What does it take for you to be happy? More money? More time? More fame? More what?
Adam Smith gets to the heart of the matter. He wrote in The Theory of Moral Sentiments "Man naturally desires, not only to be loved, but to be lovely." And Russ Roberts explains in How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life what Adam Smith was talking about.
Smith didn't mean that you must be physically attractive to be happy. And he wasn't talking about love in the narrow sense that we think of it today. Remember, Smith was an 18th Century writer and the language was a bit different than now.
He saw love as being noticed, being liked, respected, honored, Being loved means to matter to others, to be valued. And being "lovely" is to deserve love, to be the person who does that kind of loving. To be the person who does the right thing, the lovely thing.
The reason we pursue money and fame is because those bring us notice, respect, etc. At least that is how it seems. But if that is so, why are there so many successful people who are unhappy? Why would someone with money and fame ever want to destroy themselves with drugs, alcohol, suicide?
Smith believed it is because even with the money and fame if you don't believe you deserve it, you will be unhappy. And while we can fool ourselves about how good we are, we know deep down how much we hide from others.
Some people think that success is what destroys us. Smith points out that "It's the passionate pursuit of success that corrodes the soul." It is when we put success ahead of all other values. How often do we choose to sacrifice time with our loved ones in order to be more successful in our careers? What choices have we made to be successful that betray our basic values.
On the other hand, what are you willing to give up in order to do the right thing, the "lovely" thing? How do we succeed as a spouse, a parent, a good friend? We are faced with these decisions every day. The challenge is to be "lovely". And to not fool ourselves about who we really are.
Smith said that if you want to be rich and famous, powerful, successful, you have to give up leisure and ease and careless security forever.
"And you have to toil and have anxiety and endure 'mortifications' - pain and shame - if you want to make it. You have to work hard. You have to give up tranquility. In return you get a great deal of attention. People want to know what you think, they look to you for how to dress and seek and behave. When you enter a room, all eyes are on you. And the envy and admiration that everyone else has for the great make the price that is paid worthwhile, at least in the eyes of many." (Russ Roberts, How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life.)
Fooling ourselves about our "loveliness" is the easiest thing to do. We rationalize our behavior to look good in our own eyes. We "do good" because we are watched by some external eye or by ourselves. What if no one is watching? Who are we then? Imagine an impartial spectator who can help you know yourself and help you become a better you.
And no matter how you see yourself, it is vital that you accept yourself as "lovely. " To be happy we must notice, like, respect, honor, and value ourselves! We can only do that when we are honest with ourselves. Humility is required.
In my next post I'll explore Smith's ideas of how to be "lovely."