Do I deserve to be happy?

Nephew: I’m not sure I deserve to be happy.

Uncle: Do you deserve your pancreas? Your bladder? Your left lung?

Nephew: Well . . . yes!

Uncle: Of course you deserve them. No matter what you have done, or think you have done, you deserve those organs. You were born with them. Every part of your body is unconditionally yours, regardless of what good or bad you have done in the world.  You don’t have to earn your eyes or your elbow; they’re yours. You were born with an innate propensity to be happy and you deserve that happiness, in the same way you deserve your kidneys and your kneecaps. No matter what you have done in the world, or think you have done, you deserve happiness. Besides, who would benefit if you were to remain unhappy?

Nephew: But we can lose an eye, a kidney, a kneecap.

Uncle: That doesn’t mean we have lost the right to have that eye, that kidney, that kneecap. In the same way, if we become unhappy it doesn’t mean we have lost the right to be happy.

Nephew: Did Adolf Hitler deserve happiness? Pol Pot? Idi Amin? Joseph Stalin?

Uncle: Yep. Happiness isn’t a reward for being nice; it’s a birthright. They were human, and deserved their fingers, their bladder, their nose . . . and their happiness. So do you. If you were to lose your happiness, you would deserve to be happy again.

Nephew: For all you know I may have done some bad things. Awful things.

Uncle: Nevertheless, you deserve to be happy.

Nephew: But shouldn’t bad people be made to feel unhappy? Don’t they deserve that punishment?

Uncle: We wouldn’t punish someone by removing their left leg. In the same way, we shouldn’t punish someone by reducing their happiness. They deserve their happiness as much as they deserve their leg. It’s a birthright.

Nephew: But we have to punish them somehow.

Uncle: There are other ways to punish. Let’s say two people commit a crime and are sentenced to jail. One goes to a standard jail and becomes unhappy. The other goes to a magical jail which helps her feel valued and connected, and happy. Which prisoner do you think is more likely to feel remorse, and upon leaving jail be less likely to commit another offence?

Nephew: . . .

Uncle: Exactly. As for the prisoner in the standard jail, made to feel unhappy, who will benefit because she has been made to feel unhappy? Will she benefit? Will anyone benefit? Hardly.

Nephew: The unhappy one might be deterred from committing another crime.

Uncle: Recidivism is high in ex-prisoners from standard jails.

Nephew: If a criminal is made to feel unhappy, the victim can feel justice has been done.

Uncle: Poor compensation. Many victims still resent the criminal long after the jail sentence has been completed. I suspect that a victim would feel far better if the perpetrator emerged from jail happier, well adjusted and rehabilitated. At least then the crime would have some meaning.

Nephew: I don’t agree.

Uncle: Whatever the case, core happiness isn’t a commodity that should be taken away, in the same way that a kidney should not be taken away. It’s a birthright. We all deserve happiness, including you. No exceptions.

Nephew: Are you saying that if someone commits a crime they should be punished by being helped to become happy?

Uncle: The idea of purposely taking away a person’s happiness to punish them is draconian. Sure, take away the prisoner’s pleasures, but let’s help them increase their core happiness. All of us will benefit.

Nephew: That would require a change of attitude in millions of people, and cost billions of dollars.

Uncle: Yes.

Nephew: Unlikely.

Uncle: If we stay focused on helping prisoners become happier and well-adjusted, I claim there would be less recidivism and fewer prisoners. Further, if we focused on helping everyone in society increase their core happiness, we might well create fewer offenders. The initial cost would be enormous, but the costs would decrease. We’d all benefit in the long run.

Nephew: What would Hitler have been like had he been happier?

Uncle: Who knows.

Nephew: So, no matter what I have done, I deserve to be happy?

Uncle: You do. You have the right to be happy. And if you’re not happy, you can aim to be happy, because you deserve it.

20 Responses to Do I deserve to be happy?

  1. Wow, I enjoyed reading this. It is very philosophical and has made me think big…

  2. Preiselbeere says:

    Hi, I know this article was written years ago but I’m hoping you’ll reply. I know you said you’re not qualified to give advice because you’re not a psychologist, but if you could do so anyway that’d be much appreciated. Don’t worry, I won’t come with a mob at your doorstep if it goes wrong haha. When I was little I was physically abused (I am still being abused though it is not physical anymore) and when I went to school I was bullied, and I found that whenever I made a mistake it was because I was so caught up in my own temporary happiness that I was being inconsiderate, though never mean-spirited. I also noticed that when I was being abused and bullied it was because the abuser/bullies were too caught up in their own release to be considerate of me. Because of these observations I have an extreme fear of being happy because I worry that if I become happy I’ll also become mean or otherwise inconvenient to others. I am also stuck in a constant cycle of self-loathing and believe that I am a bad person, but despite believing this, I cannot throw caution to the wind and think “if I’m already a bad person I might as well be a happy person too,” because, terrible as I may be, I know I am not abusive and I cannot bring myself to do anything that has any resemblance to my abuser’s behavior. Going back to the cycle of self-loathing, just in case you ask, I have forced myself into this habitual hatred because I fear if I do not blame myself for every mishap then I will be tempted to blame the world or others and lash out, like my abuser did and does. This unrelenting hatred and non-stop shaming of myself seems to have convinced me to no end that I do not deserve happiness nor shall I ever be able to earn the right to it, not only as self-punishment but mainly in the name of others’ well-being, which I would sacrifice anything for. I know all of this sounds ludicrous, but it is truly what my mind has trapped me into believing. You don’t have to respond, but if there’s any path you can see that might help me realize how unrealistic my fears are, your input would be greatly appreciated. Thank you so much for reading, sorry for the long rant and rather personal information haha. Have a great day, thanks again.

    • Mr Bashful says:

      Hi.
      Gosh. None of it sounds ludicrous but I really can’t help you. I don’t have the knowledge, the wisdom, or the expertise to assist. I have no experience in the matters you discuss or in dealing with them. My book is an overall philosophy on how to live one’s life. I don’t know how to assist individuals with individual problems.
      I am not witholding advice; I simply don’t have any to give you.
      I hope very much that one day you will have found a solution to your problems and that you let me know that you have.
      Meanwhile, I wish you my warmest regards and inordinate good luck in life.
      Mark Avery.

    • Sinead Ocallaghan says:

      I really hope you come to terms with the horrible things which happened to you when you were a child. I agree that you completely deserve to be happy. I am truly sorry you are not and feel self loathing, I (like you) feel bad about myself on a daily basis-I feel that after all the mistakes I have made and selfish acts I do not deserve to be happy especially as there are so many people who suffer in life. However, I agree with the above statement- we DO deserve to be happy as we are human and have flaws, but EVERYBODY has these flaws and me and you are no different. We completely deserve to be happy and by being happy we can serve others in need much more effectively, we need to feel worthy but that’s just it….we ARE worthy. I hope you take time to love yourself because trust me,that is The truest and best path for all.

  3. MaybeNow says:

    Like TamperSand, I’m feeling the guilt and regret of past wrongdoings. But unlike Tampersand, I haven’t been able to move past those feelings at all. Maybe my own mental illness issues (PTSD / Depression) are keeping me trapped in this cycle of loathing unhappiness and constant guilt, but I also keep thinking that maybe I don’t deserve to be happy because of what I have done to others.

    I want to move past this and find some happiness. But when my brain tells me, constantly, that even if I do move past it there is still the slimmest of slimmest chances my past can come back to haunt me. And take away that happiness and all that I’ve possibly built along with it (friends, family, success, etc).

    So why even try?

    • Mr Bashful says:

      Hi MaybeNow,
      I am at a loss to know what to say. As I mentioned to Tampersand, I am no psychologist and for me to give advice would be irresponsible, even if I had advice to give. The advice I suggested to Tampersand was just a hunch and I admitted that.
      Perhaps you’re not asking for advice, and just want to be heard. I hear you. The readers will hear you.
      I hope one day you write again and tell me how you succeeded in moving through the thoughts currently hindering you, so that the rest of us can benefit from your journey.
      Meanwhile, you have my thoughts and concerns.
      My best wishes to you,
      Mark.

      • TamperSand says:

        Mr Bashful, I must say that, even though you are not a psychologist, your advice did mirror my own psychologist’s advice, I hope that gives it more validity.

        MaybeNow, if you are worried about your past coming back to haunt you is there any thing you can do about it? Even if it is working on repentance in solitude, if you are unable to make up directly for your past maybe using your past to help prevent/recover others who may/have fall down same path you did.

        Using Mr Bashful’s advice in finding gratitude in those negative thoughts is very useful, although truly understanding how to takes time. A mental process I have developed is whenever I have a flashback I try and force myself to think of a positive thing I have done for others instead, I know how the mind can blow up one small negative aspect of your life way out of proportion, by remembering the good things you have done or are doing I find it can help put those memories that your mind is trying to fill itself with back into perspective.

        Finally, remember that the past does not exist, the future does not exist, only now exists it is only what we do now that matters.

  4. TamperSand says:

    Thank you, this gave me some powerful thoughts to reflect on.

    I came here through some random link while searching for ways to get over the bad things I have don in my past.

    I agree strongly that removing someones happiness is a poor method of rehabilitation, what’s more, the very existence of a criminal record removes the possibility of building a good future very difficult, making the person feel that their future is worthless and that going back to their old behaviors is the only path for them.

    I have worked hard to become a better person, to remove my selfish habits, help those who are in need of help and find ways to use my negative past to make the future of others positive. I have never seen any legal repercussions for any various poor choices, which, honestly, now I am grateful for, I am aware that having that “mark” on your name makes becoming a better person so much more difficult, I don’t take the second chance I have had had at life for granted and work hard to make up for my past.

    Intellectually, I know that I am not the same person I used to be and I know that it took a lot of strength for me to change myself alone but I still struggle/ed with the feelings of being undeserving of happiness, love or piece. I know, Intellectually, that I do deserve them but I am also aware that I can’t just squash out those depressive feelings in a day and will take a considerable amount of effort to overcome them.

    Your article has given me more hope and I will think of your words when I am meditating and throughout the day, so thank you for helping me, you don’t know me, and I don’t know you, but you have helped me on a very personal level, you have said things that affect me in very personal ways.

    Thank you

    • Mr Bashful says:

      Thank you for your kind words to me and for your comments. I can’t imagine the pain and frustration you would be feeling. My thoughts are with you there.



      It seems you are trying harder than most of us to become the person you would like to be (and probably are already, if you could forgive yourself enough to see that) and that should be acknowledged. Many of us are complacent. Life has been easy for many of us. As a result, many of us don’t strive to change, or to better ourselves. But you have chosen to face what you have done and striven to become the person who would not do it again. My hat is off to you!



      You describe your situation well: you are aware that you have changed, but because that understanding is only on an intellectual level, you are still struggling to forgive and accept yourself. As a result, the depressive feelings just keep coming.



      I am no psychologist, so please be careful giving credibility to the following words. If they don’t sound right or helpful please ignore them.

      I suggest you thank those feelings of guilt and shame. And thank that feeling that you don’t deserve happiness. And keep thanking those feelings when they arise. 

      From the impression I get, you long ago become a good person. It was the shame and guilt you felt that prompted you to change. They drove you to regret your actions. They drove you to become a helping person, and less selfish. It was those feelings that helped you turn your life around. 

      They deserve your thanks.

      

Unfortunately, because they have been so helpful, and so successful, they keep visiting you, even though they are no longer needed. 



      You have a battle within you: on one hand, you keep wanting to drive those feelings away because you rightly understand that you no longer need them or deserve them. On the other hand, you keep inviting yourself to feel those feelings because you’re concerned that if you don’t feel them, you will lose your way. Result: constant turmoil.

      
I suggest that when they come, don’t try to drive them away. Instead, thank them. “I feel so undeserving of happiness. Ah. You again! Thank you for coming. You have helped me considerably in the past. Without you I would not have taken the trouble to improve myself. Thank you very much for your help. But I don’t need you right now. Thanks anyway.”



      “Ah, self hatred. Gosh, thanks for coming. You were a big part in my life. Thank you. You prompted me to see how bad my actions were. I learnt a lot from you. I changed my ways because of you. Thank you for coming but as you can see, you’re not needed right now. Come back when you think I’m about to do something bad again. I’l need you then. Meanwhile, thanks for coming.”

      “Ah, depression. Bless your heart. Here you are again . . .“

      In short, don’t try to overcome those feelings. They’re trying to help you, but they’re misguided. Thank them instead, and reassure them. 



      They will keep coming back. Each time they do, welcome them and thank them in the same way. Eventually they’ll come to understand that you’re okay, that you’ll call on them when you need them.

      

That’s the plan, anyway!

      

If any of that makes sense to you, you might like to read the chapter, “Alice and the Dark Forest”.

      

Lastly, I would like to thank you: Thank you! Your last paragraph was a beauty. It is a very “giving” paragraph, full of generosity. You strove to gave me a gift and you succeeded in spades. It warmed my heart and gave me encouragement. Much appreciated. Thank you.

      

My warm regards to you, and good luck!

      Mark. 


  5. Javi says:

    Thank you! This is amazing. This article has a lot of important questions, and made me rethink a lot of attitudes and beliefs I have developed over the past few years, and made me realise that maybe some of them were some of the reasons I have been feeling so bad. I completely agree with you but I think I still have a journey ahead of me to wellbeing and core happiness, as you said. But reading this article helped me get that little bit further back on track. Great! Well wishes 🙂

    • Mr Bashful says:

      Thank you for your compliment, Javi! It’s heartening to receive such feedback, and I am so pleased the material has helped you. Thank you for taking the time to send your comment. Much appreciated.
      Good going with the rest of your journey. I bet you’re doing all that you can to get there.
      My warm regards to you, Javi.
      Mark.

  6. Daniel says:

    I don’t know you, but I got to say thanks. I was having a miserable few years, I have reached academic heights and goals but during that way I gave up on love and many other things. I always asked the quesiton of do I deserve to be happy even though I hurt people that meant so much to me. So thanks I felt alot of love and companion in your article thank you
    Sincerely Daniel. H

  7. Parul says:

    Thank you:’)

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