Friday, February 13, 2009

Happiness is...

One of the books I've been reading lately is The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner, an NPR correspondent. He traveled to several countries, including the Netherlands, Switzerland, India, Iceland,and Bhutan, searching for the happiest places in the world.

In Bhutan they actually strive to measure a Gross National Happiness, rather than a Gross Domestic Product, like the U.S. Weiner quotes Karma Ura, director of Bhutan's think tank: "We don't believe in this Robinson Crusoe [personal] happiness. All happiness is relational." Then Weiner writes this:

"A quick quiz. What do the following events have in common? The war in Iraq. The Exxon Valdez oil spill. The rise in America's prison population. The answer: They all contribute to our nation's gross national product, or what's now referred to as gross domestic product, or GDP, and therefore all are considered 'good', at least in the dismal eyes of economists.

"GDP is simply the sum of all goods and services a nation produces over a given time. The sale of an assault rifle and the sale of an antibiotic both contribute equally to the national tally (assuming the sales price is the same). It's as if we tracked our caloric intake but cared not one whit what kind of calories we consumed. Whole grains or lard--or rat poison, for that matter. Calories are calories.

"GDP doesn't register, as Robert Kennedy put it, 'the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, or the intelligence of our public debate.' GDP measures everything, Kennedy concluded, 'except that which makes life worthwhile.' Nor does GDP take into account unpaid work, the so-called compassionate economy. An elderly person who lives in a nursing home is contributing to the GDP, while one cared for by relatives at home is not. Indeed, he may even be guilty of reducing the GDP if his caregivers are forced to take unpaid leave from work. You have to give economists credit. They have taken a vice--selfishness--and converted it into a virtue."

All happiness is relational. If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. The goal of a leader, of a community, of a church, of a marriage, of a family, is not to make everyone happy but to build relationships, connections, interdependence, the result of which can be a form of happiness. In the church we call it covenant. Those who founded our nation called it the United States Constitution, which provides for "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". Unfortunately, we have turned it into an individual pursuit rather than a collective one.

You know what makes me happy? Witnessing the happiness of others and being able to participate in some small way in their happiness: baptisms, births, weddings, building a house in a garbage dump, giving money away to a complete stranger, holding a hand at a hospital bedside, singing on a Sunday morning, hugging a friend, junior high kids sharing their talents with each other, cooking a meal for my in-laws, watching my daughters grow, one day seeing my husband
working in the field of his dreams.

What makes you happy?


Jan said...

This sounds like an interesting book.

I liked reading about what makes you happy, too.

Cynthia said...

It makes for an interesting meme, doesn't it?

I'm reading it for my church's book club, which is a pleasantly unusual selection for us. Usually we read fiction.

Will Duchon said...

I just finished re-reading my favorite novel "Of Human Bondage" by Somerset Maugham. One of the many thoughtful lines in the novel is stated as a thought coming from the main character, Philip Carey, who has struggled with self-esteem and with life in general: "When one stops measuring life by measures of happiness a new inner peace is discovered." I think one of the oddities of modern life in the U.S. is this obsession with being "happy". It's reached a psychotic level, along with the worship of technology.
But I appreciate your point Cynthia, and usually, being "happy" is a result of giving and expressions of love and caring. And a warm puppy too.

Andy said...

Charles Schultz may have said it best - "Happiness is a warm puppy." However, I have found that I am at my happiest when people I love are happy.