Happiness is a serious topic.
You have probably at some time read the forwarded email message about the elderly woman who, while at lunch with friends, orders ice cream for her meal while her friends order "sensible" food (as the message notes). Her companions are aghast. The next time they meet, the elderly lady again orders dessert. Upon asked her reason, she declares that she has had a recent revelation that now at 80-years-old she has many things she would like to do (to make her happy) in the little time she (and we all) have remaining. She wants to read more books, see more movies, go to more Broadway plays, drink more Cokes. In short, she wants her life to become a string of indulgences in order to be happy. She says she's "got to try these things that I had ignored;" she "hate[s] missing out;" and she wants to "fill my heart's desire."
The forwarded message is contradictory and concerns some things I have thought about over some years. This thinking has made me who I am.
The message says that happiness is not based on possessions. Yet the principal part of the story IS about possessions--life experiences as possessions. The woman wants to experience the things she says she has missed. These are possessions--experiences as possessions.
I would like to travel in Europe; but, if I don't, will I be unhappy? Conversely, if I do travel in Europe, how long would that "happiness" last? Do I really need to "try these things that I had ignored" to be happy? Let's say I like chocolate sundaes (I do): will consuming at least one every day increase my sum total of happiness? Does this not really question what happiness is? My indulging today in what might please me today could actually decrease my sum total of happiness in the long term. Isn't the fictional woman actually a bit immature? She seems to be a kid at a candy store wanting all the candy now, not thinking of the future.
My philosophy is to understand my past and then to phase together past, present, and future times; to live now and consider how it informs the future. This keeps me considering what present decisions might do to my (and the Planet's) future. It does not mean to not have fun in the present. It does mean that the future is a real time-space I will exist in. To be happy in that future time-space, I must think of my actions in the present. Thus, past, present, future begin to fuse and I gain a holistic sense of time-space that is mature and organic, in the sense of the time-space of my Being as a unity; and my existence having systematic coordination of its "parts," but actually an organized whole that has meaning in my past-present-future.
I could eat that chocolate sundae tomorrow (or drink a soy cafe au lait, which is a more pleasing indulgence for me). But I am not under any illusion that ultimately it will "make" me happy (except for a little while). To think so is shallow thinking and would logically lead one in a continual series of searching for happiness that always tantalizingly skips ahead in time.
Again, happiness needs defining. Is it indulgence in the present? Or, is it, as I believe, that happiness constitutes understanding oneself as a Being comfortably and serenely occupying and fitting synchronically into a past-present-future time-space where one belongs?
The woman in the story exhibits a Western concept of happiness for which she must search outside herself. In Eastern philosophy she would seek to REALIZE happiness WITHIN herself. People should seek happiness in training their minds. For exmple, the woman desires experiences to be happy. Without those experiences she is unhappy. What's the problem? It lies in her mind. The experiences will not increase her ultimate happiness. Training her mind will.
Buddhism teaches Mindfulness. One should seek the Buddha Mind. Mindfulness has a tremendous influence on our being. Mindfulness can help us realize happiness by our understanding that happiness is a state of mind. It is unlikely that a series of life experiences that we desire will engender for us this state of mind. Practicing Mindfulness is a more realistic program.
My personal philosophical mental construct melds the self-reflexive realization of the holistic fusion of personal, synchronic past-present-future with an organic (and happy) Mindfulness existing in unified time-space.
So, you might say that I am sitting here chuckling Happy-Buddhalike and watching, from beginning to end, the movie of my life. I'll check the credits at the end and acknowledge the Cosmic Cinematographer.