable foods and to exercise regularly.

Always doing what you want is not freedom. Addicts to what they want – and they are among the least free people on earth. Freedom is being able to do what will bring you long-term happiness – such as financial security, a healthy body and mind, and healthy and happy children.


Choosing a spouse is one of the two most important decisions of our life and must be made as wisely as possible. (The other is whether to have children). It is very difficult to be married to an unhappy person and we have a moral obligation to our partner in life to be as happy as possible.  The same goes with our close friends. We do not enjoy being around others who are usually unhappy. People also act more decently when they are happy. Choose your friends with careful attention to their values. Do not choose your friends on their “enjoyment values”. Know their characters before you trust them.

If a friend is mean to you – end the relationship – there is never an excuse for meanness.

There is most often a connection between goodness and happiness. Good people bring good people into their lives, and good people in our lives bring us happiness. The people we bring into our lives are somewhat like a mirror of ourselves. If you find that you repeatedly bring unsavory and unhappy people into your life, there may be something missing in your own character.

To keep friends you have to forgive them their flaws (and they have to forgive you your flaws). This is also true in marriage. Nobody is perfect. People who are intolerant of their friends’ flaws either remain friendless or end up with animals as their closest friends. Flawless friends (those that never complain, are always loving, never have moods, are fixated on us, and never disappoint us) are known as pets.

Leave a Response