Here’s a pop quiz question I’m confronted with pretty often: isn’t the pursuit of happiness inherently selfish?
The answer, in no uncertain terms, is no. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Happiness is good for the world; unhappiness, bad. Both states of being are contagious (seriously, emotional contagion is a thing), and collectively, would we want despair spreading like wildfire? Wallowing in your own unhappiness is a hell of a lot more selfish than living a life of joy and positivity.
There’s science behind this. Unhappiness is unhealthy. Deadly, even. Alternatively, happiness and good health go hand in hand. In fact, research shows happy people live longer.
According to a study by Ed Diener and Micaela Y. Chan, “high subjective wellbeing (such as life satisfaction, absence of negative emotions, optimism, and positive emotions) causes better health and longevity.”
Longer life, better health = win win. There’s nothing selfish about wanting to avoid decrepitude and stick around for the people you love.
Think of it this way: in a long, fulfilling life, there are oodles of opportunities to spread positive energy. Happy people shine a light on the world, on those they meet, on the people they love. They’re a beacon of possibility and optimism — an example of what we’re all capable of. They add to the world in innumerable ways. Happy people are, for the most part, kinder, more generous and more compassionate.
(I should note that happiness and hedonism aren’t one and the same. The pursuit of your own personal pleasure isn’t happiness. In fact, it’s often the opposite, rearing its head in another guise. Unhappy people often seek pleasure to fill the void — a losing battle.)
The shorter, unhappy life looks a lot different. Unhappiness doesn’t happen in a vacuum, after all. You can’t hide it or bury it. It manifests itself in our lives, our relationships and our health. All the suffering in mankind’s history has been inflicted by unhappy people. Unhappiness is the scourge of humanity.
True happiness is deep and calm. It’s the tangible joy of being; it’s positivity and meaningful pursuits; it’s love and generosity. It’s our birthright, if we claim it.
And what’s selfish about that? Choose happiness and stick around longer as a positive example. The world will appreciate it.