My wife and I watched a movie (streamed it) from NetFlix last night called “Happy.” It researched the things that bring happiness. It easily refuted that money, fame, or honor make a person happy. Yes, it’s important to have your basic needs met, but having more than what’s necessary doesn’t bring happiness. The person who makes $50 million is no happier than the person who makes $50,000. (But not many making the $50,000 believe it.)
The conclusion was that (1) social interaction, (2) acts of kindness, and (3) meditation are the factors that increase release of dopamine in the brain. When I think about it for myself, I laugh far more when I’m interacting with people, working together – work, play, service projects, than when I’m focused on making money or trying to get something I don’t have right now. My interpretation is that the moment you’re in is the only place where happiness can be found.
Fifty percent of your happiness is determined by your genetics, ten percent by your stuff, and forty percent is related to factors in your environment over which you have some influence – maybe like choices you make in the activities you do or do not participate in.
The Japanese appear to be the least happy. They are so controlled by the mindset of efficiency and productivity that few laugh and enjoy the moment in which they exist. They are geared to constant production in work. At the same time, some poor people in Calcutta say they are happy. They have a lot of interaction with their neighbors/family. They do what they have to do (put up with rich people’s crap so that they’ll be re-hired, as told by a rickshaw driver), collect their payment, and go home to be with family/friends.
From my perspective, real happiness is not dependent upon someone else’s response to your kindness. If you attach strings to your act of kindness (like a personal or culturally imposed law that says people have to be thankful for your money or time), you can easily pull happiness out of your good deed, which means you’ve pulled it out of your heart. That’s an indication that you gave your act of kindness in order to receive something in return…to validate your own worth in your own eyes. And that means you don’t know your own worth. When you are secure in yourself, you can love without attaching strings to your actions.
Those things that restrict your freedom to think and interact in accordance with the beautiful creature God created you to be are barriers to happiness. Tradition is often beautiful but it becomes a curse when it becomes law rather than gift; performed as a result of intimidation rather than full of meaning and appreciation. Tradition becomes a tyrant when rituals demand honor for themselves rather than inviting interaction with ancestors who came before us.
Religion is no different. When a religious tradition demands obedience to itself rather than inviting people into communion with their Creator, with the people who came before, and with the people in the room, it chases away happiness.
Who are the most unhappy people in religion? Those who are frustrated because they are chained (often unrecognized) to ritual, tradition, and inconsistent laws in a book; those who can’t control the beliefs and actions of the world; those who preach a religion of fear and separation; or live a fear and punishment theology. They proclaim the false good news that says you can only be happy when you’re dead.
Those who are free from the obligation to laws and rituals are happiest. For many Christians, Jesus Christ has set them free to love, to serve, to be happy.
When do you laugh? You laugh in the moment, because something is happening in the moment, even if it’s recalling an event from the past. The past event is relived or retold, often through another person’s unique perspective, and it’s enjoyed in the moment.
Happiness is not elusive; it’s never in the future. It’s with you every moment. Sometimes it’s behind you, above you, right in front of you…but unseen. Often you have to be with people before it makes itself known.
I’m making a resolution for 2013 to try harder to find happiness in the moment. How about you?