|What do a cloistered nun and a motorcycle man have in common? I am thinking of two
people who would seem to be as different as one could imagine. What I believe they have in
common is that they have discovered the meaning of life. They are living happy lives and I
believe that happiness is the reason to be alive. Lest someone who is depressed read this
and feel that they have no reason to be alive, let me hasten to say that I believe that
everyone can find happiness. It is sometimes much more difficult than at other times. It
is not something that just happens. It must be pursued. The pursuit of happiness is our
When I talk about the importance of happiness with my wife we frequently get into a debate. The reason for this, I believe, is that happiness is such a common word--to common to be the focus of one's life. I have tried to make a distinction between pleasures and happiness but with the word "happiness" in such common usage and trivialized as in Johnny Carson's book Happiness is a Warm Puppy it is an uphill battle. In a previous column I tried to make a distinction between trivial happiness and deep happiness. Being a stubborn (I prefer persistent) person I will probably keep coming back to the issue of happiness until I feel I have defined what I mean adequately.
When Thomas Jefferson wrote "We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its power in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness," he was not writing about warm puppies. When John Adams wrote "The happiness of society is the end (the purpose) of government," he was not writing about good bourbon.
Not having been depressed for a long time, perhaps never, I am sticking my neck way out to try to suggest what one might do but I think I would try to find a positive pleasure as a first step. A warm puppy might be a positive pleasure. I would not consider bourbon, or any other drug, to be a positive pleasure. In fact, the closest I have been to depression in recent times has been after drinking alcohol. I have found that everything seems impossible for as much as 48 hours after drinking and I don't necessarily mean drinking excessively.
In seeking a positive pleasure I would probably look first to nature. Sucking sweet fresh air deep into my lungs and feeling it bring life into my body is a good start. I might try to identify the smells in the air. I might look closely at a flower or a tree and let the beauty of nature stimulate thoughts. If the thought turned negative, I would seek another part of nature to observe and try again. Happiness is a big thing and should be pursued in little bites until it can be glimpsed and then seen and then grasped.
The cloistered nun came to me in a radio interview. She broadcasts a television show for cable stations. The show is before a live audience and she just talks to them about her religion. She is an unlikely candidate for a "this is a happy person" award from me. The life of a nun is about as far removed from my life as you can get. And cloistered! -- solitary; retired from the world? Jeeze.
But this woman was happy, really bubbling over with happiness. She had a good sense of humor. She felt good about herself, sure of herself and sure that what she was doing was right. I do not share all of her beliefs but I have tremendous respect for her as she has respect for herself because she lives her beliefs. I think that is an important key to happiness--that you be true to yourself which means being true to what you believe. I don't believe it is possible to be a hypocrite and to be happy.
The motorcycle man is self-employed in a job that is not related to motorcycles. But he and his wife love motorcycles so they have arranged their lives to get the maximum enjoyment from their avocation. Their goal is not a maximum income or retirement or a bigger house or more things. Their goal is to spend as much time as possible doing what they enjoy most. It is certainly a great help that they share this love but I believe that it is possible for two people to love each other and to seek and find maximum enjoyment in different areas -- different jobs and/or avocations.
The key is to be true to yourself. I am relatively certain that happiness cannot be found through possessions. Of course the motorcycle is a possession but I don't think it is essential to the motorcycle man's happiness. If his motorcycles were destroyed, I am sure he would feel badly but I am just as sure that he would get right to work on replacing it and that working toward that goal would be a happy occupation.
My children nor anyone else can attain happiness by following in my footsteps or the nun's or the motorcycle man's. Each of us has to probe our own minds for the truth of ourselves. That each of us has a self that is unique is part of the wonder and mystery and beauty of life.
ŠJune 6, 1994
Mort is a husband and father. He authored a book, Gardening For Independence and was named Environmentalist of the Year by Down East Magazine in 1987. He is a consultant for organizations. His address is 802 Bald Hill Road, Wells, ME 04090.
Mort retains all rights to his columns. Anyone interested in using them can get the rights at a very reasonable rate. Mortmather@cybertours.com
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