I was driving to work, listening to NPR. They ran a story about how the culture in Bhutan was once based on a principle of happiness above economic growth. Then, with the arrival of consumerism, that happiness is now in jeopardy. The country has shown a marked increase in violent crime and marital breakups. According to British economist Richard Layard (as quoted in the story):
"Increases in income are matched by increases in aspirations for income. And the net effect is no change in happiness."
Or, a decrease in happiness as it seems. The story really hit me, especially as we head into the holiday season when consumerism is pushed harder than the meaning of the holidays ahead. Now, as I am preparing for a holiday based on gratitude and blessing-counting, now is a good time to remember Happiness.
Humans are funny creatures. We pin our hopes on everything outside of ourselves to bring happiness. The winning lottery ticket, that great job, the next relationship, car, vacation, house, iPod, iPhone, iTouch ...
I saw a pretty amazing bit of research presented that showed people have the capacity to alter their perceptions and make their own happiness regardless of the situation. Scientific evidence that happiness is within, and within our grasp, by simply looking no further than our selves and our lives as is. The discussion refers to this as "synthetic" happiness, but I would argue that it is not so much synthetic, but rather cultivated happiness.
"It's not getting what you want, it's wanting what you've got."
I'm not a big Sheryl Crow fan, but that bit of lyric sticks in my head. I am all about the great miracle that is just another day. Sure, the winning lottery ticket did not show up, but neither did the ambulance. The child, spouse, family and friends I hold dear are all fine. I'm fine. In the global sense, we are rich beyond words. In the personal sense, I feel I am even richer than that.
Even so, there are days when I have to force myself to remember how happy I am. Yep. Force. To focus on the good, to see the joy in the very life I have and all that is around me. Even meditate on it. Matthieu Ricard makes a great point; we spend our lives striving to be good at our jobs, good in school, good at sports, yet few of us in the Western culture truly strive to be good at being happy. Or grateful. Yet, both of these things require effort to maintain and nourish.
As we all gather around the table this holiday, I wish for us all to be safe, well and to be sharing that table with others. I wish for each of us to be full, and not just on turkey, and to be happy.