I want you to be happy, healthy, wise and wealthy because the greater the number of happy people there are in the world the better off we all will be.
This evening I picked up a book: A Guide to Personal Happiness – by Dr. Albert Ellis and Dr. Irving Becker. I hoped to find some clues on how to improve human happiness. The book is pleasant enough reading and it has techniques for certain types of people to improve their lives. My view of the techniques proposed was that they were good enough sounding but that the people who needed them most probably didn’t have the personal development to apply the techniques suggested. The doctors who wrote these suggestions probably found them to work okay with their clients in a controlled setting but the various suggestions would require outside monitoring and encouragement to be practiced for very long. Until the suggestions become habits they are just words on the printed page. Unfortunately that is probably where they will remain for most readers of this book. Let me quote a bit from page 61 to give a flavor of the type of suggestions they propose.
1. Decide to strive primarily for your own happiness.
3. Decide that you largely control your own emotional destiny.
9. Forcefully act against your irrational Beliefs and inappropriate feelings.
10. Resolve to change, acknowledge that change means hard work, and keep working to implement your resolutions.
On the Happiness Scale of 0-14 these suggestions are aimed at level 3 which is basically Hedonism with the aim of avoiding pain and maximizing the totality of pleasures of the bodily sensations of an extend lifetime. There is little in this book about social interaction and on page 61 they state the height of their underlying motive, “Enlightened self-interest includes the interest of others.” Adam Smith struggled with this problem of maximizing self-interest over two hundred years ago as discussed briefly in my blog, Why are people good to each other? Smith answers his philosophical dilemma by realizing that social empathy is what helped people to grow. As we mature we learn to project ourselves mentally and feel the pain and pleasure of other people and by doing so we elevate our own potential for human happiness.
The clients of the doctors and the readers of this book would be better served by practicing feeling the emotions of other people. These days with an abundance of TV and other entertainments we have an abundance of opportunities of observing other people in various situations with a multitude of experiential emotions. People living at the Hedonistic level will profit by watching TV sitcoms. Wow, did I say that? However, as soon as people have developed to the level where they have empathy for other people’s feelings they are ready for more social interactions with actual people and organized social groups. The higher one moves along the Happiness Scale the more opportunity there is for long term social interaction. It is in improved social interaction that these people will find more abundant happiness and it is there that these types of self help books could do the most to improve these peoples lives.