The Happiness Factor

Our commercial culture advertises happiness in external ways, such as having perfectly aligned white teeth; an array of cars for city or country; an attractive husband/beautiful wife with plenty of bucks to spare and share; children at the top of their game; a spacious home with pool and spa; the body of a 22 year old triathlon athlete while qualifying for Medicare; and one more, accessible only to the rich and famous - a personal chef who serves gourmet low-calorie organic fare.

Disclosure: in this "more is better" culture, the last two items on the above list do eat at me when lethargy breeds discontent and the bell curve of my externalized happiness factor hits the bottom of the trough.

Studies suggest that authentic happiness bespeaks a different version of the good life. True, there is a disparity in happiness between those who make $5,000 a year and those who take in $50,000. On the lower end, the super-poor are missing basics - adequate shelter, clothing, healthy food, medical care and so on. As Woody Allen once said, "Reality is the only place where you can get a good steak," thus relegating the dollar-deprived to a nightmare that seems unreal in our country of bounty. However, the happiness factor between those who make $50,000 and $500,000 is the same. The conclusion is obvious: once basic survival needs are covered, "money can't buy you love," as another cultural icon sang forth to the masses. 


At the beginning of time, when I was a seriously depressed college student in New York, I passed by a shoe store on Broadway that sported the most groovy red-fringed black pumps in the window. A few minutes later, a spark was lighting up my gloomy interior as I followed the proverb, "When the shoe fits, wear it." My heart swelled with joy as I beheld those perfect shoes on my perfect medium-sized feet. While I still remember them with fondness, there was one problem. The bliss generated by leather wrappings on two feet could not penetrate my universe of gray fog, a disassociated place where groovy red-fringed shoes could not tred. A Dorothy I was not.

Key to the good life, the studies suggest, is gratitude, a feeling of connectedness to others, and committing acts of kindness. Granted, British Petroleum plasters ads all over television channels, attesting to its benevolent care for their neighbors on shore. And Pepsi is for the feel good generation. Even corporate giants have figured out that appealing to the warm fuzzies in people might lull them into complacence while they poison the environment and our bodies for mega-profits.


Nonetheless, these studies give me hope, as every one of the qualities that produce happiness can be created inherently. It's within my power to feel gratitude when I see a pantry with food in it; where hot and cold running water runs out of many taps in my house; when my grown children actually like visiting (even if the washing machine and dryer are a draw); where I had my pick of good medical facilities for the treatment of stage 3B cancer; where the concern I have shown for other people's welfare has boomeranged back to me in the form of many friends and a peaceful marriage. I even say thanks when I pump $65 worth of gas into my car, well aware that we are bleeding Mother Earth dry but being grateful that I have a car and a way to make it run.

And last but not least, I am grateful to breathe. And this is the ultimate fail safe, one that defies all studies. No matter where you are, or what you have, as long as our precious life breath is holding us, and we acknowledge its beauty, we are at peace...and happy.





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