Are you happy with your life?
I ask myself this question sometimes. Recently, I heard the most beautiful rendition of an old song by Tears For Fears - Mad World - sung by Adam Lambert on American Idol. For some reason, the melancholic, almost chilling lyrics caused me to think about the topic of happiness again. I came up with some observations and conclusions. I'm not schooled in philosophy and don't know too much about the various religions of the world, so I can't comment on how unique these notions are, but by writing them down in this blog, I hope to at least share them.
What is happiness anyway? I don't know if anyone can answer this question completely, authoritatively. I choose to define it as a state of being in which a person's mind is at peace with his surroundings. Thus, happiness has little to do with positive things such as how much a person laughs or smiles at others, how much time he spends helping the unfortunate, how successful his career, or how much material wealth he accumulates. I think happiness can also be achieved when coming to grips with the darker moments of life - e.g. the death of a loved one or the realization that ones disease is incurable. The key is acceptance. And we can accept anything.
But society doesn't often teach us this. More likely, society advocates that we can only be happy if our lives have "purpose" - and for most this means achieving certain things: a good career, wife, children, money, material possessions, helping the less fortunate, etc. But is such a life of "purpose" really the way to achieve happiness? To me, it seems, that for most people it leads to lots and lots of disappointments - after all, in a world of shrinking resources, not everyone can be rich, famous, parent, etc. The "purpose-driven life" inevitably leads to competition and, thus, to the unhappiness of others. To boot, if you are not successful at accomplishing your purpose(s), it also leads to your unhappiness.
I think the religions of the world may be able to teach us something in this regard (even if's not an intended goal): Hinduism, via the concept of karma (everything is pre-determined) advocates acceptance. Christianity, by proposing a heaven, promotes the acceptance of the current life (everything's ok here, as long as we get to heaven eventually!) My thesis is that such an "accepting life", if not combined with a "purpose", has a much better chance to not negatively impact the lives of others. It has a much better chance to make you happy.
I can imagine that you're still rumbling about how one could combine acceptance with a purpose-filled life. After all, isn't that what some of our greatest people (Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Mandella, etc.) did? I don't know. Sure, these people accomplished great things - but was it their goal, their purpose to achieve them? Isn't it just as likely that "greatness" was a side-effect of the activity (making others' lives easier) these people felt compelled to partake in? Somehow I find it difficult to believe that these people woke up one morning and said to themselves, "I will make black people free" or "I will feed the hungry". But, then again, perhaps they did...
When I speak of the virtues of an "accepting" life, I, in no way, am advocating living an uneventful one. A life without experience is a life truly wasted. Today, I'm happily sitting here on the patio writing this blog, nursing a cold, while a bird is on a nearby bird feeder selectively choosing among the different kinds of seeds we've provided. Tomorrow my wife and daughter want to go hiking - I'll have to see if I'll be over the cold by then. If so, I'll be experiencing hiking on the Appalachian Trail for the first time; if not, I'll be experiencing more cold symptoms and maybe my friend the bird again :-) Most times, you don't have to look for experiences - life brings them to you!
I try to live every day with eyes open and pursue whatever fancies me at that moment. I have no grand plan, no career goals, no grudges to grind...and I am happy - most of the time (and these are the times that I forget to be accepting :-)