International Day of Happiness or "Pain is part of Life but Suffering is a Choice"
Did you know March 20th was the United Nations International Day of Happiness?
Did you affirm the pledge, cheer happy heroes or otherwise take part in the day?
World Happiness Day is an important gesture and the search for happiness is a pervasive and troubling part of modern western culture right now.
On February 8th, during a bad winter storm, 200 brave folks and I heard Gretchen Rubin, the author of the Happiness Project and Happier at Home, speak at the Appel Salon in the Toronto Reference Library.
It was a diverse audience of men and women, a wide range of ages, many couples and it had a real funky feel. She's not loved or viewed without suspicion by all - but I must say I personally found her charming and moving. I've enjoyed reading the books and found they've made a positive difference in my life and home.
Happiness is big business. It's a hot topic in academia, pyschology and the popular press. At Toronto Public Library Self-actualization (Psychology) has 1871 titles associated with it and Happiness has 792 titles linked to it.
There is often a religious association with the concept of happiness, especially through Buddhism. The title quote of this post "Pain is part of life but suffering is a choice" is a Zen koan about detachment. There are many writings that explain this.
There is also a strong association of finding happiness through mindfulness. Mindfulness is also used to cope and combat pain (physical, emotional and psychological). Jon Kabat-Zinn and Rick Hanson are a couple of authors closely associated with this idea.
For a lighter read I enjoyed Thrive - finding happiness the Blue Zones Way by Dan Buettner. Part armchair travel book and part happiness book, it offers international case studies of happiness.
I also really enjoyed University of Toronto Professor Thomas Hurka's book The best things in life : a guide to what really matters. He very nicely and succinctly grapples with key philosophical points around duty, responsibility, being part of a community and personal satisfaction and happiness.
What I liked about Hurka's book in particular was exploration of the idea that happiness can come from doing your duty - doing something that is not inherently enjoyable but brings you satisfaction and contentment.
I spent part of autumn a couple of years back visiting an elderly neighbor who was dying in palliative care at our local hospital. She lived two streets over and I only knew her from walking my dog by her house and stopping to chat on the porch.
Nevetheless, as she lay dying, I found myself biking over to visit once or twice a week. These were not easy visits - it was not a Tuesdays with Morrie type of passing. She had a hard life - I heard many family stories that were difficult and painful. I saw her youngest daughter who lived with her, and was her primary caregiver, carry a heavy burden. I often took the daughter leftovers from our home. I was blessed to see and hear real love pass between mother and daughter. Sometimes, there was conflict with the hospital staff as well as among the family. I emeshed myself, with no good boundaries, into their lives. She asked to see my dog and I brought him. I held her hand - I made risque jokes to make her laugh. I did this out of a sense of community, compassion and duty to those in need. It was not joyful or enjoyable - but it made me happy to be of help. And then she died.
It's taken me a long time to write this blog post. I stayed late at work and didn't finish it. I continued to work on it at home through the night and early morning and really got into "the Flow" (one of the 12 signs of happiness!). Blogging makes me happy. Being connected to the community makes me happy. Doing my duty makes me happy. Having an impact makes me happy. Acting compassionately and with kindness makes me happy. Going to Quaker Meeting makes me happy. Finding (free) kindling for the fire place on the way home makes me very happy. Making food for my mom and talking to her every day makes me happy. My dog and husband snoring together make me happy. Goodnight and good morning.
This corgi dog also makes me happy. Enjoy!