Photo by Samantha
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117 How do you know when you are
If you choose unhappiness,
that means unhappiness makes you happy.
[proof: you choose it]
Sounds a bit confusing, right?
When I was in grade school the class
included a nice boy with some learning challenges. He was very
friendly but not always easily understood. One time the teacher
found him sitting at the side of the room crying. She asked,
"What's making you sad?" He smiled back and said, "No, I'm happy."
The wise teacher did not burst his
bubble. She was able to allow an apparent contradiction, letting
feelings prevail over logic. She understood the principle of
believing people who say they are happy. Indeed, they are telling
us their perspective and we can safely believe them.
Adults present a much more complicated
problem of understanding happiness. You know my penchant for
seeing the happy side of anything-and redirecting my attention
when no happiness can be found. My world offers an infinite
supply of happy thoughts. The conundrum is why other people
don't feast on the same supply.
Have you also encountered people who
appear to ignore the happiness that is available. A young child once eagerly asked for a
certain cold cereal at breakfast. When it became clear that that
box was empty, she burst into tears and would not be comforted by
the remaining selection. If the empty box had not been there, she
might not have expected her favorite and been satisfied with one
of the available cereals. One might say that it was the
disappointment, not hunger, that brought on the tears.
Likewise, I ask adults why they would
languish in a disappointment rather than embark on an available
opportunity. It is so easy for us to fault the children's
feelings when in adult life we continually slip into the same
behavior. Ask yourself, do you ever lose energy being sad over
something you can't have right away? Have you ever overlooked
a blessing because you were looking in a different direction?
We can separate out the truly
pathological conditions: taking pleasure in the suffering of self
(masochism) and taking pleasure in the suffering of others
(sadism). This is not an introduction to medical treatments.
Here I am addressing the most commonplace
relationships we experience throughout our most ordinary days. I
direct your attention to the curmudgeon stereotype. Sometimes I
fear that there are personalities that have trouble adjusting
when everything is right. Such people steadily give off negative
signals from what must be internal unhappiness.
That's the convolution that opened
today's article. Somewhere the wires get crossed and words
lose their simple meaning. Since Aristotle's work, we have
been taught that happiness is the purpose of our being. Sadly,
there is a world out there inhabited by people who are not
choosing consistent happiness.
I am not promoting superficial bliss. In
the statement "ignorance is bliss," the word implies
being oblivious of everything unhappy. Instead, I propose to
identify genuine bliss with complete happiness, joy, heaven,
paradise-the substantial concepts of happiness.
In the adult realm, I am not allowing us
the blissful ignorance of denying hunger. If you did not already
know it, I assure you now that hunger is common, even in America.
With so much hunger at hand, the crotchety old pessimist can
easily bring forth abundant evidence for the unhappiness in which
Call to action
I am calling you to perceive a positive
setting around the word hunger. Let's go back to the
breakfast table with the cereal boxes. Some people are so poor
that they never have cereal boxes. They never cry because one
particular variety is missing. Unabated suffering tends toward
stupor and oblivion-in this case, oblivion to what might
be. Hungry people might think that state is what life is and lose all vision of happy sufficiency.
Now we introduce the garden-variety
do-gooder who shouts, "these people are hungry!" Does
that make you sad? Much to the contrary, it makes me happy that
someone has caught the vision! Being oblivious to shortage is not
happiness. It is merely ignorance. When we introduce the coveted
favorite cereal box, we do reveal suffering. We address reality
head-on. In a temporary sense (awaking an awareness), we even
cause the unhappiness. However, that is the fertile moment
when the world begins to change.
If you are a mentally withered up critic
who can only find fault with the world, you are not my ideal of
happiness, even though you may protest that you are nevertheless
Wake up, world, and be happy that
somebody has cried out, "these people are hungry." That
call to action is our only hope, and hope is my greatest
happiness. From that point forward, we set in motion all the
positive feelings and energies that attend to the human
Look this way
I have proposed before that we should not
spend our time on newscasts of tragedies (article 32). I don't want you to
come to me and say, "Isn't it terrible what happened
yesterday?" If you will share with me the pain of
someone's hunger, I want to hear the happy version of the
story: namely, "We are now aware; let us organize to solve
Our bodies become what we eat (article 61). Our minds
become what we think about (article 68). It is very hopeful to be alert to
what is wrong, but only if we do so with the positive mindset
that awareness is the first step of redemption. I allow you to
tell me an unhappy fact only in the context of showing me the
happiness of doing something constructive about it.
ENRICHMENT: Questions for reflection and discussion
1. Buddhism is often
translated with the word "suffering." I prefer to think of the
term as a description of anything that is at less than its ideal
state. Alleviating suffering is to bring the world to a higher
state. In this perspective, if there were no unhappiness, I would
be deprived of the joy of doing something constructive to
Contrast is necessary to
definition: if there is no unhappiness, there is no happiness to
separate from it (articles 46, 63).
2. We have been asking what
news you watch and what you make of it. We might also ask, "Do
others perceive you as happy (according to what they see
You are always defining
yourself in the eyes of others. Observing from their perspective
helps you see yourself more objectively. Of course, people
differ, and some people will not share your idea of happiness. In
spite of that, your apparent happiness carries persuasive value.
Your example might win them over.
3. The main article,
choosing happiness, assumes that happiness does
not happen to you. On the other hand, disaster
can happen to you. Therefore, happiness and disaster are
different things. Disaster may take away something very pleasant,
but it cannot eliminate the character trait called happiness. You
are in control of your mindset.
4. At first blush, we might
decide to go where happiness is. On second thought, we ask, "Do
you find happiness, or do you create it?" Maybe neither word
applies; happiness is not a commodity dispensed in discrete
portions. Perception or feeling is more subtle than
If we think of a happiness
account, are you depositing or withdrawing? Are you doing so in
your private account and in the world happiness
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