Monday, January 16, 2012

Happiness

This past weekend, I went to see the first movie in the Santung Film Festival, a festival of inspirational films that opened in San Miguel Saturday night. There were several I thought I might like to see, but I was most interested in the one that inaugurated the Festival, HAPPY.

I became aware of happiness research a couple of years before I left New York. The article I read discussed the finding from a study that measured happiness internationally. I no longer remember the factors used to assign a quantitative measure to this intrinsic idea, but I was surprised by their findings. Mexico was the country with the highest happiness quotient. I know that wealth does not create happiness but would have expected that the place with the happiest population wouldn’t be one where so many people many stole across the border to find work. This research was in the back of my mind when I visited in San Miguel for the first time in 2004, and had moved to the forefront by time I decided that this would be my post-Hurricane Katrina recovery spot. I was profoundly unhappy, was hoping that living in the happy place would help me reconnect with joy.

The film, HAPPY, combines findings from the new field of “positive psychology” with real-life stories of people from around the world whose lives illustrate these findings. What research in this field has revealed is that once basic needs are satisfied—food, clothing, shelter—happiness had no correlation whatsoever with material success. Denmark was the only happy country featured with a high per capita income. Work obsessed Japan has very little joy. No one showcased—the rickshaw driver in Kolkata, India, the Louisiana family that lived off the land in the Bayou, the hunters in deserts of Namibia, the families living collectively in Denmark, the communities of Okinawa—was kicking any financial ass. Most had living standards below they American norm, but they were happier. The commonality among all these happy people was connectedness, strong ties with family and community, pursuing passions, caring for others, exercising—exercise released twice as much dopamine, the brain chemical that makes us happy, when combined with something silly like Denver’s annual Gorilla Run.

Studying the activity of a Tibetan Monk’s brain showed that his contentment centers had the most activity when doing consciousness meditation, performing acts of kindness, acknowledging five things, each week, that made him happy. Could these three simple things be the road to happiness?

I left this film fantasizing about what our lives would be if all countries followed The Royal Government of Bhutan’s example and prioritized Gross National Happiness over Gross National Product.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Another New Year

I hate clich├ęs but this year flew. The perception of each year gets smaller as we age because it’s a smaller percentage of our lives. It appears that I have less time to realize annual goals and I’m less disciplined.

Relinquishing discipline was one of the privileges I thought came with aging. Nothing could be further from the truth. You have to work harder to maintain everything after 50.

How do I balance the urge to slow down, exacerbated by the more relaxed Mexican lifestyle, with the need to rev up? That’s my challenge for 2012.