Sunday, August 30, 2015

Because I'm Happy...

My youngest son is on the verge of moving from the wonderful, magical, whimsical place of early childhood into the next season of youth where the murky layers of the world begin to appear.  Sometimes, I want to freeze time and keep him in this special place where the world is a playground and happiness is around every corner.  He teaches me to be lite and free; to be happy.

New data from the World Happiness Report confirms that we, as a country, aren't faring well in understanding how to be happy.  As reported by Jo Craven McGinty in the Wall Street Journal, these reports affirm the old adage that money isn't everything.  John Helliwll, co-author of the report, notes that "Even if you have a very good measure of the economy, it still wouldn't capture all of life."  While the United States ranks first in the world in GDP and eighth in GDP per capita, we rank 15th in happiness.  According to the report, Switzerland, Iceland, and Denmark round out the top three happiest countries in the world.  As a society, we measure, analyze, and create a process for everything.  What are we missing?  McGinty writes," The problem is that while incomes in the U.S. have risen, the country's sense of social cohesion has declined, said Jeffrey D. Sachs, a professor of healthy policy and management at Columbia University and co-author of the report." 

My youngest son lives in the moment.  He doesn't worry about what's next nor does he ruminate on what's past.  He dances randomly.  He laughs, a lot.  He lives life the same as he eats a meal, slowly, savoring each tasteful moment.  At times, I'm almost done with my meal before he's had his first bite.  I'm rushed.  He's intentional.  I pray that I'm not living life the same; rushed and unintentionally absent, chasing happiness when it's sitting on the bench behind me, quiet.

The Atlantic recently asked the question, "What Can we do to be Happy?" at the 2015 Aspen Film Festival.  The answers were profound. 

  • "Slow down... [it's about] carving out spaces in your day to do nothing."  Suleik Jaouad, journalist.
  • "When you ask people [this question] they always talk about relationships..."  Robert Putman, Professor, Kennedy School of Government
  • "Assume the best of about others."  Eli Finkel, Professor, Northwestern University
  • "Stop worrying about being happy... [happiness] is not something you chase in and of itself, it's something you welcome when it shows up on  your doorstep for no reason..." Jennifer Senior, journalist
  • "There are more important things than being happy... [America] is too obsessed with being happy..." Paul Bloom, Professor, Yale University
  • Pete Mcbride, documentary filmmaker said that he's worked for National Geographic and has traveled to over 70 countries noted that oddly the happiest people he's seen in the world are those who have very little.  He says that they have the important things, like family, friends, community, food, and shelter, but they are not drowning in material items.
Sometimes, when my youngest is unhappy, I want to buy him something to make him happy.  I know this is thin and temporary, but I still take this shortcut.  This makes neither him or I happy.  It pacifies. As a society, do we just pacify our days with stuff while chopping the roots of happiness at their relational core?  We are hard-wired by our Creator for relationship.  When I'm unhappy I need to remember just that - I'm designed for relationship and given an identity by my Creator, all rooted in trust.  My youngest trusts me as I trust God, all relationship woven in this innate faithfulness.

Dr. Sachs contends that our country's seeming decline of happiness begins with distrust.  "If you ask can you trust other people, the American answer has been in significant decline... Even though the U.S. is very rich, we're somehow not getting the benefits of all this affluence." 

I am the primary earner in our family.  However, my youngest son is rich with life.  Thankfully, joy spills and our family is better for it.

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