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How Happy Are You?

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How Happy Are You?

Defining your personal happiness.
Robert Holden Ph.D.
Robert Holden Ph.D. More by this author
Sep 14, 2009 at 10:00 AM

I was 21 years old, and it was the summer of ’86, when I first visited New York City. I had been offered a short contract with Bear Stearns, the investment bank, courtesy of my cousin Juliet and her banker husband, Christopher. Only twice before had I traveled outside of England, once to stay in a small tent in France and once to visit the little island of Madeira. And now I was living in the Big Apple. What an education. So many life lessons.

I was so English. New York was so American. I was so young. New York was so awesome. When I say “awesome,” I don’t mean like, “Wow, this hamburger is so awesome.” I mean more like, “Wow, this city, this architecture, the energy, Manhattan, the theater, Greenwich Village, the museums, the whole shebang, is so awe-some.” I was so excited—and intimidated.

Day one at Bear Stearns: I was shown to “my desk,” which I shared with 20 other people, who were busily looking into a bank of computer screens and shouting into telephones. We shared our office with at least 200 more people. A sea of cashmere suits. Suspenders and cigars. Shouts of “Sell!” No one talked. Everyone yelled. It was the only way you could make yourself heard. “The guys” gave me a friendly welcome. “We’ll do lunch, Bob,” they said. I had never been called Bob before.

My induction for my new job was short. “Here, do this,” the man said. My first assignment was to check a spreadsheet and to make sure the decimal point was in the right place in a long row of zeroes. The deadline was “30 minutes ago.” I had to work fast. I decided to use a pencil, not a pen. Just in case I made a mistake, “I mustn’t make a mistake,” I told myself. And so, I made a mistake.

I needed to correct my mistake, so I looked around for a rubber. I couldn’t find a rubber. So I asked the guy next to me if he has a spare rubber. “A what?” he asked. “Can I borrow your rubber?” I asked. “I don’t bring rubbers to work with me,” he said. I asked him if Bear Stearns supplied rubbers. “A corporate rubber, with a logo on,” I explained. He said, “No.” I was on a deadline, time was tight, and so I stood up and yelled at the top of my voice, “I need a rubber. Has anyone got a rubber?”

I never expected such an enthusiastic response. People started cheering, and clapping, and whooping, and yelling “Way to go” and “Fast work, Bob” and “Who are you taking out to lunch?” I was quickly informed that the word rubber has a different meaning in America than in England. I didn’t mean “condom.” I meant “eraser.” It wasn’t my fault. The cause of my embarrassment lies solely in the changeable nature of language and the different meaning we give to words.

Different words mean different things to different people. That’s the challenge with words like “rubber,” and also with words like “happiness,” and “satisfaction,” and “contentment,” and “joy,” and “ecstasy,” and “bliss.”

If I were to ask you what the word happiness means to you, what would you say? I invite you, right now, to pause for a moment and to reflect on the meaning of happiness for you. Everyone wants more tips, techniques, and tools for the how of happiness, but very few people have ever stopped to think about the meaning of happiness.

How you define happiness is vital because your definition of happiness influences every other significant decision in your life.

About Author
Robert Holden Ph.D.
Robert Holden Ph.D.’s innovative work on psychology and spirituality has been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Good Morning America, a PBS show called Shift Happens! and a major BBC documentary called How to Be Happy, shown in 20 countries to o Continue reading