Upon entering this world, we’re given little more than a slap on the butt and a courtesy umbilical cord cutting – no roadmap, no verbal directions, no Cliff’s Notes. We must pick up everything from urinating properly to the art of sarcasm to integrations using trigonometric substitution on our own.

It’s no surprise, then, that somewhere between potty training and advanced calculus, most people forgot to learn how to be happy. I’m not talking about “managed to pull of an A- without studying” type temporary glee, but real, deep, enduring happiness. Some blame our hectic society, some the negative media, some the popular music scene (hey, lay off the Smashing Pumpkins already). Not I; I place the blame firmly on ignorance: most people do not even understand what happiness is, much less how to achieve it.

Physically speaking, happiness is but a chemical reaction. The brain, having received some notification such as, “I think she likes me,” or, “Hey, I don’t look so bad in a muumuu after all,” proceeds to release some quantity of endorphins (the more, the merrier!). The biological purpose of this is to reward the self for achieving something positive. More specifically, the brain recognizes that some value has been gained and thus the life furthered, and “wants” this behavior to continue.

Unfortunately, this definition of happiness is limited in scope. Constant endorphin rushes are not sufficient explanation for any kind of long-term happiness. And since I’m no biologist, I will now have to invoke a more theoretical, philosophical definition to continue.

As stated before, happiness is the emotion one feels when a personal value has been gained, or a goal achieved. The mental processing leading to the emotion occurs entirely in the mind of the individual. This leads to the most important part of today’s sermon; if you hit the back button (or the x in the corner, depending on how well I did) having retained only one idea, make it this. Because the values one seeks are chosen independently and freely, and do not depend on other people, happiness is the most selfish emotion possible to humans (with the possible exception of love). This is not a negative assessment; to the contrary, selfish emotions (when treated as such) are perhaps the most valuable, because they can be achieved independently, without any requisite action or state of mind by others. Since all this happiness is selfish and independently gained, then there’s no reason for anyone on earth to be unhappy, right? (An exercise for the reader: today, greet every passerby with a warm smile, a friendly wave, and a chirpy “Aren’t you just soooo glad to be alive?” Record observations. Form conclusion. Repeat if necessary).

All right, so the fact of the matter is, not everybody is happy. Or more accurately, your average speed bump is likely enjoying a more blissful existence than any given person. There is an epidemic of unhappiness sweeping our society, and removing all regulations on the manufacturing and sales of Prozac is not going to remedy the situation (although it would probably make for more lively carpools in the morning).

The problem is, people aren’t living for their own happiness. More and more, we’re basing our emotional fulfillment on that of friends, lovers, family, etc. Not only is this morally flawed, but practically it doesn’t work (because as we all know, in any philosophy worth its salt, there is no difference between the moral and the practical). This phenomenon is the result of nothing more than bad philosophy. Society is constantly denouncing importance of seeking fulfillment for the self, instead insisting that the path to true happiness lies in making others happy. Well, it doesn’t take much to see that this approach works about as well as trying to ski through a revolving door.

There is one simple reason why this “second-hand” happiness isn’t fulfilling, meaningful, or enduring. Since happiness, by its very nature, is a selfish emotion, and is the direct result of achieving a personal goal or attaining a value, it cannot be used as a primary value for someone else. In other words, another person’s happiness (or lack thereof), should never be considered a value in and of itself by anyone else.

This is not meant to sound insensitive, but it is the truth. It would be great if we could all just go around making each other happy and be done with it, but sorry folks, that’s not the way nature works. In reality, the only way to true happiness is to identify the things we personally desire, find the courage and confidence to go after them, and finally achieve these goals. Come on, treat your brain right; don’t try to pass off someone else’s value gain or loss as your own. Your life is too short and valuable for that.