Do you deserve your pancreas? Your bladder? Of course you do. 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, your kidney, your elbow; they’re yours. It’s the same with your happiness. You were born with an innate propensity to be happy and you deserve that happiness, in the same way you deserve your hearing 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?
Q. ‘But we can lose an eye, a kidney, a kneecap.’
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.
Q. ‘Did Adolf Hitler deserve happiness? Pol Pot? Idi Amin? Joseph Stalin? Does Robert Mugabe?’
Yep. Happiness isn’t a reward for being nice – it’s a birthright. They were human, and deserved their fingers, their bladder, their brain . . . their happiness. So do you. If you have lost your happiness, you deserve to be happy again.
‘I’ve done some bad things. Awful things.’
Nevertheless, you deserve to be happy.
‘But shouldn’t bad people be punished?’
By reducing their happiness? By removing a kidney? No. There are other ways to punish. Let’s say two twins commit a crime and are sentenced to jail. One goes to a standard jail and becomes unhappy. The other twin goes to a magical jail which helps her feel valued and connected, and happy. Which twin do you think is more likely to feel remorse, and upon leaving jail be less likely to commit another offence?
As for the twin 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?
‘The unhappy twin might be deterred from committing another crime.’
Recidivism is high in ex-prisoners from standard jails.
‘If the criminal is made to feel unhappy, the victim will feel justice has been done.’
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 about being a victim if the perpetrator emerged from jail happier, well adjusted and rehabilitated. At least then the crime would have some meaning.
‘I don’t agree.’
Whatever the case, core happiness isn’t a commodity that should be taken away, like a kidney shouldn’t be taken away. It’s a birthright. We all deserve happiness, including you. No exceptions.
‘Are you saying that if someone commits a crime they should be punished by being helped to become happy?’
The idea of purposely taking away a person’s happiness to punish them is draconian. Sure, reduce the prisoner’s temporary happiness (pleasures) but let’s help them retain, even increase, their core happiness. Then all of us will benefit.
‘That would require a change of attitude in millions of people, and cost billions of dollars.’
If we concentrated upon helping prisoners become happier and well adjusted, (and we are improving in that area significantly), I claim that after a while there would be less recidivism and fewer prisoners. Further, if we focused on helping everyone in society increase their core happiness, as Bhutan claims to do, we might well create fewer offenders.
‘In other words, the initial cost would be enormous, but the costs would decrease, and we’d all benefit in the long run?’
‘What would Hitler have been like had he been happier?’
Q. ‘So, no matter who I am, or what I have done, I deserve to be happy?’
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. It’s your birthright.
Q. ‘You say that we were born with a propensity to be happy. How do you know? Yes, we evolved bladders and kidneys and eyes, but why would we evolve to be happy?’
We evolved both kinds of happiness: the temporary happiness we get from experiencing pleasure, and core happiness, the general day-to-day feeling of wellbeing when nothing in particular is happening.
We evolved to feel pleasure (temporary happiness) because it encourages us to engage in beneficial short-term behaviours, such as eating, having sex and playing. (Playing is good for us because it hones our skills.) Pleasure is evolution’s reward for engaging in those short-term behaviours.
Core happiness (the day-to-day feeling of well being, and the happiness you’re asking about) is our reward for engaging in long-term, ongoing behaviours that benefit us. Long-term ongoing behaviours cannot be rewarded with instantaneous pleasure, so they are rewarded with long-term, ongoing pleasure – a relaxed, general feeling of wellbeing: core happiness. We evolved core happiness as an incentive, and reward, for engaging in beneficial long-term behaviours.
So yes, we did evolve to be happy. We evolved both forms of happiness, the temporary happiness we get from pleasure, and core happiness, because both prompt us to engage in beneficial behaviours that help us live long enough to pass on our genes. In other words, a propensity to be happy is just as innate as having a spleen, a tongue or a shin bone. Which means, you deserve happiness.
Q. ‘If we evolved happiness and it’s innate, why are so many of us unhappy?’
As I say, core happiness comes from engaging in long-term ongoing behaviours which satisfy innate needs. Many people don’t engage in those ongoing behaviours, and so don’t satisfy their innate needs. As a consequence they are unhappy. That unhappiness is evolution’s (or Nature’s) way of nudging them to change the situation.
Q. ‘What are the long-term innate behaviours many of us are ignoring?’
Briefly, they are:
1. The need to contribute to the tribe.
2. The need to feel valued by the tribe.
3. The need to feel connected with the tribe.
4. The need to experience anxiety, AND feel able to handle it.
There are many other innate needs, but those four are the ones discussed in this book and my other book, ‘The Umpteen Ways to Satisfy Our Deep Need to Belong‘.