Long before any modern-day positive psychology self-help guru was born was a man of many talents. He understood the power of the mind like few others in history, as evidenced by his many writings. This gentleman was a true polymath, active as a writer, scientist, inventor, statesman, diplomat, and philosopher throughout his life.
He wrote with great insight and wisdom from the young age of 12, becoming a founding father of our Nation. One of the highlights of his life was playing a key role in drafting the United States Declaration of Independence.
Something I am thankful for that Benjamin Franklin wrote about often was happiness. He had many biographies written about him. Many of his books and essays could easily be classified as self-help or self-improvement writing today. Practically everything written by and about him indicates he was not only a happy person but one who enjoyed life tremendously. If you wish to read a brief essay on happiness, check out this link: On True Happiness by Benjamin Franklin
Let's look at some of what he wrote on the subject of happiness.
Happiness is a right and comes from within
Yes, you read that correctly. Franklin saw happiness as a right. Every 4th of July, we celebrate our independence based on The Declaration of Independence, which guarantees our "unalienable right" to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
While the Constitution itself does not directly reference happiness, some state constitutions include it specifically. Yet happiness is a right enshrined in the Constitution, as shown in Franklin's own words:
"The Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself. "Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
I love how franklin points out our responsibility in obtaining happiness. If happiness doesn't come from inside, it will elude you! A mature person will take responsibility for their happiness, despite the world and its circumstances.
Long before positive psychology came into being, Franklin knew the power of the mind. He recognized happiness comes not from outside us but from within, as evidenced in this quote:
"What is without us has not the least connexion with happiness, only so far as the preservation of our lives and health depends upon it... Happiness springs immediately from the mind." Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
In another instance, he rightly notes the responsibility for being happy is not dependent on circumstances, but again, from what is inside us:
"Happiness depends more on the inward disposition of mind than on outward circumstances." Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
How can we enjoy happiness in our lives?
Franklin left much wisdom and advice as to how we can obtain happiness in our lives. Being happy comes from who we are and how we behave. A word you do not often hear today, virtuous, has deep meaning and profoundly affects our lives. Virtuous, as defined in the Oxford Dictionary, means" having or showing high moral standards."
"Be in general virtuous, and you will be happy." Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
If you think having more money will make you happy, think again. As stated in the following quote, Franklin rightly points out that money will not make a person happy, as is true for almost all material things. He even provides two reasons it can never make us happy.
"Money has never made man happy, nor will it, there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has the more one wants." Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
One of the best ways to find happiness is to appreciate everyday small things. As Franklin says, we can find happiness in little things but seldom find it in occurrences of great luck.
"Happiness consists more in small conveniences or pleasures that occur every day, than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom to a man in the course of his life." Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
Franklin says true happiness depends on self-awareness and our consciousness of decency, action, intention, and the consent of a few impartial judges. It does not come from those undiscerning, unthinking masses who parrot that of which they are ignorant.
"One's true Happiness depends more upon one's own Judgement of one's self, on a Consciousness of Rectitude in Action and Intention, and in the Approbation of those few who judge impartially, than upon the Applause of the unthinking undiscerning Multitude, who are apt to cry Hosanna today, and tomorrow, Crucify him." Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
In the end, Franklin alludes to his Christian Faith, the only place you will find eternal happiness:
"By heaven we understand a state of happiness infinite in degree, and endless in duration." Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
This brief article only highlights some of what Franklin had to say about happiness. You can find a great deal more of his writings online in the public domain.
Many of Benjamin Franklin's writings appear to come from the view of a true optimist. The depth and breadth of his writing deserve more attention than it receives today. Read anything he wrote in his books and essays or any of the many biographies about him, and you will find an amazing man. The number of accomplishments in his life places him among the top achievers in history.
I leave you with a final quote with Franklin's wisdom on the two ways of being happy, each of which requires personal responsibility and action.
"There are two ways of being happy: We must either diminish our wants or augment our means - either may do - the result is the same and it is for each man to decide for himself and to do that which happens to be easier." Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)