Today, March 20, 2015, is the third annual International Day of Happiness, as decreed in a proclamation from the United Nations in 2011.
On the surface, it might sound a little silly or even preposterous, considering the state of the world and the suffering so many people endure in their personal lives. Wars and partisan violence rage and people experience inexplicable heartbreak every day. There is injustice, disaffection, poverty and hunger right here, within blocks of my home. My sister is gravely ill and I have experienced a series of misfortunes over the past decade that are surreal in their number and impact.
But today the United Nations implores us to take action to be happy, with this year’s theme being to achieve happiness by focusing on your connection with others.
I have had to face many challenges in my lifetime. I discovered early on that you could choose to give in or you could fight. By nature I am stubborn and I usually choose to fight. On one hand, this is not a particularly positive trait to have. It is not easy for me to give in on anything. It can be very difficult to admit when I am wrong and to say I am sorry. Being stubborn means you often will stay in a bad situation because you refuse to acknowledge you cannot fix it. You tend not to make the healthier choice of cutting your losses and moving on.
But on the other hand, being stubborn also means stepping up to a challenge and overcoming obstacles. It means pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and getting on with it, which I have had to do more times than I can count. And it means tenaciously holding on to good things, like hope and friendship. Even though I can’t get out very easily, I work at keeping in touch with my friends, my loved ones. I am so lucky to still have friends in my life that go back to my earliest childhood. And I am so blessed to have my wonderful cousin, who has always been there, like a big brother. And, despite being estranged from some of my beloved children, I will never, ever, ever give up on them or stop loving them, no matter what. The absolute happiest moments in my life have all involved them.
I have discovered through my stubbornness that you have a choice in life. You can be happy or you can be miserable. I have been both. Happy feels a whole lot better than miserable, despite the fact that it can be harder to maintain. It is very, very easy to sink under the weight of the terrible things that happen to us. On the surface, it might seem I don’t have a lot to be happy about. And it is true, I am only human and I wobble constantly. But the recommendation for today, connect with others, is the key for me. My friends, my children, my grandchildren are my lifeline. Just their voices are enough to lift my spirits. And they are so good to me. We all need that. We human beings need to be kind to each other, to stay connected. Connection feeds itself, it is like ripples on a pond.
If only people could stay connected, on a global level things could be so different. Even as I type that, I realize it sounds not just naïve, but downright simple-minded. I know that concept doesn’t take into account mental illness, natural disasters and other things we have no control over that cause great suffering. But the song is so true, from South Pacific, you have to be taught to hate and fear:
You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be Carefully taught.
You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.
You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!
(Songwriters: Rogers and Hammerstein/to hear it sung, follow this link here)
We are not born hating, we all know that. So why haven't we been able to fix it in all the thousands of years the human race has existed? Peace could be possible if we were more connected by understanding, compassion and acceptance. We are born with the capacity for happiness. It is others who take it away and it is others who can maintain or restore it.
I pray from the bottom of my heart that all of you reading this have or can find happiness.
I leave you with the prayer from St. Francis, which I believe to be a formula for connection and, ultimately, for happiness:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
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