Jun 022011
A recent Chamber presentation by Mike McKinley entitled “Laughing Your Way to Success & Happiness,” invited more thought about our third unalienable right: the pursuit of happiness. Since we have been in pursuit for 235 years; certainly we’ve made progress.
In many industries, the U.S. leads the world in production efficiency and effectiveness. So why not in the creation of happiness and well-being? As one of the wealthiest nations ever to grace the planet we have the resources to tickle our funny bone when faced with virtually any dilemma. Our technological progress—astounding by any measure—has surely brought us unprecedented bliss. Our pharmaceutical industry has developed an arsenal of weapons to combat every mental illness or depression. Our progress in the efficient creation of happiness must likewise be astounding.
Oh contraire! Meet the HPI—Happy Planet Index—developed by the New Economics Foundation. The HPI measures how efficiently a country converts resources into well-being for its citizens. In other words, it measures the units of “happiness” created for each square foot of carbon footprint employed. Similar to business; the spoils go, not to the one who produces the most, but to he who produces most efficiently.
As we explore, keep in mind the HPI does not measure the happiest countries, but the relative efficiency with which nations convert natural resources into long and happy lives. The results? The United States scores a 30.7. Most African nations score lower; Zimbabwe is at 16.6. On the other hand, we score lower—often much lower—than most every other nation in the world. Russia scores 34.5; Canada 39.4, Poland 42.8, Mexico 55.6, China 57.1, and Brazil an astounding 61.
There are three components to the HPI. Happiness results from both life expectancy and a measure of life satisfaction. On those, the U.S. actually scores somewhat better than other countries. Our downfall is the amount we spend to get that level satisfaction for the years we live. The ecological footprint we employ for our slightly higher “happiness” does us in; our costs are out of proportion to what we produce. If there was a world market for satisfaction, we would have an abundance to sell, but our costs are so uncompetitive that no one could afford to buy what we produce!
While we are one of the wealthiest nations ever to grace the planet, we tickle our funny bone with a mountain of trinkets that ultimately do not make us happy. While our technological progress is astounding, we use our laptops, tablets, droids and iPhones to remain connected…at a comfortable distance from one another. Our growing arsenal of expensive pharmaceuticals is stockpiled, not just to fight severe mental illness, but to numb us from even the slightest hint of sadness.
There are graphs for any process that compare the next bit of benefit from an added expense. These define the cost/benefit debates we engage in every day. For some reason, it appears we don’t even engage in that debate when it comes to happiness. We appear willing to throw the Earth’s limited resources willy-nilly in virtually any direction in its pursuit. Should we continue, happiness, and its pursuit, just might be less unalienable than we thought.
Dec 082009

To my friends at Operation Snowball…

I have been reflecting on the experience of last Thursday evening. For those who were unable to join us, the Teen Directors presented a fascinating and enlightening experiential exercise. We were divided into two discussion groups. The first group—the one to which I was assigned—shared memories of positive life experiences. The second shared those less pleasant…experiences we would often rather not recall. The TDs noted the differing atmospheres that emerged in the separate rooms. As you can imagine, those differences—everything from tone of voice and human interaction, to body language and emotions—were often dramatic.

As we debriefed the experience, we noted how much more energizing it was to be with the group sharing the positive aspects of life. We generally agreed that we prefer to spend our lives with people who are positive and enthusiastic rather than those who wish to dwell in the midst of life’s challenges and crises. It was a wonderful exercise and I congratulate the TDs for revealing life in such an honest way.

If I have a concern, it is how each of us unfolds the lessons into our lives. Many of those in the group that dealt with pain and sadness expressed a desire to escape that experience, preferring to be with those who dealt with joy and happiness. As much as happiness, pleasure, and times of joy are wonderful places to find ourselves, life is false and unreal when we try to wring sadness from its midst. And yet, we live in a culture that increasingly wishes to flee sadness. There is an ever-growing arsenal of pills and medications offering ways to annihilate sadness. Please don’t misunderstand; having spent 1500 hours answering a suicide hotline, I know that for many, medication can turn a life that is unbearably difficult, into one that is contributory and fulfilling. The medications available to us can truly be life saving.

But let us be careful not to confuse deep depression—for which medication is often vital—with life’s tragedies and sadnesses. For reasons I have yet to fully understand, while we love being together in joyous ways, anyone who has been on a Snowball weekend knows of the extraordinary connections we make when we share the vulnerability that comes with the moments of deep pain and anguish. When I recall some of the thousand joyous moments during the 55 years I shared with my father, you learn something of who I am. But when I reveal the tremendous pain and heartache…the deep sense of loss…I experienced when he died, we become connected in a much deeper way. Even I learned something new and deeply profound about myself having lived through the experience of his death—the raw and harsh way life often needs to be lived through us. It is in those moments when you allow me to see what drops you to your knees in agony that you reveal something about who you are that cannot be revealed in any other way. Then, and only then, can I look into your eyes and say “I know you. I understand what you love about life and what you value.”

While moments of joy and happiness are irresistible, when we show up in the vulnerability of pain, sadness and agony, we show up more authentic and more capable of love. And, when we are able to be with others in their most intimate, painful moments—without the need to fix them or wrest the pain from their lives—in those moments we most powerfully show up with love for one another.

Your thoughts?