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Posted by Michael Finkelstein | November 20th, 2017

In Pursuit of Happiness

I’m struck by how many times the word happiness comes up in conversation. Not only the ones that I share in a professional capacity, but in my life ongoing — indeed, in my own head, almost incessantly. I’m guessing that I’m not alone. So, when I saw that a nearly discarded piece of paper, left in a hotel room as a literal tip for a server, written as words of wisdom by one of the greatest minds that ever lived, sold for 1.56 Million Dollars! at auction, I realized it was worthy of some more discussion.

To begin, let’s consider how a classic dictionary might define the word. Here it is from “Webster’s 1828”: “Happiness:” The agreeable sensations which spring from the enjoyment of good; that state of a being in which his desires are gratified, by the enjoyment of pleasure without pain; felicity; but happiness usually expresses less than felicity, and felicity less than bliss. happiness is comparative. To a person distressed with pain, relief from that pain affords happiness; in other cases we give the name happiness to positive pleasure or an excitement of agreeable sensations. Happiness therefore admits of indefinite degrees of increase in enjoyment, or gratification of desires. Perfect happiness or pleasure unalloyed with pain, is not attainable in this life.

I imagine, as my many discussions bear out, that one could add or subtract from this; as it seems, as suggested by the last sentence above, that happiness is somewhat elusive; at least as a feeling that can be sustained. And, this gets to my point. Is happiness the ultimate or ideal goal? Or, instead, do we really want to live a life better described as a state of relative contentment. For me, the latter, redirects our focus then on a process rather than an outcome, and that, for me feels more practical.

Now, as we reexamine Einstein’s words, we also see the careful distinction between the goals associated with measured success and the qualities inherent of the life one leads. It seems that in pursuit, we are prone to not only lose sight of the moments leading up to the goal, but we may find the goal, once “achieved,” is somewhat of a trap in itself.

I leave you to ponder this yourself some more, with more words from the brilliant mind of Einstein:

I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know God’s thoughts; the rest are details.

My hope is that all of this will provide useful clarity as you consider the choices you make in how you invest your time and attention. It is important, I believe, not to get so caught up in the details that you are unable to absorb the beauty and joy of the moments along your path.

I wish you success in that regard, always.


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