Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Love: the Bridge to Happiness

How many of you knew that February 11th was World Happiness Day? On this day, Happy: The Movie was shown in countries all over the world. My husband and I watched a presentation of the movie by the psychology club at SUNY Oneonta. The movie combines cutting-edge science from the new field of “positive psychology” with real-life stories of people from around the world whose lives illustrate what constitutes a happy, fulfilling life. 

The film's researchers discovered (surprise, surprise!) that wealth is not one of the factors that make people happy. Five of the factors that contribute most to happiness are:

  1. A sense of friendship and community
  2. Caring for and helping others
  3. A personal involvement with nature
  4. A balanced life, with plenty of leisure time
  5. Engaging in enjoyable activities
  6. Spiritual (not necessarily religious) faith

I conclude from these findings that a happy life is a life full of love: love shared with family and friends, love for neighbors, love for nature, love for the divine, and engagement in activities that we love. I see a strong connection between the findings of this movie and the lines from the Lord's Prayer that I discussed in my last article, because surely the Kingdom of Heaven is a state of being where everyone is happy!

In Sunday's class, I shared what I had learned from "Happy: The Movie." Some of the places where happy people are interviewed, including communities in Denmark, New Orleans, Okinawa, and a slum in India, could be thought of as little kingdoms of heaven. I was especially intrigued by the country of Bhutan, which I learned is the only country in the world where Gross National Happiness is considered by the king to be more important than the Gross National Product. Some of the policies that have been put into place to maintain the happiness of Bhutan's citizens are: advertising bans, Buddhist prayer flags fluttering in the wind everywhere, strict conservation laws aimed at achieving sustainable development, and bans on plastic bags and tobacco. Now some may say that this is an encroachment on people's freedom, but really, does smoking make anyone happy, or is tobacco, like alcohol and other drugs, just something that helps you forget that you aren't truly happy, makes you sick, and creates an extra roadblock to real happiness? Loving and caring for oneself is one of the links on the bridge to happiness!

This morning when my husband came back from the gym he was upset because he'd been listening to the radio in the car and heard about the practice of Pakistani men throwing acid in the face of a woman who turns down his proposal of marriage. Obviously, a man who would commit such an act is not the kind of man any woman would choose to marry. Such a man is totally divorced from the love in his heart. He doesn't realize the connection between all people and how he hurts himself when he hurts another human being. He must not feel very good about himself and cannot possibly be happy. 

One of the stories in the Happy movie is about a once-beautiful woman whose face was destroyed in a horrible accident. Afterward her husband divorced her, but she found happiness by loving and caring for others, and eventually she met a man who loved her for her inner beauty and became her new husband. I'm sure the man who married the woman with a disfigured face is happier than the man who divorced her, or any of the acid throwers in Pakistan who don't know what love is. 

Jesus said: "My kingdom is not of this world . . . my kingdom is from another place" (John 18:36). The place where the happy woman and her husband live is a different place from where the cruel Pakistani men live. It's the place that exists on the other side of the bridge of love. Anyone can go there. It's our choice.

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