What is happiness? It’s a hard thing to define, but perhaps happiness is the absence of suffering, plus a sense of blessedness. If it were merely the absence of suffering, being happy would be as easy as suicide. If it were merely a sense of blessedness, of gratitude, then yes, that would be happiness; but it would be a happiness very difficult to preserve in among the pain and suffering.
WISHING HAPPINESS FOR OTHERS
If you happen to want to spread happiness, then you could start with the beings closest to you. If my definition is right, then your aim will be to remove their suffering, but also to allow them to develop a sense of blessedness or gratitude for life. Removing suffering is perhaps a little easier, as you can go about removing hunger by providing food, desperation by providing shelter, and pain by providing comfort.
Instilling a sense of blessedness is much harder. Other people insist on having their own thoughts and their own willpower. Many people are entangled in anger, irritation, anxiety and sadness. You can’t just force them into a sense of gratitude. You can offer the tools, and perhaps use a little example-setting and mild persuasion, but in a world of free will, you have to let people make their own philosophical bed.
Developing happiness for a wider circle of people is harder still for an individual to do. Political and religious collaboration can help to remove general suffering, as teams of people, and good systems, can provide food, accommodation and comfort in a more effective way than one person alone.
But even if all suffering is alleviated in a population, there is still the question of how they might achieve that little bit extra, that sense of blessedness or gratitude. Education is one of the best ways this can be done, using the example of good teachers, and good training in happiness. Unfortunately, much education excludes emotional hygiene, and so people grow up skilled, but unhappy.
WIDENING HAPPINESS TO ALL BEINGS
The removal of suffering of all beings is often hampered by humans’ narrow focus on themselves. We are going to have to learn to sacrifice some of our technology, systems and entertainment in favour of non-human beings, if we are to make wider progress.
Animals, and arguably plants, are great at showing blessedness when they want to. Just look at animals playing, or plants flowering – given the appropriate conditions, food, shelter and comfort, much of the living world is capable of sharing joy.
EXTENDING HAPPINESS BEYOND LIVING BEINGS
Most philosophies of happiness stop at living beings. It is not often that we attribute happiness possibilities to non-living beings. But it’s worth considering.
Perhaps non-living beings don’t suffer in the same way that living beings can. But it can be an interesting exercise to arrange inanimate objects in a joyful manner. An example is the orderly, creative happiness of some Japanese gardens, allowing rock, sand and other materials to be in sympathy with plants and visitors.
And, although inanimate objects may not be able to feel gratitude, perhaps they can be harmoniously arranged to support the blessedness of living beings, and given some meaning that way.
Happiness maybe involves two things: absence of suffering, and a sense of blessedness.
We can help humans to be happy by providing food, shelter, comfort, and education. We can also widen our minds to help other living beings to be happy. We might even work creatively with inanimate, material objects to support peace, joy and harmony.