The documentary “Happy” examines people in all walks of life all over the world to figure out what makes people genuinely happy. Studies show that once you get beyond basic food, shelter, and a certain level of income, an increase in the latter doesn’t equate to more happiness; in fact the opposite can be true. The resulting pressure and anxiety can actually detract from your health and wellbeing, and even kill you.
What happy people seem to share in common are four simple ingredients:
- Physical activity, in whatever form is meaningful to you, raises dopamine in the brain, which makes you feel better.
- Appreciation of what you do have, however humble or challenging, versus wishing for things you’ll never achieve, is a key factor in contentment.
- Connection to a healthy support network of friends, family, and community is essential for completeness and security. (The “village” model vs. the self-sufficient loner.)
- Compassion and service to others, however small or limited, takes you out of yourself and brings a sense of purpose and fulfillment, the bigger picture.
The concept of “happy” has never meant much to me. It seems like an elusive obsession that by definition can never be achieved, except perhaps as an incidental byproduct of living a meaningful, intentional life (whatever that is to you). Having no regrets comes into it somewhere. I am NOT the leading world expert on the subject! 😉
I do agree that humans need a certain basic minimal level of food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, security, and a safety net, just for starters, and to deny any of those basic needs and rights is indefensible and inhumane. Our so-called president is ensuring that even his supporters will be some very unhappy, discontented humans. This state can not be sustained indefinitely; something has to give.
I do know from personal experience that when I’m not engaged in some meaningful outdoor connection to nature, I’m like a neurotic caged animal, not amused.
I have learned from this Ohio experience that it’s amazing how okay you can be with less, and not just resigned to it.
I do sometimes feel the lack of connection to a strong, healthy human network. Even an introvert needs a certain minimum support system. I’m thankful for the family and friends I do have, however remote. I’ve witnessed what the loss of all healthy connections can do to someone.
There’s a part of me (Aquarian, after all) that always feels a need to reach out and be some small part of serving greater humanity outside of my own small, self-centered needs, and incomplete when I have few such outlets. It’s a poor, narrow life that only looks out for itself. Extending ourselves is what separates us from being brutes.
I’m very aware of how fortunate I am, having been born after the Depression, WW2, Holocaust, Cold War, and other horrors. At the same time, my parents’ generation raised us on the premise of “never again”, i.e. sheltered, spoiled, materialistic, and entitled. There is something to be said for growing up appreciative and resourceful with what little you have to work with. I’ve had to learn the “hard” way.
The hippie back-to-the-land movement came about through disillusionment with all the artificial materialism and greed, but most of us could afford to opt out of the system, being privileged to begin with. Many people did not have those options. Here I am, full-circle, among mainstream working class people who have had to struggle and slave just to make it, never mind find contentment.
By comparison, I feel fortunate. I have basic necessities, a small network of family and friends, some hope of a future near them in a place of our own with access to the natural world, and maybe even opportunities to be of service. “Happy” may or may not apply, but I can’t complain. As my son would say, I’m still here. There’s something to be said for not being dead yet!