We realize happiness in the moral layer of intelligence by performing a thousand acts of kindness. Aristotle, seeking the answer to the question “What is the good life for man,” studied the behavior and conversations of average people in their everyday lives. On the basis of what he saw, the great philosopher defined happiness as “an activity of the soul in accord with perfect virtue.” Aristotle understood that committing ourselves to our best virtues, as we understand them, every day, gives us a happy life.
But happiness in and of itself is not the destination; it is the by-product of our actions and intentions. The Austrian psychologist Viktor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, compares happiness to success, recommending, “Don’t aim at success—the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue . . . as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a course greater than oneself.”
I enjoy helping people. Once I loaned a friend a thousand dollars for his tuition to massage school. He quickly defaulted on the loan. After a year or so of badgering him to repay the loan, and worse, suffering the gnawing anger and resentment I felt toward him, I had had enough. I wrote him a letter absolving him of his debt and asked that when the time came to repay the money, that he give it to a charity of his choosing. Releasing those emotions gave me surprising relief.
In the old TV show Kung Fu, Master Po instructs his young pupil, Caine, to take on the “obligation of ten.” For an act of kindness done to him, Caine was obliged to return, over time, ten other acts of kindness. I have turned the relief I felt from absolving that unpaid debt into other good turns. Now, when I help someone out in some way, rather than ask for repayment in kind, I invite them to “pay it forward”: to help someone else in the future. I trust the gift will ripple out into the world.
This quote from Dean Koontz’s book, From the Corner of His Eye, speaks to the power of kindness:
Each smallest act of kindness reverberates across great distances and spans of time, affecting lives unknown to the one whose generous spirit was the source of this good echo, because kindness is passed on and grows each time it’s passed, until a simple courtesy becomes an act of selfless courage years later and far away.
It’s no wonder these small kindnesses, given often and regularly, add tremendously to my happiness.
Love your way,
Alan Davidson, founder of
and author of Body Brilliance:
Mastering Your Five Vital
Dedicated to our healthy, happy, and prosperous world through the full enlightenment of every human being.
Through Your Body
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Houston, TX 77019