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LETTERS TO THE TIMES

The Many Paths to Happiness

June 11, 2005

Re "The Pursuit of Anything but Happiness," Commentary, June 6: Lisa Grunwald is right to question the pursuit of happiness, if happiness is no more than getting what we want. That does seem to be the currently held view. I confess that I do, however, "just want my daughter to be happy" -- along with all those with whom she shares this planet. I happen to like the Buddhist teachings, which suggest that happiness lies not in "getting what we want" but in understanding that desire (along with its opposite, revulsion) is in itself the source of our unhappiness. Happiness then becomes an actually attainable goal, if we can only learn to detach ourselves from our knee-jerk responses to what we have learned to view as desirable, as well as to what we think we must avoid at all costs. That new car, in other words, is not the source of true happiness, in this view. Nor is the well-paid job, the beautiful spouse, the successful career.

By the same token, happiness does not consist in desperately attempting to insulate ourselves from pain -- hardly a realistic goal -- or staving off the wrinkles of approaching age. The true, attainable happiness is the state of mind that allows us to embrace whatever comes our way with equanimity. But it does take an awful lot of hard work to get there, especially given the pressures and expectations of a consumer society that trains us what to desire -- and what to recoil from -- at the most tender age!

Peter Clothier

Los Angeles

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Grunwald contends that wishing happiness for children is unrealistic, and parents should rather emphasize such obtainable goals as humor and the sharing of troubles.

In a long life (age 92), I have observed that women are more interested in making friends and influencing people than men are. To most men, a rollicking good time is leaving the city behind and entering the haven of his home. For this, a boy should learn a fast, straight left to the chin and a way to make a living.

I once found myself screaming with delight high in the sky in my ultralight airplane. And I can understand the happiness of a man sitting alone on a mountain, taking in God's wonders below.

Carleton H. Ralston

Los Angeles

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This is a plea that people shouldn't allow their kids to be happy because people died under the age of 5 over 100 years ago? Why is a meaningless article like this even in the paper? Brains and diligence are nice, but what's so wrong with adding happiness to that list? Life is short, and it's the only one I have, so why should I or anyone have to be unhappy because others are unhappy? Who's going to want to live their already short lives if they are always unhappy? Maybe the reason people died so early many years ago was because they tried to follow Grunwald's pursuit for unhappiness. And since when are other people's misfortunes my own?

Kyle Williams

Huntington Beach

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