Happy.

I’m not sure if anyone has noticed…but one of my life goals is to reach a point of contentedness.

To me happiness, means being content because unlike being just happy, being content is a way of life.

Not just a flimsy emotion.

I search for it and work towards it everyday.

So in having said all that, it’s no surprise that when I came across a documentary called ‘Happy’ I had to watch it. I found it so interesting, some of which I knew, other parts I took on board.

I found it so amazing that for hundreds of years the study of depression and unhappiness has been at the fore front of psychology studies, a physiologists job was to rid people of their problems and ‘sadness’ and yet couldn’t offer a scrap of insight into how to be happy.

It is now becoming a very popular topic of study -which is nice to hear!-

The docco covered many different people’s lives and their levels of happiness. I found it amazing, and saddening.

Let’s begin with Japan. Mainly because it shocked me and made me appreciative of our life here in Australia. After world war 2 Japan was left ravaged, the government sent about employing every able-bodied person to help re-build their country, they instilled in everyone, even the children, that a very strong work ethic is the most valuable quality any person can have.

Their achievements amazed the world.

Now they live in a world where, when asked in the street what is the most important thing in life, they respond “work.” and “working hard.” One man who was questioned randomly remembered that it was his birthday and then was asked how his wife and family felt about him spending the day with his colleagues, he replied “She understands that work is more important. I will see them tomorrow.”

While the camera pans out over the city, I cannot see any glimpse of green, not one tree, not one flower. Just a mass of seething bodies hurrying along. No one talking, no one laughing. Heads down, brief case burdened and trudging along.

Again scenes of the subway where people are cramming themselves into the cars, no one says a word, everyone’s eyes are blank and pushing forward. People who are clearly exhausted and worn down are slumped over, sleeping among the strangers who all look simply depressed.

Their ‘strong work ethic’ is killing people. literally.

They are collapsing and their hearts are stopping.

Dying of ‘stress’ is becoming common place.

They’ve given it a name which is ‘Karoshi.’

The story of one mother was so saddening. Her husband worked so much that her 3-year-old daughter wouldn’t recognise him when he came home, all this little girl wanted to do was play with her daddy when he came home but he was simply exhausted. Then one day while at work, on a day a little more stressful than others, he collapsed. His heart stopped beating in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.

He was in his early 40’s.

These people have no time to laugh with their kids, no time to stroll among the trees, or go for a picnic.

It is disgusting. Yes, their country may be advanced. But at the cost of people’s lives?

It reminded me of just an army of working ants.

Meaningless people. They don’t even seem to have a place except in some production line obsessed with advancing their country’s power and knowledge. Not one enjoying a scrap of life, they’re raised in apartments packed on top of each other like sardines and probably never climbed a tree or even had a chance to scrape their knees while riding bikes…..raised to work.

Work to death.

Each step of their life is planned. Born, educated, work, marry, house, child -which I’m sure they assume will bring great joy until they realise that they never see that child while working- die. Most are ‘successful’ in their lives. Make a lot of money, is what that translates to….but for what?

It is so sad.

Is there any enjoyment in their lives at all I wonder?

They may be rich but at what cost, and does being rich make them smile?

Not that I saw.

And whats the point in so much money when you’ve got not a chance to use any of it?

Funnily enough another man whose life was monitored was named Manojo who lived in a slum in Kolkuta was rated among the most content of people.

His life was far from those in Japan, he lived in a ‘house’ which was merely a frame covered with a tarp. It provided shelter from the sun and was what he called a “nice home.’ Everyday he woke before the sun to head into the city where he worked as a rickshaw driver…..basically a ‘horse’ for a carriage in which he is paid to take passengers to and from around the city. He does this in the hottest part of summer where his bare feet burn and in the coolest parts of the monsoon where he is soaked to the bone most of the time.

He doesn’t earn much and sometimes he and his family eat only salted rice for dinner.

He describes his life as full and joyful.

The highlight of everyday is when on his way home he meets his son Who calls out “BABA!” excitedly from the tea shop where he waits for him. He is surrounded by neighbours and children, which he says is a big part of his contentedness. They share and generally look out for each other. He calls them his friends, his family.

In the studies done it showed that Manojo’s levels of happiness where in some cases actually higher than that of an average American.

Something I believe is that the less you have, the less you have to lose. The less you have to lose the less you stress about ‘protecting’ what you feel you need to retain.

Maybe this is the case for Manojo? He earns what he needs to feed and shelter his family and spends his time surrounded by loved ones.

Another woman interviewed was really touching, she was a typical ‘supermum’ she was and always had been beautiful in appearance, she was popular and seemed to have it all, married, raising 3 children. Everyone wanted to know her and be around her, she had the life everyone else envied.

Until one day she was run over by a truck.

For almost 10 years she was practically disabled. Her husband divorced her and became an alcoholic, her face horribly disfigured has undergone 33 surgeries and may need more in the future. During her traumatic experience, horrific memories of her father sexually abusing her as a child came to light. Her entire life was unravelled.

No one wanted to be around her anymore. She was no longer beautiful. She wasn’t married any more and all those superficial things she once thought were important were gone. She only had herself.

She contemplated suicide. Telling herself that she’d wait until next week as the kids needed her at the moment.

Eventually, finally, through it all she came to realise that her life was more important than just being a pretty face, she was more valuable than a fancy car or ‘appearing’ to ‘have it all.’

She now embraces life, accepts all of her life and what has happened, she now works with other people who’ve experienced trauma.

She says “I have never ever felt so whole and content in my life as I do now.”

She also met a man who asked her the hard questions like “What’s it like to go from being beautiful to not?” he’s honest and kind and loves her. He thinks she’s a beautiful person.

They got married.

His name is ‘Happy.’

Just about brought tears to my eyes.

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Things in this documentary that further interested me is the divide of people and the way they think happiness works.

There are 2 kinds of people…

1. The kind of people who thinks happiness is and external factor. That happiness is  derived from popularity and their status among others. They also think that wealth and things will bring them happiness. They hold materialistic objects high on their list of things to ‘obtain’ to become happy. They want to be popular, attractive and wealthy.

2. These are the people who think happiness comes from internal places. That happiness and contentedness comes from family and loved ones. From helping others and putting others before themselves and from giving rather than receiving.

The funny part is that these two types of people in everyday life conflict.

For example, I personally think I am in group two and simply cannot understand how someone who has a fancy car just because they wanted to impress the neighbours could be happier than I who laughs openly with her family yet has an everyday second-hand only car -which she loves.-

And vice versa, those in group one may think I am strange for not placing any value on cars, houses, or materialistic things, they are confused as to why ‘giving things away’ or volunteering can offer happiness.

I find those concerned with things and objects rather than people shallow and superficial while those who do, may look at me and think I am flippant and ignorant for placing a higher value on loved ones than on owning a nice big house.

Someone like me would say ‘Don’t worry about it.’ If one of the kids spilt something on the carpet, because I feel it is not a life altering event. But the external happiness seekers would probably rant and rave about the price it will cost to have the stain removed.

There is this thing termed a hedonic treadmill, what it means is that we think that something like a new car, or even a wedding day will bring us so much joy and happiness that it will last a lifetime when in reality, while it may bring happiness, it does not last forever. It is only momentary, just like when bad things happen to us. We think we’ll be devastated forever, but it just isn’t the case.

This hedonic treadmill is used to describe our need for more. Once we gain a new car, or have our wedding, while we are happy in the moment, it begins to fade once we ‘get used to it’ so then we are seeking our next ‘want.’ Once we obtain our next want, a second car, or new house, we will become used to that too and seek more and more to keep us ‘happy.’

A vicious cycle or wanting and obtaining and wanting more and more.

Studies showed that the difference in earnings did not increase happiness either. Those who live on the streets who began generating money, of course their happiness increased once their basic needs were met.

But the study went on to show that once our basic needs like shelter and food were met that happiness levels remained the same. There was no difference of happiness of people earing $50,000 a year to those earning $5 million a year.

It proved that owning ‘things’ didn’t increase happiness.

Now let me tell you of a man named Roy who lives in Louisiana on the banks of a bayou. He has barely any money, but spends his spare time out on the water, watching the wildlife and listening to the natural sounds. He comes home to where he shares a free meal of crab which he and his family laughed and had fun catching right on their doorstep. He laughs with aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers.

Strong connections with loved ones.

Again another man named Ronaldo who lives in a  tiny shack on the beach where he rescues baby birds to raise until they can fly, who also surfs everyday, says “Why make heaps of money when you have no time to dream or hope?” “Why go to bed each night unable to sleep because you’re worried about bills that need to be paid tomorrow?”

He also teaches his children that they should aim to “work so that they can live their life in tranquility.”

I totally agree!

A mansion won’t make me happy especially the overwhelming pressure of having to find the money to pay for it each and everyday of my life, but strolling along the beach with my kids in the afternoon stress free knowing that while we may not have the most magnificent house, we do have a roof over our heads and I don’t have to be working 24 hours a day to pay for it…. would.

The cost of ‘maintaining’ our dream life is stressful.

There were scary parts to this docco too. Like the fact that dopamine, which is the chemical released when we’re happy, is then received by things called synapse. These synapse from as early as our teenage years begin to decrease. They do not regenerate. And they can die from lack of use. If there is no dopamine to be received then over time they die off.

If we have too little of these synapse, it results in Parkinson’s disease.

Being genuinely happy and content is a part of being healthy.

We need to release that dopamine people! To keep our synapse from dying.

Remember I mentioned about the Japanese and their highly stressed and pressure filled lives are leading to premature death, well there is this other country called Bhutan,  this country does not follow the rest of the world focussing on economic growth.

They believe that “humanity needs a higher goal than that of GDP (gross national product), and that is gross national happiness. (GDH)”

They’re trying to find what will make their people not rich, but happy.

They’re allowed to play, the young and old, they are allowed to put family first.

The government of Bhutan is actively taking control and aiming, on the behalf of their citizens for a happy nation. They have laws like “60% of Bhutan must always remain forest.” This is a country rich in resources but instead of taking advantage of the land, they are thinking about the people not the money first. If they build a damn, homes must be moved, if they mine, then monasteries and school will need to close.

They place a value on people and their well-being.

Their values are totally different to Japan is the first noticeable thing.

They want peacful long term goals for humanity, not the economy.

They value family, they value friendships, they are not seeking to become an economic success or tech geniuses….their government is aiming for long happy lives for their citizens…..now in hearing that, doesn’t it make you wonder what our government wants for us?….Earn money? Be busy, busy workers?….for what?!

Another place where happiness is rated the highest is Denmark. Why?

Because all Danish people are granted free education through to college and free healthcare for life. They also have a thing called co-housing communities. Really it makes me think of communes, only these are large buildings where each family has their own space but is only centimetres from others, children grow and learn and play communally, adults share the work load between cooking and cleaning.

Everyone has someone.

It covers the story of one woman who was newly divorced and had only herself and two small children so she moved into the co-housing to avoid being isolated and to gain support. Her and her children never want to leave.

The children have responsibilities, and access to the elderly who treat them like grandchildren. The kids openly giggle and feel loved knowing that if they get hurt someone will always come running, related or not.

A more relaxed and simple life it seems to be a good thing.

I’m not suggesting we be ‘lazy’ which is what we’re raised to believe of people who don’t work. I suggest we work hard, damn hard, for ourselves, our children and for others. In ways that create happiness, ways that create contentedness.

Ways that benefit our community.

Scrap goals like ‘own a house by 25.’

‘be married by 30.’

‘Buy brand new car by 35.’

“Be a millionaire by 50.”

How about trading them for

“Help others.”

“Give.”

“Care.”

“Laugh with my family.”

“Offer a lending hand.”

“Be compassionate and kind.”

Personally I cannot comprehend why someone needs a $100,000 car compared to a $10,000 one. Glen explains it to me by saying that a more expensive car must be better and in the long run won’t cost as much in repairs.

I totally disagree.

I know exactly what would happen if we had a$100,000 car. People would ask about it. People would assume we were rich. People do those kinds of things. Some want this and think it will make them happy.

I don’t want people thinking we’re wealthy. I don’t want people thinking anything except “Oh they’re nice.” After literally talking to us.

Being a wealthy person should be from gaining a richness of character.

It makes no sense to me. Yes we need a car, no we don’t need a pricey one. Yes we need to get to and from places. But no, we don’t need to do it in ‘style’ and therefore create more stressful debt while at it.

Debt is one of the things that saddens most of us apparently. Debt is the taking of freedom from someone.

I cannot travel here or there, I cannot take time to just be with family, I cannot even begin a family depending on my ability to repay money I owe?! The pressure involved if one loses their job and needs money now, now, now!

Or if an accident occurs and all of a sudden everything is lost.

The owing of money places stress on relationships.

You know what I noticed most about the people who were content as opposed to those who were not?

Their wrinkles and their eyes.

The ‘happy’ people had so many smile lines and those happy little wrinkles that come from ‘sunshine eyes.’ Like they’d spent a lifetime giggling. Their eyes were sparkling, there was something that kind of sucked you in and made you smile simply because they were.

They had a soul, they had peace within, they seemed lighter, a little bit floaty like they could begin to dance at any moment.

Those who were not ‘happy’ had deep creases across their brow, obvious frowns appeared even when they tried to smile weakly, their eyes seemed hollow and dull.

They fidgeted.

Those were the people who made me want to cry.

Yet they all had great jobs, nice cars, big houses, married to beautiful people whom they probably didn’t like.

But they were hollow.

Hollow and so heavy like they were trudging through life unwillingly.

People probably envy them for their ‘idyllic’ lifestyles, but to those who lived it? They were stressed, under pressure, some on drugs to control their moods. Constantly concerned with what everyone thought of them.

Some of the happiness most joyous times in my life have been when I’ve been oblivious to others. The movie mentioned that when we forget our ego we are free to be our authentic self and I believe it to be true.

I know from experience that the most contented I’ve ever felt is when I have switched off my ‘I wonder what everyone else thinks’ and just done or said what I wanted without for thought, without fear of other people’s judgments.

When I danced around bonfires singing at the top of my lungs. I didn’t make eye contact with anyone because I didn’t do it for anyone except me. I thought it was fun and freeing so I just did it.

For me.

When I’ve sat quietly within nature and watched birds fly by.

Watched the sun create beautiful works of art as it passes the sky over the ocean.

Collected pretty stones and shells half hidden in the sands.

When I’m standing bare footed, toes curling into the dirt and crunchy leaves, eyes closed, sun pouring down onto my shoulders and the warm toastiness…. it gives me shivers, the silent yet noisy bush humming around me….

When I’ve sat for hours on end with my sister and brother laughing over the stupidest fake accents in the world!!!

Eating with our fingers and laughing at the messiness of it all.

Food fights, singing badly, being idiots in general, wearing masks in a public place, now that was fun and we weren’t the only ones laughing! People laughed at us, with us….tears streaming down our faces.

I simply cannot remember a single time where I enjoyed myself as much and money had been involved.

NEVER!

My joy, my contentedness, my happiness has always come from those I love.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The common factors of those who were genuinely, right to their core happy and not just appearing to be so was;

1. Nature. Being outdoors in the fresh air. Either to eat, dance, surf, swim, stroll, jog….anything outside in the natural environment. I mean it makes sense. We are animals after all, we are creating artificial enclosures for ourselves everyday. Have you ever seen the pure sadness in the eyes of a chimp in a zoo?….Thats what we’re doing to ourselves. We’re creatures of nature and for some reason we’re depriving ourselves of it.

2. A sense of belonging. Mostly with their loved ones. A community feel where you know your accepted just as you are. No strings attached. Just because.

3. To help others. There was a man named Andy, on that docco who had spent his life studying and working hard to become a banker and computer manager, he was very ambitious and wanted to be the youngest bank manager in his region, he was wealthy saying he was “spoilt and wasted a lot of money” he was into fashion, concerned with what everyone thought of him until one day the pressure got to him. He gave it all up to live and volunteer in one of Mother Theresa’s homes for the dying where they take in people left in the streets who are ill and on death’s door, they give them basic needs like water, food, warmth and compassion. He said he has never in his life felt so fulfilled and content. Giving.

4. Physical activity. This is the one that helps release lots those important dopamine chemicals. The more fun you have the better! In California they have a ‘gorilla run” where people dress as gorilla’s and run through the streets. How stupid and funny and fun would that be?! Imagine the fits of laughter at the sheer pointlessness of it all? And those who are watching?

Sounds like my kind of exercise!

5. People who could laugh at themselves and had no concern for what others thought of them. They’d ‘forget their ego.’

6. They had hobbies to immerse themselves in. Not for any kind of purpose except for enjoyment.

7. Those people who can recover from incidents quickly. For example when I kick my toe, it angers me and I’ll yell “Damnit.” But I realise that anything more than that is not beneficial. Glen on the other hand will kick his toe and rant for hours about how the world hates him. (hahaha) Those who can recover quicker are happier. Well…der.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This is turning out to be a massive essay!

I find happiness/contentedness to be very important not only to me but to you as well. I don’t think there is anything sadder than someone who is sad but trying their hardest to hide it with a continual need for ‘things’ sorry to say it but it is usually fairly obvious too. And horribly….most of us live like this! I know I have too, sometimes still do. But to live a life of ‘wanting’ is going to get us nowhere.

I only hope this post gives more of an insight into what really does and does not affect our long-term goal of being happy and being content, not only to look forward into the future, but right now. I mean we all aim to be happy….dream that someday we will be happy but what does that mean? When is that day exactly? When you get that great job? Then once you do you realise that it hasn’t made you happy? Glen gets bored with his job regularly….I try to put things into perspective for him….Some men would kill to do what he does, he has had the opportunity to drive some of the biggest machinery on Earth. Not everyone can just decide to do what he can. But he can’t see it from outside. He only sees it from his perspective.

Circumstance, meaning income, job, where we live only makes up 10% of our happiness levels!!! Amazing….50% of our happiness make up is genetic, we have a high and low range and generally fall somewhere in the middle of our genetic range. The last 40% is made up of our choices. This is the area that we can work on to determine our levels of being content and happy.

(nothing to do with purchases!)

We are told that circumstance is what makes us happy, by the government, by our parents…..we even sadly teach it to our own children. That they will be happy one day when they have a house, job, wife and kids….will they? We can’t promise that.

10 freaking per cent!!!

Not much, we need to look at the bigger picture and stop feeding our kids this crap we’ve been feeding ourselves for so long. Marriage, children, fancy jobs, nice houses, brand new cars????

We need to look at that massive 40% and ask ourselves what really makes us happy?! I like children. They make me smile, their innocence the way they can tell you that you’re wearing an ugly dress when no one else has the guts, too makes me smile. The way they can sit and ogle at a lady bug for hours with pure interest on their faces…makes me smile. I like to make things, to make something from old stuff that others deem unworthy, makes me smile….to then see someone else take an interest and see the beauty of something that once upon a time no one wanted until I did a couple of things to it?! MAKES ME SMILE! Listening to happy songs and twirling with a baby in my arms….yes you guessed it. MAKES ME SMILE!

None of that costs me a thing and I can enjoy it any moment I want to.

I would prefer to live in a box on the side of the street with a smile on my face than in a mansion with a hollow heart.

Just ask yourself…do I NEED this to survive?

Most of the time the answer will be no.

We need to stop it. We need to stop now. This horrible need to compete with everyone.

To have lots of stuff around us, yet nothing inside at all.

A better house does not mean a better person. A cool car does not mean a cool person. A married person does not equal a stable person.

I personally would hate to be judged on what I ‘own’ instead of who I am.

I’d still be me, in that cardboard box on the side of the street.

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 Go talk to some elderly people in a nursing home. Shake someones hand and say hello. Offer to carry something for someone struggling. Give that homeless man $2 if your concerned about his habits, he can’t get drugs or drink for that much but he can get a burger. Help your neighbour move house. Offer to cook them a meal if they’re sick.

Money comes and goes.

Being kind is a way of being. Being kind makes us happy.

The Dali lama says “Compassion is in our veins. It is taught to us from our mother the very first time she feeds us from her breast. We do not know who this person is but she is giving to me, not by law, not because of religious teachings but because it is nature. Compassion is in our nature.”

It just makes me wonder where and why and when we decide to turn our backs on humanity to pursue our own selfish materialistic ‘wants.’

There is a little place in the world called Okinawa-which is actually a small island off Japan- its the place where most people live to be 100 years plus. So if a long life reflects happiness this is where the happiest people must be, they have a little saying  which is “Icharibachode” it means that when you meet someone, that they are a sister or brother even if they are meeting for the very first time, they have no malicious thoughts. It was inspiring to see this large group of  very old people looking as if they were still in their 60’s giggling and laughing, joking with one another. One woman mentioned that she has no family but is happy because everyone is her family, people look after her and she is loved. The elderly all meet each afternoon for tea and laughs a their local community centre. They say “Monchu” which translates to “One family.” And these people really mean it, when one family suffers tragic loss, they whole community comes out. They all feel it, they no longer bury their dead but instead cremate their loved ones and the ashes are then placed into a communal coffin. Ashes mixing.

They’ll never be alone.

Always with family.

“Monchu.”

 And I think it is a great way to live. I personally talk to strangers as if I’ve known them for years, as if we are already friends. I know that sometimes it comes across the wrong way, but everyone is a long-lost friend of mine.

I have a genuine belief that we are all equal.

If your house and mine burned down, took our clothes and all… we would be nothing but two naked beings. What makes me or you better than one or the other?

The ability to offer a hand.

I think being content is one goal we all should have in life. And in order to be content we need to be able to stand as one equally, without competition, be open, honest, helpful and caring.

Live a long healthy life with all those beautiful ‘sunshine eyes’ that sparkle with life and lightness.

Let’s laugh and dance like we’re the only one on Earth.

Let’s just be happy ok?….It’s important.

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