3 Questions to Ask for a Happier Life

There is a strong connection between happiness and being a good person.

Posted Dec 07, 2018

I assume that you want to be a happy person. If not, don’t bother to read further. But if you are, I will make this bold claim: a key to becoming a happy person is by being a virtuous person. This is the position taken by numerous philosophers that has gained traction in recent years as psychologists look at what it is that leads to a fulfilled and nourishing life. This isn’t the momentary happiness of pleasure or the short-term happiness of getting what you want, but something more enduring, something far deeper—a flourishing life, as Aristotle put it.

The reason for this is nearly self-evident. We tend to get back what we put in. The person who treats others fairly and with consideration tends to get back something similar in return. Love begets love. So the person who expresses the moral virtues of compassion and consideration usually gets responded to with those same life-affirming qualities.

What do we do when faced with difficult ethical decisions when the path to being a good person isn’t so clear?

Some fall back on rules. But rules by themselves may not be helpful. You need to know which rule applies in this particular situation; you need to know whether the rule itself is a good one; you need to decide whether it is better to act or refrain from action.

For others, rules won’t do. Instead, they may revert to doing what they’ve done in the past. That often works, but not always. While one situation may resemble another, in fact, each situation is unique. What may have made sense before may not work now. Indeed, relying upon past experience may be harmful, as it is literally thoughtless and complacent.

What to do? I offer here some guidance in figuring out how to make decisions that maintain your integrity and your honor, your notion of what it means to be a good person.

There is a way to check your behavior to help keep the course of being a good person. Here is a distillation taken from the three main schools of ethical thought that have been re-worked into questions. These are questions that you can ask that can help you achieve these goals. Each question reflects a school of ethics (see this blog post) but you needn’t be philosophically inclined to consider the questions. Ethics, after all, isn’t meant as a discipline for philosophers to explore but for a way of life meant to be lived by each of us.

 Here are the three main questions:

1.    What would it be like if everyone did it?

2.    Do I think more good than harm will come of what I do?

3.    What would I think of myself if I did this?

There is one additional question, the one to ask after you’ve made your decision but before you act: Can I publicly explain my reasons?