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One of the most terrible myths that has been sustained and promoted by religious and other irrational ways of thinking is the idea that we can either be good or be happy – but we cannot be both. This is not true.
Being good and being happy may sometimes appear to be mutually exclusive, especially to a person who is trapped by their beliefs into the repression of certain pleasures: for example, sexual ones. But this repression often stems from an extreme interpretation of the ‘will of god(s)’ and humanists, of course, do not have any belief in the gods to cause such problems. Humanists offer a simple understanding of good actions, one which highlights the interests of humans and other sentient beings. Of course, a humanist moral assessment may sometimes lead to us denying ourselves a pleasure for a greater cause, but it can never lead to pointless self-denial.
Goodness and happiness are both of great significance – and can be understood to support each other. If we do not know ourselves what it is to be happy, how can we ever hope to understand what makes others happy? Are unhappy and embittered people more or less likely to be charitable and kind to others? Are happy people more or less likely to want others to be happy?
Outside of clinical depression – which can often be treated medically – much unhappiness is caused by need, envy, poverty or frustrated ambitions and expectations – even by fear of an afterlife. These feelings in one person seldom lead to kindness towards others. The conclusion is that we should all try to be happy, to flourish ourselves and to make others happy and to flourish. It is not selfish to want to be happy. The desire intermeshes with the desire for others also to flourish. We are social creatures.