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We all have different ideas about what makes us happy – what will help us to have flourishing lives. For humanists, that is just fine. Humanists do not think that any one way of living and gaining fulfilment is the right one. People sometimes spend their lives searching for ‘the real me’. They worry that their personalities are unfixed, or they lack self-esteem or confidence. But our personalities do change with experience and circumstances: they depend on a complex mixture of what we inherit genetically from our parents and our environment and each one of us is unique.
Although there are many differences between individuals, we also have a great deal in common: we are all human beings, living in human societies. Some people find their identity as a religious believer: a child of god or part of a community of like-minded people. For the non-religious, there is no such easy all-embracing group, though some gain confidence in their beliefs and values by studying philosophy or by learning more about Humanism. Most non-religious people, though, find their identity through their family, their career, making a commitment to an artistic project or a political reform, in simple pleasures such as gardening or other hobbies, or in a thousand other ways.
Humanists welcome the diversity of ways of living that freedom and choice allow and think that the cause of human flourishing requires it. Although there are certainly universal moral principles that should guide our actions in relation to others, there are no such simple recipes for living that are applicable to all people. One person may like drawing, walking in the woods and caring for their grandchildren, another may like cooking, playing Nintendo and watching Dr Who, savouring a favourite wine or a new food.
One way that is unlikely to secure happiness is to be forever wondering what makes one happy. To have a happy life means being concerned about matters outside of oneself. Then, in retrospect, we may look back and realize how we have been happy and flourished in various ways. As certain philosophers have stressed, losing yourself in various worthwhile projects is, paradoxically, the way to find yourself.