IN PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS

When I was growing up, my boyhood idol was a guy named Bobby Guzzo. As far as I was concerned, Bobby was the greatest human being to ever walk the face of the world. In fact, I was totally convinced that Bobby was nothing less than a supreme being - a god if you will. It might be noted that I was seven years old at the time, and Bobby was my next-door neighbor. I may have been a little biased, but I don't think so.

What was so special about Bobby? Besides the fact that he was the only kid in my neighborhood who didn't steal my lunch money he was by far the best athlete I had ever met and one of the most intelligent. There wasn't a sport that Bobby couldn't play, and there wasn't a class in school he couldn't ace. He was literally the Jim Thorpe / Albert Einstein of our neighborhood. What really set Bobby apart though was his work ethic. To this day, I have never met anyone who worked harder than Bobby. When he wasn't studying his schoolwork, he was either lifting weights, running or practicing some sport. It seemed like every minute of the day he was doing something to better himself. When other kids his age were partying, Bobby was working. No one, and I mean no one, worked harder. All the kids in the neighborhood would say, "Bobby you never have any fun, all you do is work". And I would think, maybe the kids are right - Bobby never goes anywhere, he just studies and trains. He really doesn't have any fun. The strange thing was, though, Bobby was always happy.

When Bobby went to high school he was the same way. He was either studying or training. He never went to dances or parties. I don't believe he dated that much. He would go to bed each night by nine o'clock and then get up the following morning and run six miles before going to school. After school he would go to the weight room for one or two hours, and after that you would find him at home studying. In short, he never had any fun in high school either, but he did win the Pennsylvania State wrestling championships in his senior year and he received a full scholarship to East Stroudsburg College. No one in our neighborhood had ever done anything like that before. I also noticed that although he never had any fun in high school, he seemed a lot happier than everyone else. In college Bobby actually got worse. It was all work - no play.

When he wasn't in the library studying, he was in the gym training. The kids at college were always trying to get him to go out, but he seldom did, and if he did, he was always home early. He never drank and he never used drugs. His life literally revolved around academics and athletics. It was clear that Bobby's idea of fun was a book and a barbell. Still, he was always smiling, and always in a good frame of mind. By the time he graduated from college he had won All-American honors three times in the sport of wrestling. He also graduated with high honors. After he exited college he was immediately hired as the head wrestling coach at North Carolina. No one in our neighborhood had ever done anything like that before.

Finally it dawned on me (It takes me a while to figure things out). Bobby never had much fun, but he was extremely happy. The point is that there is a major difference between happiness and fun.  People who equate happiness with fun have some misguided ideas about the true nature of happiness. The truth is that fun and happiness are barely related. Fun is a short-term feeling of pleasure that we experience during an event or act. Happiness is a long-term feeling of accomplishment and contentment that we experience after an event or act. Happiness is a more profound and enduring emotion than fun. For instance, watching a power lifting meet or a football game can be fun, but such activities don't bring happiness, because once the event is over, so is the fun. More difficult undertakings such as training for competition and competing in a championship will bring you more happiness because they are experiences that are more perpetual.

Unfortunately, most of us have been deluded into believing that happiness can only be achieve through a fun-filled, pain-free life. Consequently, we have become a hedonistic type of society were pleasure is the absolute goal.  As Epicureans, we are only concerned with wine, women, and song.  We seek only the enjoyment in life and attempt to avoid its struggles by indulging in wild parties, new cars, expensive homes, everything and anything that we believe will lead us down the path to happiness. As mentioned, fun-filed activities do little to contribute to our overall happiness, because they are temporary and fleeting.

Yet people continue to cling to the idea that in order to be happy we have to have fun. As a result we have created a fun-filled world for ourselves that has led us to the exact emotion we are trying to avoid - unhappiness. In fact, America - the amusement park of the world - is plagued by unhappiness. In truth, unhappiness in America is near epidemic. If you don't believe me, how do you explain these statistics. A recent mental health survey revealed that eighty percent of the Americans surveyed said that they were not happy and that life was a real bust. Eighty percent! And listen to this; one out of every five Americans will require psychiatric help before they reach the age of forty. Sixty million Valium prescriptions are handed out every year in the United States. Did you know that every year in America 27 thousand people kill themselves? Is that sad or what! And all of this is in America - the greatest country in the entire world - a country where there are more fun things to do than any other place in the world.

Obviously we are doing something wrong in the pursuit of happiness. Dennis Prager, a renowned author in the field of psychology, has an engaging theory concerning this very issue. He says, "If fun and pleasure are equated with happiness, then pain must be equated with unhappiness." But, in fact, the opposite is true. More times then not, things that lead to happiness involve some pain. As a result, many people avoid the endeavors that are the source of true happiness because they fear the work and pain."

I believe Prager is right. People are afraid to face the discomfort that inevitably comes with such things as athletic and professional achievement, physical training, education, marriage, and religious commitment. Many of us are surprised to find that happiness is not just ecstasy and pleasure. It's also pain and despair. It's confusion and failure, strife and struggle, discomfort and uncertainty. It is all part of the pursuit of happiness. Unfortunately, our naiveté prompts us to be more inclined to choose painless fun over painful happiness. Consequently, few of us are truly happy, because few of us understand that true happiness does not come naturally.  You have to work at it.

There is no doubt in my mind that genuine happiness is attainable for each and every one of us, but it doesn't come without a price. Happiness means getting your hands a little dirty, struggling a little, suffering a little, and working a little. It means taking the responsibility for choosing and defining your own life. Perhaps Leo Rosten in his very special way says it best: "Happiness comes only when we push our brains and hearts to the farthest reaches of which we are capable." I'm sure Bobby Guzzo would tell you the same thing.

Yours in strength,

Dr. Judd Biasiotto

 

 

 

 

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