Wednesday, April 26, 2017

How Lovely Are You?

"Smith's prescription for happiness is a simple formula. To be content, you need to be loved and to be lovely. You need to be respected and respectable. You need to b praised and praiseworthy. You need to matter to other people, and you need for their image of you to be the real you - you need to earn their respect and honor and admiration honestly."  -- Russ Roberts, How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life
Did he say "simple"? Well, it might be simple, but it sure isn't easy. At least I don't find it easy to be "lovely". How about you?

Roberts points out that there are two ways to be loved: to be rich and famous or to be wise and virtuous. He says that Smith advises that we choose the second way, the way of wisdom and virtue, be lovely. the way to be lovely is to be "proper or appropriate." He means means meeting the expectations of our society, the people around us, which then allows them to interact with us in the way we expect. This is the minimum standard of loveliness.

Well, that sounds easy enough, right? Uh, what about the differences of behavior with family, intimate friends, co-workers in the workplace, strangers, officials, etc.? The expectations are often very different. Much of the world was taken aback when Michelle Obama spontaneously hugged the Queen of England on their official meeting. Expectations differ when situations differ. And expectations differ with the times. What is proper now might have been quite improper in the past. Currently the culture is quite casual compared to the past.

But Smith was more concerned with our emotions and reactions to the emotions of others than about etiquette or fashion. He was concerned with our "ability to be sympathetic or unsympathetic to the emotions of those around us." That is, how we approve or disapprove of other's behavior depending on if their reactions match ours.

"If my animosity goes beyond what the indignation of my friend can correspond to; if my grief exceeds what his most tender compassion can go along with; if my admiration is either too high or too low to tally with his own; if I laugh loud and heartily when he only smiles, or on the contrary, only smile when he laughs loud and heartily; . . ."
When our responses are out of sync, we disapprove. And greater the difference between my sentiments and yours, the more you and I will disapprove of each other's reactions because we see them as improper. We want others in our lives whose emotions harmonize with ours in the face of tragedy or triumph. We are consoled when the others empathize with our response to something we experience at a personal level.

What all that boils down to is that in order to be "lovely" we must be willing and able to be recognize and share at a personal level the experience of others in a very real way. While it may be "proper" to be courteous or to "be nice" to others, if we are truly lovely our actions will come from our emotions, emotions that we share. We are nice because we are truly kind. We are loved because we are honestly loving. Empathy is required.

We aren't expected to be emotional weather vanes, however. We cannot, after all, match the intensity of another's emotion. We are expected to have their right amount of concern for others in order to share their joys and concerns appropriately. We have enough troubles of our own. Taking on the full amount of that of others would be too hard and result in our behaving in such a way as to be overcome or to cross emotional boundaries with others.

To be lovely we must empathize enough to be motivated to respond to others appropriately. At times it can be a balancing act to share emotions at the right level of intensity for the different levels of intimacy we live in. This is the way we earn the respect of those around us and of our selves. Remember, respect is a part of love for self and others.

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