So, you want to be happy?

By Henrylito D. Tacio

SUPPOSE someone asked you the question a friend posed to me the other day. “Tell me something,” he asked. “Are you happy?”

I was reminded of a story shared by an overseas contract worker from Hong Kong. A certain Filipino priest named Father Lim delivered his Sunday service in Tagalog at St Joseph’s Church on Garden Road. At one time, before a packed audience, he squeezed through his flock with a microphone.

Are you happy?” he asked the congregation. A hand snatched the mike from the priest. “Yes, because I love God,” the man said. Amid wild applause, the mike found its way to another person. “I’m so happy because I got my HK$3,670 this month,” he said. “But my employer was expecting a million and didn’t get it. Now he’s miserable.” Everyone hooted with laughter.

Now, are you happy? Well, really, I never thought about it. I know I am happy. On second thought, what is happiness? What makes a person happy?

Philosopher Aristotle reminds, “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” Bertrand Russell adds, “The good life, as I conceive it, is a happy life. I do not mean that if you are good you will be happy; I mean that if you are happy you will be good.”

In terms of happiness, it’s more of your own choice. An ancient proverb suggests: “Dance as if no one were watching, sing as if no one were listening, and live each day as if there were no tomorrow.” To Brooke Russell Kuser Marshall Astor, happiness is very simple: “If you love to read, if you love nature and if you have a dog, you’ve got it made.”

To some, happiness is a state of mind. Dale Carnegie states, “Remember happiness doesn’t depend upon who you are or what you have; it depends solely on what you think.” Mahatma Gandhi agrees, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

To others, happiness is more about us. John B. Sheerin contends, “Happiness is not in our circumstances, but in ourselves. It is not something we see, like a rainbow, or feel, like the heat of a fire. Happiness is something we are.” William L Shirer is even more specific, “Most true happiness comes from one’s inner life, from the disposition of the mind and soul. Admittedly, a good inner life is difficult to achieve, especially in these trying times. It takes reflection and contemplation and self-discipline.”

Oftentimes, happiness is just before us. But we don’t pay attention to it. As Helen Keller puts it: “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”

A couple of years ago, a study conducted by the British think tank New Economics Foundation whose Happy Planet Index covered 178 countries ranked the Philippines as the 17th happiest country on Earth. (Several years before the said study, a Hong Kong ad agency found the Philippines to be the happiest place among a group that included Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and China.)

A day after the news came out, a national daily came out with this editorial: “The self-perception that the Philippines is one of the happiest countries on Earth is paradoxical, because it is one of the poorest and most deprived nations. Thirty percent of the people live below the poverty threshold; many families eat only two meals a day. Millions have no access to medical and health services and many people die without even seeing or enjoying the services of a doctor.”

But Filipinos themselves were not surprised with the survey. Here’s an explanation from another editorial of a national daily: “Filipinos are not difficult to please. A bowl of instant noodles sustains most poor families. Sidewalk food is a 24-hour business. Movies and TV help us pass the time with ease. Prayers and humor make Pinoys resilient. Disasters, tragedies and epidemics are an occasion for jokes. The extended family provides a safety net for the jobless. If the fates are unkind, it is God’s will.”

The grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for,” said Joseph Addison. Dr. David Myers, an American psychologist who has conducted some studies about happiness, offers nine basic steps to happiness:

1. Savor the moment. “Live in the present,” he advises. A proverb states, “Yesterday is but a dream, tomorrow but a vision. But well lived today makes every yesterday a dream of happiness, and every tomorrow a vision of hope. Look well, therefore, to this day.”

2. Take control of your time. Myers explains, “Happy people set big goals, then break them into daily bits. Writing a 300-page book is a formidable task; spinning out two pages daily is easy enough. Repeat this process 150 times and you have a book. This principle can be applied to any task.”

3. Accentuate the positive. “Each of us makes his own weather, determines the color of the skies in
the emotional universe which he inhabits,”
Fulton J. Sheen reminds. To which William Lyon Phelps seconded, “The happiest person is the person who thinks the most interesting thoughts.”

4. Give priority to close relationships. A poll conducted in the United States has shown that people who could name five close friends were 60 percent more likely to be “very happy” than those who couldn’t name any. This is particularly true, too, in the Philippines where happiness isn’t material but social. Alan C. Robles, writing in ‘Time Asia’ in February 2005, explained, “We’re happiest in a group: family, friends, immediate community, even strangers.” Thomas Fuller was, indeed, right when he said, “No man can be happy without a friend, nor be sure of his friend till he is unhappy.”

5. Act happy. Experiments show that people who put on a happy face really do feel better. As one popular song advices, “Don’t worry; be happy.”

6. Don’t vegetate. In others words, “don’t engage in self-absorbed idleness or park yourself in front of the television.” Or a Charlotte Perkins Gilman explains, “To attain happiness in another world we need only to believe something; to secure it in this world, we must do something.”

7. Get moving. “Action may not always bring happiness,” said Benjamin Disraeli, “but there is no happiness without action.”

8. Get rest. “Happy people exude vigor, but they also reserve time for sleep and solitude,” Dr. Myers said. Marcus Tullius Cicero also once said, “A happy life consists in tranquility of mind.”

9. Take care of the soul. Research on faith and well-being shows that people who are actively religious are happier than those who aren’t. An unknown author wrote, “Happiness no more depends on station, rank, or any local or adventitious circumstances in individuals than a man’s life is connected with the color of his garment. The mind is the seat of happiness, and to make it so in reality, nothing is necessary but the balm of gospel peace and the saving knowledge of the Son of God.”

But more importantly, share your happiness to others. Buddha reminds, “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”

George Lord Byron admits, “To have joy one must share it.” Filipino columnist Orlando P. Carvajal explains it this way: “We should not expect to get happiness from outside us such as other people, events or possessions. We should gain happiness by giving happiness to others because then we will be happy ourselves. Getting is not within our control. What we want to get we cannot always get or others will not allow us to get. On the contrary, giving is within our control. We can simply decide to give and we will get our happiness. Decide to give and find out how simple the search for happiness becomes.” — ###

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