Spirit Quest - The search for true happiness

 

Spirit Quest
 
The search for true happiness may well end at home
 
By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective
 
13 January 2012 — Are you happy, yet?
 
A recently conducted Gallup/Leger poll of 52,000 people the world over has revealed that Canadians are not as happy as Fiji islanders, although that small nation in the South Pacific has recently undergone a constitutional crisis including a coup. Nor are we as badly in the dumps as the people of Romania. This eastern European country still hasn’t quite recovered from the communist times. Typical of Canada we are slab dab in the middle of the happiness quotient, not unhappy but could be happier.
 
The poll conducted by phone or voice brought some surprises; that the people of Afghanistan are only a fraction unhappier than the citizens of  the United States.  Albertans, in spite of their tar sands, or perhaps because of them, can’t match the people of Saskatchewan who are rolling in potash and laughing all the way to the bank. The residents of New Brunswick take the happiness cake for all of Canada.
 
The poll raises all sorts of questions about the nature and importance of happiness. John Stuart Mill (1806 - 1873)  the British 19th century philosopher, published a book that was on my college reading list, Utilitarianism, in which he claims that the “good” constitutes the “greatest  happiness for the greatest number.” When I was first introduced to the ideas of Mill  it got me wondering  about the nature of happiness and how to measure it. Some of us students thought of devising some sort of caliper, a “hedometer” we proposed to call it, a device that like the blood pressure cuff would be capable of measuring one’s happiness. We abandoned the idea when our philosophy prof moved on to other thinkers.
 
So what is it that makes us happy? Is it wealth, the absence of pain and suffering, personal fulfillment or negatively shadenfreude, which is enjoying someone else’s bad luck? Aristotle wrote about “eudaimonia,” meaning the well-being of the spirit, which he said depended on health, friendship, children (how about grandchildren?) and virtuous activity.
 
So what importance does one put on a poll such as the Gallup/Leger? The pollsters have, of course,  a good deal of experience in testing people on a wide variety of subjects including  politics, economics and product preference. Their findings are much relied on by governments, politicians and business executives.
 
One of the revelations of this poll is that wealth in itself is not a necessary ingredient of happiness.  Of course it is a known fact that the wealthy are never content with their wealth but are always hungering for more. The well paid CEOs of multi-national corporations are constantly looking for more breaks, stock options and other benefits to enhance their holdings, particuarly the kind that escape the taxman’s eye.
 
Lottery winners, usually part of the 99%, are ecstatically happy when first informed that they have won “the biggy.” Later, however, this new found treasure from heaven brings new problems they have never dreamed of, demands form family and “new” friends and causes and of course a plethora of shysters.  It is also known to bring about family feuds and even divorce.  There is little doubt about what brings unhappiness — its a long list that is hard to avoid, wealth may feature on that list .
 
It has been strongly suggested that true happiness has a spiritual  aspect. Indeed, the  poll has revealed that people of faith tend to be happier. “By and by there'll be pie in the sky,” does not necessarily promise felicity in the present but does seem to transfer bliss to another life beyond this vale of tears. Is it  something worth waiting for, even denying oneself at the present time? Or, is there another dimension to faith that is, well, “spiritually fulfilling?” I hope so.
 
I came to Canada  as a 10 year old boy at th tail end of the dirty thirties. My parents and I  along with 30 other families were settled in abandoned homesteads in the wilds of northern Saskatchewan. Our first view of that decrepid log cabin  from the back of a horse-drawn wagon was anything but happy. Perched on our meager possessions we could  scarcely believe that  this hovel was to be our home. It had none of the amenities  to which we had been accustomed; no toilet, indoor or outdoor, no well or electricity, nor were any of us familiar with pioneer  farming. However we were not alone, with us was a bachelor and a young couple. We were part of a community that suffered a common fate.
 
After unloading the wagon and each claiming a corner of that one large room we proceeded to set up the stove and start a fire. By the time that the kettle began to sing a merry tune laughter broke out  among us. Were we happy or just plain giddy?
 
When during the night a rainstorm broke over us sending trickles down on our chosen sleeping terrain, we began to move our cots to areas less exposed to the elements. I recall that great gales of laughter erupted as we banged our cots together in the dark. Raising us above all our discomforts was the sense that we were free, having escaped Hitler’s thugs.
 
As I look back on those often very difficult times I have the sense that  I was happy. When three years later we once more moved our possessions to a more civilized area of this country, Toronto, I hated to leave behind my first Canadian home.
 
True happiness can coexist with difficult conditions.  I believe that  Aristotle was right when he conditioned happiness by health, friendship, the presence of children and meaningful work, ingredients of a well-being of the spirit. There is a Spirit that seeks to touch our lives, enrich us with non material values and makes us truly glad.   

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