Is There a Link Between Ethics, Happiness, and Meaning?
I’m often asked whether ethical behavior can lead to a happier, more meaningful life. The answer is “yes!” That’s why I wrote a book on it – Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior.
Of course, many people are happy because they are rich, famous, and have a lot of power and prestige. It brings meaning to their lives. These are external factors that can create happiness and meaning for an individual but they can be fleeting. Think about Jeffrey Epstein, Bernie Madoff, Lance Armstrong and so many others who had these goals in life only to suffer grave consequences because of bad behavior.
The more lasting kind of happiness and a meaningful life comes from doing good things for others. It creates an internal sense of warmth. A good feeling that you have helped another person and, at least for this one action, a dose of self-esteem.
Happiness also comes from the gratitude others show for rightful behavior. Have you ever cooked a meal for a sick neighbor? I bet you received a good feeling and your neighbor praised your thoughtful action.
Happiness and kindness go hand in hand. People talk about random acts of kindness because they bring happiness. Once I was crossing a toll bridge and decided to pay for the car behind me. They passed by my car after going through the toll booth and waved. It’s amazing how such a simple act can bring happiness.
Meaning comes from acting to enhance the life of others and it that way improving your own life. We gain greater meaning by acting in accordance with transcendent values, which are actions that benefit others.
We live in a society where the pursuit of self-interest rules the day. Many people are ungrateful, disrespectful, and downright nasty especially on social media. They’re simply mimicking what they see in society. In these cases, the acts of a selfish person can bring unhappiness to others.
What’s happened to the U.S.? It seems we have lost our moral compass and civility is a thing of the past. Sometimes, I cannot figure out how and why we have fallen down the ethical slippery slope so quickly.
In reality, the decline of ethics in society has been going on for quite some time. We can blame it on graphic images on TV and social media. The break-up of the family unit is another causal factor. The lack of role models is another. But, I believe the acceleration of the decline is due to the abrasive way people talk to each other in person and online. Insulting comments are everywhere such as offensive political discourse, personal attacks such as body shaming, and thoughtless actions such as trolling, catfishing, and ghosting online.
Is there hope for American society going forward? I’m not optimistic because the first step in solving a problem is recognizing that one exists and we’re nowhere near it. Just like being addicted to drugs or alcohol, the afflicted must own up to the problem and make changes in their behavior to become a more ethical person and contribute to the betterment of society.
This blog may be a good place to remind my readers about the “Serenity Prayer.”
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.
I stumbled across a website called Action for Happiness. It purports to be a movement of people committed to building a happier and more caring society. It wants to see a fundamentally different way of life - where people care less about what they can get just for themselves and more about the happiness of others. I strongly recommend it for those of you looking for happiness and willing to follow the rightful path.
Posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on August 20, 2019. Steve recently published a book titled Beyond Happiness and Meaning that explains the ethics of personal relationships, workplace interactions and on social media activities. Visit Steve’s website, sign up for his newsletter, and buy his book on Amazon. Follow him on Facebook and “Like” his page.