Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What brings happiness?


What makes one happy? Or, how can one be consistently happy? This has been on my mind a lot lately. Of course, I know that being obedient to the commandments and covenants we make brings happiness, and that the plan of salvation brings happiness, but what about all that day to day stuff not related to religion and faith. What of that brings happiness?

Over the past many, many years, researchers, psychologists and economists have tried to figure out what makes one happy, or what makes an entire nation happy. I googled “happiness’ and found entire websites and blogs dedicated to helping people discover their true happiness. The official wikipedia definition is: Happiness is a state of mind or feeling characterized by contentment, love, satisfaction, pleasure, or joy, and research galore! Webster defines it as good fortune/prosperity (which I thought was very interesting); a state of well-being and contentment; a pleasurable or satisfying experience. I think I agree most with the middle definition of “a state of well-being and contentment.”

Recently I asked friends for some book suggestions and someone suggested a book by Eric Weiner entitled: The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World. I liked the title a lot and thought it would be a humorous book as well as intriguing with my recent reflections on “happiness”. The book is basically about the author’s search for what makes a nation happy? Is one country's sense of happiness the same as anothers? He chose his destinations in the world by going through all the research – I didn’t even know there is an academic journal entitled “Journal of Happiness Studies” because there is such a focus on this topic right now!! Currently Americans are somewhere in between the happiest and the unhappiest nations. I was shocked to find that Iceland is one of the happiest considering for major parts of the year it’s too cold to even LIVE and it’s DARK!

In his book, Eric speaks about the U.S. obsession with happiness relative to our country’s founding documents ~ Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of Happiness ~ “We suffer from the unhappiness of not being happy,” Eric says. I believe this is really true! There is this pressure and added stress on us in America to figure out WHY we’re not happy, if that is the case, because gosh darn-it, life isn’t worth living if you’re not 100% happy every minute of everyday … and it’s all your fault! On his travels, Eric observed that other countries obsess about happiness less and tend to be happier for it. He spoke about the great paradox of happiness ~ “It’s a ghost, it’s a shadow. You can’t really chase it. It’s a by-product, a very pleasant side effect to a life lived well.”

He also found it refreshing and happiness-inducing to be introduced to other cultures, and reminded that our American values are not the only/best values -- in fact, they're often counterproductive in the search for happiness. It's an obvious statement, of course, but there are definite things we can learn from other cultures: not to fear failure, not to over-analyze our own happiness to death, not to deny the inevitability of the moment.

He goes to Thailand, and finds that not thinking is their method of being happy! He comes up with a

“Be Thai” Happiness Recipe:

*Don’t obsess about happiness;
*Don’t think too much;
*Put much effort into life, but lower your results expectations;
*Don’t be envious; and
*Cultivate trust and relationship

…. Hmmmm. Some of those are interesting, but I think I agree with all of them!

Gross National Happiness (GNH) - He goes to the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, and discovers they have an official policy of Gross National Happiness! Did another wikipedia search and basically found that the concept of gross national happiness (GNH) was developed in an attempt to define an indicator that measures quality of life or social progress in more holistic and psychological terms than the economic forecaster gross national product or GDP. GNH is a strong contributor to the movement to discard measurements of commercial transactions as a key indicator and to instead directly assess changes in the social and psychological well-being of populations.” Read more about it here... but interestingly it serves as a unifying vision for Bhutan's five-year planning process and all the derived planning documents that guide the economic and development plans of the country. Proposed policies in Bhutan must pass a GNH review based on a GNH impact statement!

Work/Life Balance? --Interesting research I also found: Data shows that another important factor in a nation’s happiness is work-life balance. While Scandinavian countries boast a high GDP per capita, the average workweek in that part of the world is no more than 37 hours. In China, which got a low score of just 14.8, the workweek is 47 hours and the GDP per capita is just $3,600. Hmm….. I think this is one problem in America!! Another would be unemployment. (UH-OH… this is soon to be me!) Research has found that low unemployment also contributes to happiness. Denmark's unemployment rate is just 2%, according the C.I.A.'s World Factbook. Norway's is just 2.6%. The Netherlands: just 4.5%. Many economists concur that a 4% unemployment rate reflects a stable economy. The U.S. unemployment rate is currently 9.7% and that’s only lower than it has been recently because of the 500,000 temporary census workers hired (of which my mom is one of them… and that’s stories for another post I should have her write!! Stories to make you laugh and cry… stories that also make you wonder what the census organizers are doing for 9 years in preparation because it all seems VERY disorganized!)

Think Differently?
One major lesson the author learned along his way was that people in foreign countries think differently. Why would this matter, I thought? I know they dressed differently, ate differently, talked differently, but understanding that they THINK differently is important, he explains. Not only should it make one more understanding and tolerant to know this, but maybe thinking, but not thinking too much, has an impact on our happiness?!

In America, the majority believe that thinking and analysis are important, but the Thais don't think so. One of their expressions is ‘Don't think too much.’ J As I thought about this I found virtue and value in it! I know, CRAZY thinking on my part. I work in a school. My job is to promote education and THINKING! And I do. I think that examining ideas, literature, cultures, politics, etc. is very important. However, I think many of us have taken it too far and we OVERTHINK. My mom loves to watch these news programs where all they do is talk and debate all day! It drives me CRAZY. I think you should listen to the facts and then decide for yourself—and that’s that. Maybe listen to a few others share their thoughts and opinions, but MY WORD, why debate and argue all day long just to prove you’re right?! Why debate and argue in the first place? Or, overthink something until you can’t decide how you feel about it and it becomes a stumbling block in your life.

Another example of this is the show Seinfeld. Yes, this show is funny but it also drives me crazy too! They spend the entire show talking about nothing, nitpicking every detail of everything and no one seems to be very happy. If we OVER THINK, I THINK this is a good example of how it leads us to misery!

And, I am not saying we should be ignorant or close/small-minded. But, why think and worry so much about things that are of no matter to you? Or, recently I heard the best advice and try to remember it everyday. DON’T think or worry about things you CAN’T control!!! Ha, ha… one of the best comments in the book was his noting that they don't sell a lot of self-help books in Thailand, or England, or anywhere else really other than the U.S. And, I’ll admit. I am a succor for them!

At the end of his book, Weiner's concludes: "Money matters, but less than we think and not in the way that we think. … A little bit of money will buy you a lot of happiness, but a lot of money won’t buy you much more.

Side note: According to a 2005 editorial, published in the British Medical Journal and authored by Dr. Tony Delamothe, research done in Mexico, Ghana, Sweden, the U.S. and the U.K. shows that individuals typically get richer during their lifetimes, but not happier. It is family, social and community networks that bring joy to one's life, according to Delamothe.

Back to his final thought: “Family is important. So are friends. Envy is toxic. So is excessive thinking. Beaches are optional. Trust is not. Neither is gratitude....Our happiness is completely and utterly intertwined with other people: family and friends and neighbors and the woman you hardly notice who cleans your office. …

Happiness is not a noun or a verb.

It’s a conjunction. Connective tissue.

I LOVE THAT. And firmly believe from my own personal life that it’s true.

"Happiness is one hundred percent relational,"

as also stated by one of his interviewees, Karma Ura, Bhutanese scholar and cancer survivor. We can only be happy with other people, because happiness does not exist in a vacuum. This also relates to his recipe for happiness. There are the basic ingredients (as mentioned above) but there are variations on the recipe depending on where you live in the world because of cultural influences. The author compares happiness to the atom carbon: arrange it one way and it is coal. Arrange it another, and it is a diamond… but in the end, in my opinion it all comes down to people. The people we’re around every day, those who love us and we love in return… and all the others that cross our paths along the way… how do we treat them and what is … our relationship with them??

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