Friday, January 1, 2010

Feliz Año Nuevo

A Happy New Year to all my readers, friends & family!

The start of a new year often brings out the worst in navel-gazing among pundits. I will try to avoid that. What I have been thinking about, though, as the calendar turns to 2010 is Happiness. A while ago I read the Dalai Lama's book, "The Art of Happiness." In it, he and co-author Howard Cutler posit four principles:

--The purpose of life is happiness.
--Happiness is determined more by the state of one’s mind than by one’s external
conditions, circumstances, or events—at least once one’s basic survival needs are met.
--Happiness can be achieved through the systematic training of our hearts and minds,
through reshaping our attitudes and outlook.
--The key to happiness is in our own hands.

In my own view, there is one more principle: It is each person's OBLIGATION --a social responsibility--to be happy. That's not easy, not simple. Certainly, I'm not always happy. Often, far from it. I get angry, pissed off (see a few of my previous posts), impatient, sad. But if I realize that happiness is my goal...indeed, a responsibility I have, it focuses my thinking and my behavior and gives me something to work towards. Looking at the universality of this, the more absolute quantity of Happiness afloat in the world, conversely, the less anger, hostility, rudeness. ThoughtFULness displaces ThoughtLESSness. A sort of philosophical Gresham's Law in reverse.

What I've noticed here in Mexico, informally, is that most people seem happy. Even those with very little in terms of material goods. Which brings me to the usual cultural comparisons I do a hundred times a day: the U.S. with abundant wealth, Mexico with an enormous swath of poverty. How do they manage to be happy? For those who want to read more, supported by hard statistics, check out this link to the World Values Survey A specific document included there is "Happiness Trends in 24 Countries, 1946-2006" which shows Mexico with a very steeply rising curve measuring levels of happiness between 1975 and 2006. What's their secret?