Shanti Emerson: Why aren’t we a happier people?
When I lived in South County and commuted to Grass Valley four or five times a week, I became a voracious listener of books on CDs checked out from local libraries.
After a while, I learned that I needed to listen to books that didn’t put me in fear or sadness, as I was often meeting friends for lunch or club meetings, and listening to Stephen King did not put me in the best of moods for a conversation with my peers.
Although my favorite books are novels, I interspersed fiction with nonfiction to give balance. Now that I have moved back to Banner Mountain, I still get through a book every week or two even though I rarely travel more than 15 minutes from my house.
I recently listened to “Delivering Happiness, A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose” by young billionaire Harvard grad CEO Tony Hsieh (pronounced Shay). He has become a guru of establishing company culture and is in great demand as a speaker.
After many financial ups and downs, he established Zappos, an online shoe store, which specializes in customer service and employee happiness. According to Hsieh, to fit in at Zappos, one must be a little silly and weird. Zappos has made Forbes Best Places to Work list. As the happiness of the employees rose, so did customer satisfaction and sales.
All of this got me to thinking about our country being number 18 on the 2018 United Nations Happiest Countries list. The Scandinavian countries took the top places while the African nations filled out the bottom of the list.
So as citizens of the most powerful country in the world with many freedoms, why aren’t we happier? Why do we have more mass shootings than any other country in the world? Why is our incarcerated population the highest? Why is our “defense” budget more than the next 10 countries combined? Why are our teenage pregnancy, drug use, and divorce rates soaring?
The Scandinavian countries, Norway, Iceland, Sweden and Denmark, pay higher taxes than we do, and their citizens feel well taken care of with excellent health care and university systems. All of the top four countries rank highly on all the main factors found to support happiness: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance.
Our country, with its partisan politics, seems almost at war with itself. Urban vs. rural, conservative vs. progressive, north vs. south, coastal vs. inland, hawks vs. doves, Christians vs. Muslims. In our schools, students are forced to compete with each other academically. We are raised to be individualists and that seems fine to a certain point. Americans are creators of amazing life changing inventions. However, individualism also can create loneliness and lack of empathy for others.
Our Declaration of Independence contains the following sentence: “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.”
In this day of ever increasing networking when we have hundreds of Facebook friends, will we at last be happy? Will our youngest generations be more peaceful? Will they feel cared for and think of the welfare of others? Will people feel that they belong here?
The Buddhists and Hindus, however, seem to have another goal — contentment. Many meditate daily, and when disturbing thoughts arise, they let them go and focus again on their mantra or prayer or breath. Meditators tend to focus on their inner world rather than the outer one.
Happiness comes and goes depending on the situation which can change several times an hour. Contented people have fewer highs and lows and do not seek excitement. They are not so much intent on how things turn out, but being content with whatever happens.
When the Dalai Lama was asked what makes a person happy he said that a person who helps others is happy whereas one who thinks only of himself, will never be happy. That supports my life experience.
Having lots of money does not make one joyful (often the opposite is true) and being poor can prevent happiness. One thing is for sure, the quality of one’s relationships with friends, family and self and having thoughts full of optimism and gratitude is crucial.
Excuse me. I think I’ll go meditate now.
Sitting still and breathing deeply. Om …
Shanti Emerson is a Nevada County resident and a member of The Union Editorial Board. Her opinions are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the board or its members. She can be reached at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.
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