The greatest challenge is stating the problem in a way that will allow a solution.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Year

"Money cannot buy you happiness, but it can make your misery more comfortable."

What is "happy"? A word. ... Can one measure the happiness of a mere year? Didn't the chorus that sums up the tragedy of Oedipus claim that: "We cannot call a mortal being happy before he's passed beyond life free from pain."
Merriam-Webster tells me that the word has existed in English since the mid 14th century, and its first meaning was: "lucky," from Middle English "hap," meaning "chance, fortune." The sense of "very glad" is first recorded later that century. The Etymology Online Dictionary tells me that, "From Greek to Irish, a great majority of the European words for 'happy' at first meant 'lucky.'" With that I'm none the wiser, apart from the bit of trivia that in Welsh it used to mean "wise."
"Money cannot buy you happiness, but it can make your misery more comfortable."
The Book of Psalms, attributed to King David, begins with the following definition: "Happy is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seat of the scornful." 
Radak, in his commentary, points out that there is a difference between a man being "successful," in matters of property and even health, things belonging to this world, and his being "happy" (other translations of the Bible use the word "blessed" ), which is a matter of the soul, something that is peculiar to the humans, and takes into its account also the next world.
Oddly enough, the discipline that is supposed to address issues of the human soul, psychology, gave wide berth to happiness for many years. The goal of practitioners was to bring patients from a negative, ailing state to a neutral normal, or, as University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman puts it, "from a minus five to a zero." Seligman summoned his fellow practitioners to a conference on New Year's Day in 1998 - his first day as president of the American Psychological Association - to share his vision of a new goal for psychology. "I realized that my profession was half-baked. It wasn't enough for us to nullify disabling conditions and get to zero. We needed to ask, 

What are the enabling conditions that make human beings flourish? How do we get from zero to plus five?"
That evolved into something called "positive psychology", which necessitated at least some tentative definition of "happiness," so that one could try to aim for it. 
In his book "Authentic Happiness" (2002 ), 
Seligman found three components of happiness: 
1. pleasure ("the smiley-face piece" ),
 2. engagement (the depth of involvement with one's family, work, romance and hobbies ) 
3. meaning (using personal strengths to serve some larger end ).

Nobel Prize winner (in economics ), the Israeli Prof. Daniel Kahneman offers a caveat:
Asking people how happy they are, he contends, "is very much like asking them about the colonoscopy after it's over. There's a lot that escapes them." Kahneman therefore believes that social scientists studying happiness should pay careful attention to people's actual experiences rather than just survey their reflections.


What is the real meaning of 'Happy New Year'? By Michael Handelzalts