". . . And the Pursuit of Happiness"

" 'I've been riding the carousel in Central Park since I was five years old. Back then there were silver and gold rings. You had to get five silver rings or one gold ring to get a free ride. I spent my childhood in Central Park because I went to school on Central Park West. If I'm very depressed or if something's bothering me today, my husband, Larry, and I go back to the park. We get on the carousel horse and we start riding, and I start singing at the top of my lungs. It is pure and absolute joy and happiness.'
— Eda LeShan

"Being happy should be easy — we have our pick of sweet smells, sunlight, massages, natural views, and uplifting music. However, even if we accept such invitations to sensual pleasure, we might still find a good mood elusive. Many people have their fill of sensuality and the 'good things' in life — a lovely home with a swimming pool, trips around the world, a large income — and still don't seem very happy or healthy.

"The problem lies in the human mind, which filters, screens, censors, and ultimately passes final judgment on our overall happiness. The surge from good experiences to good feelings can easily be blocked by the negative internal stories we tell ourselves. As Abraham Lincoln said, 'A man is as happy as his mind allows him to be.' So how can we change our minds to allow ourselves real happiness?

"We carry within us very different ideas about what should make us happy. And in each of us, these ideas form stories about growing up, marriage, work, morality, and pleasure. These stories come to reside within us like a political ideology. Sometime while growing up — no one really knows exactly how or when — we establish our life story, a set of beliefs, assumptions, and expectations about ourselves and the world we live in.

"One person's story about happiness might be, 'I can't be happy until I am married and have two healthy children.' Another's might be, 'I can't be happy unless I am an officer of the company I work for.' Yet a different version might be, 'I can't be happy until all people on Earth have an adequate amount of food.'

"These expectations are basic to the way the mind works, and determine a lot more of our life than we might think. For we base most of our judgments upon a shifting scale of standards, and not on facts. For example, a political candidate does well or badly 'compared to expectations.' Someone doing 'better than expected' in the polls is judged to do well, while another, who might be getting more votes but doing worse than expected, is seen to do poorly.

"Similarly, a person might have a comfortable income, but because she is not doing as well as her colleagues in business, she takes little pleasure in her life. Another person might have a perfectly wonderful home, but because he doesn't live in exactly the right neighborhood, in a residence that might have pleased his parents, he may be miserable. Still others base their happiness on the amount of social injustice in the world, often discounting any improvements made or how much their own life is pleasurable.

"It is crucial to know that our judgments, even about something as 'obvious' as the color of an object, are based on comparisons, not on absolute reality. These comparisons are important to the pleasure principle. If you can control your comparisons, you might be able to shift your judgment toward increased optimism and happiness. For happiness lies in narrowing the distance between where you see yourself and where you expect to be.

"A more robust experience of life — reclaiming the sensuality lost in the modern world — should be a first step toward a richer existence. However, if the benefits are discounted in our minds, they don't endow us with real pleasure. If we set ourselves up, even unconsciously, to think pessimistically, sensual experiences and life achievements contribute little to our happiness and health."