What it Means to be Happy

Subject: Personal Experience
Type: Personal Narrative Essay
Pages: 4
Word count: 1246

Every individual myself included wrestles with the decision between what is right or wrong and reactions to the two which brings either unhappiness or happiness. A rider metaphor has been applied by Haidt to mean conscious mind which may want to control subconscious which is stronger and bigger than itself- the elephant. Given this fact, there has a lot of conflict between the two because conscious cannot control subconscious and therefore, it does or goes or imagines whatever it wants and this, has been the source of unhappiness. An individual, therefore, can be happy only to the extent that his conscious and subconscious mind is in agreement. Agreement between the two means a lot of consensus building which could be done through allowing conscious to train the subconscious. In other words, a rider will be happy only to the extent that he trains his elephant. The well-trained elephant will have virtue. This paper will argue that happiness is brought about by aligning conscious mind to the subconscious mind through training, leading and practicing a virtuous life. These are processes that will involve changing old habits, 

To begin with, I think as a human being, the social relationship is a major determinant of happiness. When a spouse or a partner experiences love with one another, their chances of attaining happiness is enhanced. However, it is not prudent to rely so much on passion because it can cause much hurt and unhappiness when it fades away. According to Haidt (25), every individual who wants to be happy should focus much on companionate love. This is where love is shared between siblings, parents and best friends. Everyone once in a while has someone who will watch over him or her in secret with a lot of love whenever they are going through tough times and trying times (Lieberman 12). However, many people have been made unhappy by the relationship they put up with and is not working. Any relationship I believe should be built over time to forge a stronger bond that lasts a lifetime through practicing virtue and giving a spouse or partner one time to develop love.

Secondly, we can all or at least some of us can be happy when we say that, “sorry we were wrong”. It makes a lot of sense to me that the world could be a happier place when we acknowledge our fault and going ahead to tell those we wronged. This according to Haidt (29), is a principle of reciprocity. This principle is important to me because it also teaches that whenever I interact with others, I should always be compelled to return the favor they have offered me. It is important to understand that when we say sorry each time we are in fault, we make the offended want to do the same to us and this goes a long way in ensuring that the conflict between us is resolved. My roommate and I had some differences which were making things worse and I was thinking of moving out (Haidt 29). Days later I realized I was in fault and went to talk with my roommate. I apologized and invited my roommate for a drink and after that, I have felt that I had been biased and mean to my roommate. Since then, I am happy to live in the same room with my roommate and she has been since apologized dozens of times to me as well whenever she feels she is wrong. Even though my elephant always wanted me to apologize, my rider never obliged at first until I decided to reconcile the two.

The third way that I think means a lot in defining my happiness is the kind of work that I do. Many people are not fulfilled with the type of work they do. One day as I was visiting my aunt, her childhood friend was visiting too. I was shocked that she has worked for the same company for twenty-five years and she has been treated badly all these years and yet she was still looking forward to retiring in the same job. This showed me that she was adapted to the problems in that company and satisfied with the level of happiness she was deriving from the company. Comparing to my own case, I have been involved in some part time jobs and in particular, I loved working for less in a community center because it gave me happiness to see families walk by and share a word with me. Other places I have worked did not spark much happiness to me. I realized that progressive principle by Haidt (11), was at work and external circumstances impacts much on our happiness. 

The fourth principle that describes happiness is the accepting the person one is. Even though the elephant and the rider will always disagree with the person one is, it is important to reconcile them with the truth about the person one is, without sugar coating or impersonating. Many people live a life of denial and their rider portrays them as efficient, eloquent and affluent individuals while their elephants want to portray them as less serious and slack (Haidt 11). It is important that one needs to accept whom he or she is so as both the rider and the elephant could read from the same script. This adds to fulfillment and personal satisfaction both of which are determinants of happiness. 

Fifthly, no matter the situation one has to stay focused and believe that in any situation the purpose and aim of one’s life should not be lost. I fear, just like anybody else, crisis. In the middle of an even small crisis, tension and stress level rise and one becomes very unhappy. According to Haidt (39), adversity can be a source that brings happiness. In a crisis, an individual will be facing circumstance that will make him or she realize what the elephant desires and in essence will help the rider adjust to these circumstances. Lastly, in order to be happy, one needs to be part of something greater that keeps him or her going. By being a believer, one keeps on holding to faith and have some sense of awe (Greene 36), which is a sign that illustrates that even though we are small, we really represent something that is bigger and equally important.

In conclusion, I believe that all these actions that can result in happiness should be pursued through training. Every training ordeal takes great regular practice as well as repetition. Again it is the rider who must be involved in training the elephant. Knowledge of the right thing should be accompanied by the ability to wanting to do the right thing. Therefore all that could bring much happiness to an individual is indulging in allowing the rider to train the elephant in virtue. Then only, to that point that the elephant agrees to the rider, everything else will cause unhappiness. In doing so, I believe it is important not only to craft and then sit back but practice day in day out. Also, it is important that any individual who seek happiness should reach out to others because elephant is bigger than the rider and therefore, will require joint effort where the rider seeks help from other places, such as, from role models or meditation so as factual knowledge that can be helpful in resolving the conflict between rider and elephant could be turned into practice easily. 

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  1. Greene, Joshua D. Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap between us and them. London: Atlantic Books, 2014. Print.
  2. Haidt, Jonathan. The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. New York: Basic Books, 2006. Print.
  3. Lieberman, Matthew D. Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2013. Print.
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