A fourth post on happiness
In the prior three posts on happiness, we focused on how we focus on our inner selves. Happiness is also relational; it flows from how we engage with those around us. Consider this story.
There was a renowned monastery on a hill that had fallen on hard times. People had stopped coming to visit, very few young men were joining the order, and the monks had grown sullen and despondent. It appeared that they would soon have to shut down the monastery and disband. The sadness multiplied.
The abbot had a friend, a rabbi, in the village below who he used to visit occasionally for a cup of tea and a chat. He shared with the rabbi his concerns that the monastery would soon be no more. I don’t know what to do. Do you have any ideas for me, he asked.
Well, said the rabbi, I had a revelation in a dream last night that one of you is the messiah.
What does that mean, asked the abbot? Who?
I don’t know, said the rabbi. That’s all I recall but it was very clear.
As they wrapped up and he headed back to the monastery he pondered this revelation and shared it with the brothers after dinner. What does it mean, they asked. Who?
He didn’t know, said the abbot, but he was very sure. It is a mystery.
As they went off to bed, the monks each reflected on what they heard. I wonder if Brother John is the messiah? Could it be Thomas? Or Michael? I haven’t been treating them really well. Could it be me? Am I behaving like I am the one who is chosen?
In the morning, they awoke and greeted each other with smiles and greater kindness. They helped one another with chores and offered encouragement, and things seemed brighter. The visitors who came up noticed the radiant joy flowing through the place and were inspired. They came back repeatedly, bought the wine and cheese that the monks sold, and told others about this wonderful place. Before long, the monastery was back as a popular destination with its reputation growing. A number of novices signed up eagerly to join the order. Things were better than they had ever been.
Happiness is linked to the relationships we have. Happy relationships multiply, just as unhappy ones subtract from collective wellbeing (see the story of the two dogs in the house of mirrors – https://spiritualsushi.com/indras-net-the-amplified-universe/). Tolstoy began his work Anna Karenina with: ‘All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ What makes happy families alike is that they are happy together. Happiness is contagious and there are places that are more happy because of how people relate to each other.
In the research on Blue Zones about where people live the longest, activity and diet are factors, but so too is purpose (https://spiritualsushi.com/follow-your-bliss-the-sage-and-the-swamp/) and social support from friends and family.
Creating happy relationships is about expressing empathy, appreciation, and kindness — seeking to understand others and making an effort to treat them compassionately. We often get stuck with the need for reciprocity, finding it hard to be kind to those who don’t treat us well. But the happy ones do it not just because of others, but because of themselves. In the Paradoxical Commandments by Kent Keith that were echoed by Mother Teresa offer this insight:
People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
Because in the end, it is about our own happiness as well. This is what made the shift that occurred in the monastery. Can we create our own zones of wellbeing and happiness? Is this a shift we can make in our families, organizations, and networks? Can we be the messiah?