Happiness Is a Serious Problem by Dennis Prager: 10 Lessons

Photo by Stan B on Unsplash

OK, so I know this book is from the 90’s and we are in 2021! I just recently though discovered Dennis Prager and I am loving his Fireside Chats on YouTube, where he talks about life topics and values. While I don’t agree with every argument of his, I love many of his insights and enjoy his refreshingly simple explanations.

This book is no exception. Very easy to read and offers so much “food for thought” to take away. I highly recommend it.

Here are some of my personal takeaways-

1. Happiness is a struggle

Anyone can be unhappy, it is easy and does not require any effort. Happiness, on the other hand, is something that needs to be worked at. Through hard work against our nature, we can(mostly) control over how happy we are.

“You don’t need to wait for something wonderful to happen to you, so long as nothing terrible is happening to you, you ought to be happy.”

2. Don’t let dissatisfaction sabotage your happiness

Human beings nature is insatiable. This human dissatisfaction is what gives us the motivation to improve our world and our personal life. For example- human dissatisfaction with disease- has led to cure for illnesses. We can acknowledge the dissatisfaction, but not allow it to make us unhappy. If the dissatisfaction is changeable and important, we should seek to work on whatever is causing us dissatisfaction, one day at a time.

“I can be happy with what I have, even though I am not satisfied with it.”

3. Dealing with a Missing tile- “get it, forget it or replace it”

Life is not supposed to be perfect. There is always something that is missing or that can be better. Here is a technique to deal with the “missing tile”. Firstly, if the missing tile is not crucial to your happiness, best to forget it. If it is important use the get/forget/replace it technique:

Get it- Assuming it’s something you can go after. The author gives an example of wanting another child when he and his wife were in their mid-forties. After having another kid, he never looked back.

Forget it- If it’s something that is simply not possible to tackle. The author gives an example of not being able to be with his son at all times as he shared joint custody with his ex-wife. He had no choice but to forget it, and make the most of the current situation.

Replace it- with a missing tile- Example of a great pianist who was struck with an affliction making it impossible for him to play. He changed his career to teaching and conducting instead.

4. Unhappiness Formula: U= I-R

From childhood on, we all have images of our lives, what our work, spouse, marriage, children will/should look like.

These images are very powerful and our actual reality can be quite different. In mathematical terms, the formula for measuring unhappiness: U = I — R , the difference between your images and your reality.

The solution to this problem of images is inherent in the formula. Unhappiness can be reduced by either dropping your images and celebrating your reality or keeping your images and changing your reality.

“Sometimes we have to change our reality; sometimes our reality need not, or cannot, be changed, only celebrated or at least made peace with.”

Images (just like dissatisfaction) are actually very important to the world. Imagining a better world and a better society helps work towards making these a reality.

5. Will success at work make you happy?

While looking at what we would call “successful individuals”, usually those who are happy were happy before they were successful, and those who were unhappy before achieving success are still unhappy.

Work though can be a major source of happiness — if the work is joyful and meaningful to you. Working mainly to make money and achieve success may lead you to work that isn’t joyful and meaningful, which won’t add to your happiness. Ask yourself if you would you still be doing this work if you won the lottery?

6. Never expect, expectations undermine gratitude

Expectations means feeling entitled to the things that we want. Entitlement undermines the most important source of happiness, gratitude. Judaism has a blessing over relieving one’s body. Something that seems to be expected we are called to be grateful for.

“We should have goals, hopes, and ambitions for ourselves; and we are right to make appropriate demands on others, such as fidelity from a spouse and honest work from an employee. But these are all different from expectations.”

7. How to deal with world’s suffering

How can we be happy when there is so much human suffering?

#Happiness increases our ability to do good in the world- we are working to make the world better and according to the author, happiness is important to doing good. Unhappy people, are usually less capable than happy people of doing good. One reason for this it that they tend to be too preoccupied with themselves and with their unhappiness.

#Increased gratitude-

“Instead of allowing the enormity of the world’s suffering to make me unhappy, I have allowed it to increase the depth of my gratitude for the blessed life that I have been allowed to lead.”

#Unjust suffering necessitates the need for a religious outlook on life- The nonreligious view of the world holds that this unfair and often vicious life is the only reality and there is nothing beyond this life. Having a religious outlook enables us to view the course as just and not a just random occurrence of events.

8. When to use psychiatric drugs

This book is based on the premise that unhappiness can be reduced by changing one’s attitudes and philosophy of life. Therapy, religion and health are also known to help decrease unhappiness. Sometimes though, these are not enough to end depression, which is when these drugs should be introduced, hopefully eventually (when feasible) to be able to wean off.

Some unhappiness has biochemical origins (this biochemistry may well have been brought about by traumatic circumstances), and sometimes must be treated with biochemical drugs.

“Biological roots of unhappiness may necessitate biological solutions. “

9. Importance of Meaning in life

“Animals do not need to have meaning in their lives. Human beings, on the other hand, crave meaning.”

People derive meaning from two beliefs - the belief that their life has meaning and the belief that life itself has meaning(transcendence). These beliefs are necessary for happiness.

“There are many secular intellectuals, who see human life as a random, undirected coincidence yet (essentially for the sake of their sanity) continue to regard their personal lives as meaningful. On purely logical grounds, I do not see how a meaningless universe can produce meaningful lives, but I well understand why most people who believe in a meaningless universe do not wish to view their own lives in this way. “

Personal Meaning is derived from three sources — relationships, work, and causes. The role of being a parent provides a person with as much personal meaning as anything probably can. Furthermore, family life enables us to love, be loved and feel belonging which gives us meaning.

10. develop perspective :Cultivate a philosophy of life

Without a philosophy of life, we do not know how to react to what life deals us. With a deep philosophy of life we are able to have perspective and cope with adversity.

I can relate to this one. Hardships force you to automatically look deeper into the universe and find a much deeper perspective on life.

“As important as happiness is, if you make it your most important value, you cannot attain it. Happiness is only achievable when it is a by-product of something else, and you must hold that something to be more important than happiness.”

Jewish wife and mother, pursuing a life of happiness and meaning