I’d like to be happy. I hope you’d like to be happy too. Only, there’s a snag. It seems that the pursuit of feeling good (according to “Happiness 101,” NY Times, Jan 7, 2007) leads to what the writer, D.T.Max quotes as the “Hedonic Treadmill.” It’s a form of hedonistic addiction where we become hooked on find the next feel-good fix. Rather, the way to happiness is to do good for good’s sake.
For us, in our pursuit of wellbeing, it’s useful to make a distinction between feeling good (temporary fix) and doing good (the route to sustainable happiness). I hasten to say, these are the results of the research and class featured in the New York Times article.
If you’d like to test this for yourself this week, we could all join the students in the experiments they were asked to engage in, and then report back their results to the group. We could do the same. In phase one they were told to go and do whatever they thought would give them pleasure. (There was a lot of physical intimacy reported, together with rather a lot of drinking!!! Perhaps we should tone it down for Moodscope – Ovaltine and a Rom Com, anyone?)
In phase two, our instructions are to go and volunteer to help in some way – to do good.
Of course, you and I know the answers. Many of you have given your lives for others and your family members, and continue to do service in charity shops and as charity workers. So why did I use the title, “Beauty and the Beast”?
The reason is that doing good for the beauty of it is the key. If we do good to get a feel-good buzz, we fall into the trap set by having a mixed motive. The motive needs to be pure – to do good for good’s sake, purely for the beauty of it.
I am glad to report that I’m once again in love. This time it is with the young Count Zinzendorf. Aside from his beautiful character, I’d have to say the surname is a big plus!
The young Count Zinzendorf was sent off to complete his education by doing the grand tour of European cities. In Dusseldorf, he was drawn to a famous painting by Ecce Homo ("Behold the Man") by Domenico Feti. The artist had added a line to the painting to the effect, “All this I have done for thee, what doest thou for Me?” It seems a moral imperative is one of the direct pathways to choosing to do good as a life-choice (think Voluntary Service Oversees), and Count Zinzendorf spent the rest of his life and his fortune helping those less fortunate than he.
May we all engage with the suggested experiments and report back, and may we all find that the beauty of doing good for good’s sake eclipses the rather fun but temporary beast of the hedonic treadmill.
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