Happiness MattersFebruary 9, 2010 Leave a comment
It sounds simple, but I increasingly find the idea that “happiness matters” an important principle to remember. Understanding that happiness matters gives us a great lens with which to evaluate our efforts. As I go about the work of social transformation – am I happy? Are the people I work with happy? I hope it’s obvious that I’m not equating happiness with the cheap thrills that are abundantly available to us in this age of hyper-capitalism. I’m talking about the happiness that is defined by a sustainable sense of contentment.
I am talking about being happy even as we engage the often challenging work of social transformation in a world that desperately needs it. I often say to activists that miserable faces of martyred frustration often are, in and of themselves, the best argument against being in movement with those that want a better world. I contrast this experience to the abundance of song and dance that defined the struggle to put an end to South African Apartheid.
But if happiness matters, how do you attain it? @DennisMerimsky recently got me hip to a somewhat amusing article about this in the Times Online, it was titled “The happiest men in the world.” The article drew on what I see as a false dichotomy that is often found in our work – the question of who is responsible for what – the individual or society at large. It juxtaposed the ideas of Lord Layard, who takes on the Western view and speaks of a societal and even governmental responsibility to tend to our happiness with the ideas of Matthieu Ricard, who is a French scientist turned Buddhist monk and emphasizes a personal approach to happiness.
Do you want to be happy even as you face a world that is falling apart? Do you want to find contentment even as you give your heart and body to the work of social transformation? I think it makes perfect sense to integrate the two views – which is to make part of our life, of our work, and of all the spaces in which we come together – and be left with 10 brilliant practices for the attainment of happiness!
Matthieu Ricard’s philosophy of happiness:
- Learn to meditate.
- Cultivate altruism.
- Practice mindfulness.
- Make space in your life for spirituality.
- Find a genuine spiritual teacher.
Lord Layard’s philosophy of happiness
- Be socially connected.
- Be physically active.
- Take notice of your surroundings and savour them.
- Keep learning.
- Give regularly.
I don’t know about this. I think this theory may require some adjusting.
It would seem to me that the impetus behind change comes from a place of discontentment with a situation. I believe discontent is the flint and steel from which the spark of creativity comes. Let us also not forget that many of the greatest artists are men and women of a melancholy mind.
I think you are both right in a way. Discontent with the current state of affairs is a powerful incentive for making change. And, a sense of inner calm, peace and, dare I say, joy, in the midst of that kind of righteous discontent is important to sustain the sanity and well being of those very same change agents.
Great points. And there’s a lot of research showing that discontent causes some internal and intra-group conflict which causes people to rise up. I’m not sure that this disagrees with what Gibran is saying – and, as Cynthia talks about – is it possible to feel this inner conflict and still be at peace and in a place of happiness in one’s response? I don’t know. Just wondering…
We might be working with different definitions of happiness and contentment. Awakening becomes possible at all when there is a deep sense of dissatisfaction with the condition of being asleep, the sense that something else is possible, something greater – I think this underlies our evolutionary impulse. But I think we then get attached to the conditions that set off that spark because we are afraid to venture out into the world of possibility. It was a deep sense of anger that inspired me to engage this work, and I immersed myself in a world of activists who were just as angry as myself – this became poisonous, detrimental to our relationships as well as to our shared purpose. I think it is imperative that we actively experiment with creating the conditions, both inner and outer, that make another world possible, and happiness is a core condition for the world we are trying to build.
And one more thing. Gibran, I’m really glad you included both of these lists – overlapping but different. Looking at them and thinking, “meditation brings calm for some and causes anxiety for others”, etc., etc. I think the point might be for us each to think about our own lists. What are the practices that bring happiness to each of us?
One more thing to add to the lists… “Cultivate gratitude”
As I read this post at 10:52 PM PST, it occurs to me how difficult it is for us, westerners, to hold multiple frames. Cynthia’s comment and Gibran’s response speak to the complexity of the human spirit and mind.