The art of happiness

William Ogdon’s column appeared on the editorial page of the New York Times on. December 30, 1945.

There was never a time when so much official effort was being expended to produce happiness, and probably never a time when so little attention was paid by the individual to creating the personal qualities that make for it. What one misses most today is the evidence of widespread personal determination to develop a character that will in itself, given any reasonable odds, make for happiness. Our whole emphasis is on the reform of living conditions, of increased wages, of controls on the economic structure- the government approach – and so little on man improving himself.

The ingredients of happiness are so simple that they can be counted on one hand. Happiness comes from within, and rests most securely on simple goodness and clear conscience. Religion may not be essential to it, but no one is known to have gained it without a philosophy resting on ethical principles. Selfishness is its enemy; to make another happy is to be happy one’s self. It is quite, seldom found for long in crowds, most easily won in moments of solitude and reflection. It cannot be bought; indeed, money has very little to do with it.

No one is happy unless he is reasonably well satisfied with himself, so that the quest for tranquillity must of necessity begin with self examination. We shall not often be content with what we discover in this scrutiny. There is so much to do, and so little done. Upon this searching self analysis, however, depends the discovery of those qualities that make each man unique, and whose development alone can bring satisfaction.

Of all those who have tried, down the ages, to outline a program for happiness, few have succeeded so well as William Henry Channing, chaplain of the House of Representatives in the middle of the last century:

“To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy . . . to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly; to listen to the stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open heart; to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never ; in a word to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common.”

It will be noted that no government can do this for you; you must do it for yourself.

Taken from Light from many Lamps by Lillian Eichler Watson.

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