Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Digging for Happiness

"Be thankful."

It's good advice. I guess it implies indebtedness to some benevolent universal presence, but I hear complete atheists saying that they are thankful, too. It's still valid for them. "Glad" is a good substitute word: "I'm glad I have such a great life."

Sometimes, we use the idea of being thankful as an argument that we have no right to ever complain. It's like the old mom thing, when a kid won't eat his Lima beans: "You should be thankful you have Lima beans. There are starving children who would love to have Lima beans."

Of course, this doesn't work. First of all, it just doesn't work, psychologically. Second, I don't even think starving kids would eat Lima beans.

Van Gogh
In life, we try to use the mom argument: How can I complain when I have a bad day at work? There are people with no jobs... That kind of thing. Usually, we all know, it doesn't work.

On a logical level, point-blank, in a situational sense, the mom argument doesn't work. But, I find the thankfulness principal is starting to work for me in a cumulative way. While it won't save my mood when I am feeling sorry for myself under the yoke of some first world problem ("Why can't I EVER, just ONCE hook up to the wireless in my house on the first try?"), I do find that numerous recognitions of how lucky I am in the grand scheme have begun to build up to some kind of -- what? -- armor against the onslaughts of the wicked world.

Thankfulness is a principal to be lived consistently, not randomly recognized, if it is to work in contributing to our happiness.

Of course, for this to be effective, one needs to be able to have the depth to recognize the dimensions of one's own good fortune. To say that one is thankful is easy (and can be sincere) but to understand why one should be thankful; to comprehend the width and breadth of one's wonderful world is not so easy. It requires perception and a dedication to a life of both world and self-examination.

Finding happiness takes work, but a lot of people see it as a dart thrown over the shoulder at the board. We need to dig and we need to dig constantly and deeply. Dig?

An exercise for you: this post was inspired as I left he house this summer morning and saw my dog watching me drive away from the front window, with her big, white chin sadly resting on the ledge.


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