Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What Does It Mean To Be Happy?

I honestly wish I knew the answer to the above question. I think the easiest answer is that it is amorphous and not easily defined. And, yet, we've all had moments in our lives when we can say "I am happy." I can identify the feeling of happiness as a lightness of being; an internal joy upon witnessing humanity acting well and with compassion. A smile may play on my lips and laughter may echo from my throat in these moments. I may bee-bop around and walk with a skip. I don't always understand how it finds me and how I create it in myself, but I always welcome its presence and its sister emotion contentment.

Over the years, I have found that happiness is fleeting when you weigh it down with expectations and analysis. I have also discovered that I am happier for longer periods when I live with an attitude of gratitude and spend less time watching the news.

Recently, I read an intriguing article in the NYTimes about the tiny kingdom of Bhutan and its desire to measure the happiness of its people. I had to ask myself, "Can happiness really be measured?" "Is it really possible to chart government programs not by the economy they produce but by the happiness they produce?" "Do the two follow one another?" And, I went on to consider what this may look like in our own United States considering so many people are suffering and know little happiness right now. Or do they?

This was not my first brush with the Bhutanese philosophy on happiness but I find I continue to revisit this nation's thoughts and attitudes towards it often. Why? Because they are at least attempting to lead their lives by it and govern their nation by it. In this country, we have the right to pursue happiness but it doesn't say anything about the guarantee of its receipt.

It's interesting food for thought. I certainly don't want to fall prey to the Shangri-La attitude that there are happy places out there but it ain't here. I'm sure that if we had open conversations with the Bhutanese there would be some things they are unhappy about, even if it is just one iota of what we face in this country. Still, isn't life what you make of it? Isn't happiness a choice? I believe it is and that we could choose happiness in this instant if we really wanted to.

And this leads me to something else I've been considering lately. Why do we choose to be unhappy? We do we choose to allow external factors disturb our internal happiness? Why do we so easily give away our power on this? I haven't come to any conclusions but I am adding awareness of this to my daily radar, monitoring the times I allow it to occur and the times I don't. I know that I am moving towards greater awareness of my thoughts and the thoughts of others, filtering out what is necessary for my existence and leaving the rest behind. And, with time, I will become unflappable. Will it find me with greater happiness? That's uncertain....I'll let you know what I find out down the road.

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