Work on the Four Domains of Happiness

September 8, 2016
Greg Kelly

According to Charles Murray, “Happiness is a simple concept. Philosophically, the Western understanding comes from Aristotle. Skipping a lot of nuances, the definition of happiness that comes out of that tradition is lasting and justified satisfaction with life as a whole.”

I had a delightful treat recently—lunch and shopping with my daughter, Lauren. Father and child connected over the holiday weekend in the shadow of the magnificently rebuilt World Trade Center complex in lower Manhattan. Specifically, we spent the day in the WTC’s new retail and transportation hub, Oculus.

When we asked one store employee what “oculus” meant, she said “new beginnings.” It’s now been 15 years since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and we’re just reaching “new beginnings?” Anyway, “oculus” is actually just the Latin word for “eye”, and the place looks great. It will need plenty of public support, and I hope it all works.

One thing I do know that’s working is my daughter. Determined, dedicated, and daring, Lauren is beginning her third year at Fordham University—her physician-grandfather’s alma mater. She just completed a rigorous summer internship with a major NYC bank and is now serving as a RA at Fordham. Above all, the kid is happy. So she doesn’t need help from me on that matter, but I’m looking for direction all the same—in case she asks.

Recently I found some inspiration in a little book by Charles Murray, called The Curmudgeon's Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don'ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life. Although the author probably meant for me, the parent, to read it and pass it on to my children, some of today’s work weary physicians might find comfort in its pages.

The 2014 book is only 145-pages but is packed with practical wisdom. A libertarian political scientist, Murray holds a PhD from MIT, served in the Peace Corps, writes best-selling books, and is married to a Quaker. And he’s called “controversial.” His section on happiness is tour-de-force writing:

“Happiness is a simple concept. Philosophically, the Western understanding comes from Aristotle. Skipping a lot of nuances, the definition of happiness that comes out of that tradition is lasting and justified satisfaction with life as a whole. The separate satisfactions that go into overall happiness must be grounded in reality. They must also be in accord with virtue.”

Murray goes on to state that “in ordinary life, lasting and justified satisfactions arise from only a few sources.” He believes there are just four: family, vocation, community, and faith.

“If that sound too dogmatic, try to think of a source of lasting and justified satisfaction that doesn’t fit into one of those four domains,” Murray maintains. “It’s hard.” The author concludes by offering that “it’s not necessary for you to tap all four domain to be happy. But the more of the four you are engaged in, the better your odds.”