“We frequently pass so near to happiness without seeing, without regarding it, or if we do see and regard it, yet without recognizing it.”
― Alexandre Dumas (1802–1870)
Observing the journey of life, with its undulating state of “happy” moments overshadowed by “unhappy” moments led Marjorie and me to conclude that there are complex dimensions of happiness, though we were born to live happy lives on the Earth. Every human deserves to be happy, but on the grand scale, millions, perhaps billions of people live unhappy lives. Unhappy lives demonstrate that human beings are not benefitting from the bountiful blessings bestowed upon us by our Creator, who gave to fellow beings of every race, color, and creed the keys to a mutually “happy existence.”
The desire for happiness seems to permeate modern life, but it is too often confused with the obsessive acquisition of material possessions and social status. “Something innate within the human spirit cries out for something deeper, something more lasting and something more profound than material things to bring us to a more sustained state of happiness. We have concluded from our journey that as a human family, many are not taking full advantage of the tools (spiritual, moral, social, intellectual, and physical) that are available to create the human ecosystem to sustain happier lives and a happier world.
HAPPINESS AND MATERIAL PROGRESS
Human beings have stealthily focused on physical and material progress, primarily at the expense of equally important spiritual and moral growth that bolsters happiness. The human genius engineered better living through “Artificial Intelligence” (AI), from the microwave oven to jet propulsion engines. The human intellect has given to the world great private and public institutions of learning, and significant governmental and non-governmental peace organizations. Nevertheless, happiness is still an elusive human condition —complex and indefinable.
More importantly, the human genius has labored to find cures for human illnesses. Pharmacologically, medicines have all but eradicated and brought under control such diseases as smallpox, the bubonic plague, yellow fever, and even polio (poliomyelitis). Despite these remarkable medical achievements, human beings have not found a cure for the aberration of the mind that promotes war, genocide, slavery, apartheid, avarice, and the hoarding of strategic resources that bring unhappiness to the human family.
Notwithstanding the genius of the human mind, it seems we are unhappy due to three converging states of consciousness: (1) unresolved issues from the past, (2) present unmanaged circumstances, and (3) fears and anxieties for the future. We, voluntarily or involuntarily, yield to these three converging states of mind, and we often allow them to permeate our conscious and subconscious minds. The postmodern world has introduced “new” challenges in the form of legal and illicit drug abuse, alcoholism, greed for money, wealth and power, racial indifference, sex addition, gender bias, gender dysphoria, and alternate lifestyles. These are complex challenges that often inhibit our creative energies, our relationships, our happiness, and our “joy.”
Despite the material abundance of Western nations in the twenty-first century, happiness is merely a temporary state in the lives of many underpinned by a series of short-lived events such as anniversaries, birthdays, and weddings. Our progress in the physical mastery of the material world yields great comforts, significant life improvements, and material benefits, yet, happiness eludes many. Often, we give in to our state of unhappiness, not realizing that it may strengthen and prepare us for challenges that are more difficult or for an imminent breakthrough. Where and how should the “search to unravel” these complex challenges of the postmodern world begin? Should it start in the “spiritual” or the “natural” realm of our lives?
For some teenagers, high-school graduation and prom night sit at the apex of their happiness pyramid. For some youths, a new car or college or university graduation sits at the top of their happiness. For some young adults, it may be engagement or marriage, the birth of a baby, or the purchase of a new home. For some middle-aged adults, happiness may be the acquisition of a retirement residence. For others, the search is much more complicated.
Evidently, for each generation, the search for happiness and cues to unravel the mysteries of the complexity of his or her happiness journey is different. Yet the human family is one unified whole with a common need for universal love, hope, “joy,” peace, patience, compassion, forgiveness, gentleness, kindness, and happiness. Without such an explicit recognition, the search can become futile.
HAPPINESS AND CULTURAL NORMS
There are political, religious, racial, cultural, and color components that underpin such factors as “country of birth” and “worldview” that permeate cultures. These intrinsic and extrinsic attributes have both a positive and negative influence on human relations despite our upbringing. We can begin to unravel the complexity with a positive mental attitude that bolsters happy thoughts to promote better relationships with others. Inner “joy” and outer happiness can then reign supreme in the life of self and of others.
Travel around the world, and you will experience religious and cultural behaviors as far apart as the East is from the West. For instance, a “pledged bride” (where parents decide for them) in some traditional Eastern cultures may not experience the same happiness as an “autonomous bride” (who decides for herself) in Western cultures or vice versa. Relaxnews provides some insights thus:
“In Western cultures, happiness is an essential goal of people’s lives, and appearing unhappy is often cause for great concern. Yet in certain non-western cultures, happiness is not considered an important emotion. Ideas of harmony and conformity often clash with the “pursuit” of happiness and personal goals. Studies have found East Asians are more likely than Westerners to view public expressions of happiness as “inappropriate.” The Japanese, for example, are less likely to “savor” positive emotions than Americans.
This research points out that many cultures eschew happiness, believing it might result in extreme unhappiness and other negative consequences. Some in both Western and non-western cultures believe happiness makes a person boring, selfish or shallow. Inhabitants of Iran and surrounding countries are often concerned their peers, the “evil eye” or other supernatural entities will become jealous of their happiness and “severe consequences” might result.”
Relaxnews, published Tuesday, March 18, 2014, 9:38 a.m. EDT, http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/happiness-not-valued-equally-across-cultures-review-finds-1.1734275.
The mass movement in the global village has brought people from all corners of the globe into various cultural communities on every continent voluntarily. On the other hand, the rise of refugees throughout the world involuntarily contributes to a “Happiness Gap” (HG) fueled by differences or indifference to race, religion, culture, color, and other social and economic factors. To bridge these “gaps,” the global community could strive to achieve a deeper understanding of human needs, priorities, and emergencies at the primary cultural level. Conflict and unhappiness can take root when human needs at the fundamental level are unfulfilled with little hope for fulfillment.
Fundamentally, this perspective is essential for “mutual survival,” for peaceful coexistence in harmony and happiness with others, as the mass movement of legal, illegal immigrants, and refugees of war become a norm in disaster-prone and war-torn nations. Paradoxically, when the world powers intervene, they tend to create even greater conflict and refugees of war. Where can human beings find happiness when the homogeneous world no longer exists, and the postmodern world has become a focus of racial, cultural, political, religious, and ideological thinking that creates conflict?
GENEVA, June 18, 2015 (UNHCR) – “Wars, conflict, and persecution have forced more people than at any other time since records began to flee their homes and seek refuge and safety elsewhere, according to a new report from the UN refugee agency. UNHCR’s annual Global Trends Report: World at War, released on Thursday (June 18), said that worldwide displacement was at the highest level ever recorded. It said the number of people forcibly displaced at the end of 2014 had risen to a staggering 59.5 million compared to 51.2 million a year earlier and 37.5 million a decade ago. The increase represents the biggest leap ever seen in a single year. Moreover, the report said the situation was likely to worsen still further.”
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees | Haut Commissariat des Nations pour less réfugiés, ©UNHCR 2001–2015, http://www.unhcr.org/558193896.html.
“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts. When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love.”
― Marcus Aurelius (121 AD–180 AD)
The desire to unravel the complexity of happiness behooves us to consider three human conditions—(1) Spiritual, (2) Mental, and (3) Physical—that make us happy knowing that all three are essential to cultivating the search for and instilling happiness. When we think of happiness, we might think of a “generic” human condition, but this hard-to-define phenomenon permeates the three dimensions of human life.
The SPIRITUAL (divine) state of happiness requires a belief in a higher “Spiritual” power, not merely a belief but a transcendental belief. Most of humanity subscribes to a belief in the spiritual existence of God, gods, or a divine being because we did not create ourselves, and neither can we account for human life as a natural phenomenon. The MENTAL (mind) state of happiness is very personal and speaks to our positive mental attitude, character, and personality, but we must nurture these attributes. The PHYSICAL (material) state of happiness relates to our physical well-being and our material existence.
MATERIAL WEALTH AND HAPPINESS
To many individuals, the quest to unravel the “complex dimensions of happiness” is the pursuit of material success, which in our postmodern era is synonymous with financial and material wealth, and prominence in society. Evidently, the search for success and happiness must be a search for something that satisfies the higher purpose of our existence than mere material possessions. What is success, and how do we measure success? Is success the same as a successful life?
Consider the story of a wealthy businessperson (an abridged story) who lived a life filled with heartbreak, tragedy, and sorrow. Despite his financial and material wealth, he was unable to maintain stable relationships with his family. He experienced deep depression and failed marriages. He lost his money in an economic collapse. Sitting in an upscale restaurant, he finished a “champagne breakfast” and then went and sat in his luxury automobile and ended his life. He left a parting note, but why did a successful, happy, and fulfilling life elude him, as it does so many, notwithstanding their affluence and the appearance of success?
Marjorie and I have researched similar stories throughout many countries. The account of this one person’s tragic life is a mirror of so many wealthy individuals. We empathize with the surviving family members, with people throughout the world, and with those in our affluent Western hemisphere, many of whom, despite great wealth, struggle to find meaning and purpose in life and happiness. Sadly, no amount of money, no material possessions, no world travel, no great friendships, no religious affiliations, and no educational attainment can shield human beings from the malady of the mind.
Human life is often a parallel of the ancient texts; therefore, we began our “search for happiness” with a reading of the Book of Ecclesiastes, written by the great King Solomon of Israel, circa 935 BCE.
“The key word of Ecclesiastes is vanity, the futile emptiness of trying to be happy apart from God. The wisest, richest, most influential king in Israel’s history looks at life ‘under the sun’ (Ecclesiastes 1:9) and, from the human perspective, declares it all to be empty. Power, popularity, prestige, pleasure—nothing can fill the God-shaped void in man’s life but God himself! But once seen from God’s perspective, life takes on meaning and purpose. …Skepticism and despair melt away when life is viewed as a gift from God.…No amount of activities or possessions have satisfied the craving of his [man’s] heart. Every earthly prescription for happiness has left the same bitter aftertaste.”
The Book of Ecclesiastes, New King James Version, copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc., pp. 655–657.
Material prosperity cannot replace feelings of emptiness and lack of purpose experienced by affluent individuals and their families. Sadly, a loss of material wealth can often take the wealthy to the brink of hopelessness. The great and wise King Solomon of Israel must have peered into the future of the postmodern world, seen the state of humanity, and decided to pen his most profound thoughts to enlighten humankind of the complexity of the “search for happiness.” His words light a path like a beacon for humanity to follow in the twenty-first century and the new millennium (Ecclesiastes 1:1–2).
Writers, Errol A. and Marjorie G. Gibbs are avid readers, inspired researchers, speakers, and mentors. Their journey, which began with their “search for happiness,” led along paths to “Optimum Happiness” (OH), which is a “higher value proposition” for human survival as a viable species than happiness. These same paths await you on your “journey of discovery” —Discovering Your Optimum ‘Happiness Index’ (OHI).
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