On happiness

“It is a duty to be happy,” writes Andre Gide in his Journal. I first read this sentence as a teenager, and adopted it as a personal motto.

Happiness is not a pure gift of fortune. We should not expect the world to make us happy, nor should we resent the world if we’re not. Happiness is what we build, over time.

This may sound offensive. Is depression a personal failure? Inequalities irrelevant? Not so. If happiness is a duty, then we must aspire to it, no matter what our circumstances. We may be far from happiness, for reasons outside our control, whether birth in the wrong house or dysfunctional brain chemistry. The duty remains. We must part from sadness or anger. Spend as long as required, alone, or with help, to reach happiness. Make this a priority.

This sentence, in its simplicity, is a beautiful call to moral courage and emotional honesty. When a certain course of action would make us happy, but goes against another duty, the court is open. Self-sacrifice, shame, conformism, are acceptable only to the extent that they will not result in lasting bitterness. And if our preconceived idea of success clashes with happiness – then maybe, success must go.

 

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