The topic was: “I would be the happiest person in the world if ...”
I filled the allocated time with a reasonably coherent speech about finding a lost item, but it felt forced and it certainly wasn’t my best work. Normally I have a lot of fun with Table Topics at our regular meetings but for some reason this topic really threw me.
I returned to my seat and immediately thought of so many more entertaining things I could have focussed on … I would be the happiest person in the world if there was a real teleport machine like in Star Trek so that my flying-phobic cousin could visit Australia, her mother’s home country, for the first time. If snails preferred to eat weeds instead of vegetable seedlings. If wine didn’t make me drunk so quickly. If my Western Bulldogs could win a premiership in my lifetime ...
In the days that followed the contest I thought about the topic even more and had many questions. What really makes us happy? Why do different people have such different items on their wish list? And why do we value happiness so highly? Other states of being, such as empathy, generosity and responsibility, are valuable too and indeed might be more important to our survival, or to the betterment of our community.
And can we actually be made happy by something? If it takes something external to ourselves to make us happy, some of us might be waiting a while; the odds of winning the lottery are very long indeed.
I continued to think about this question of happiness on and off, in between thinking about how satisfying it is to work through the challenges of managing the shop. About what fun it is participating in Toastmasters. How good it feels to exercise and to now be able to teach Body Balance classes and so encourage others to experience the same benefit. What a pleasure it is to live with a garden full of birds that come because of the native trees and shrubs we planted for them. How glad I am that I persisted through the stage of adjustment when I first moved from the city to this magnificent Bass Coast nearly fifteen years ago.
Finally it dawned on me that I might already be the happiest person in the world.
Of course I realised that this “happiest person” thing was just froth, an entertaining topic for a speech contest. And of course, there are always challenges and we don’t expect to drift through life in a constant state of euphoria. But I do think that being happy is important; it feels a heck of a lot better than being unhappy, that’s for sure, and we’re a lot nicer to be around as well. More than that, feeling happy encourages us to continue doing the things that make us happy, and here’s the important point.
Research around the world repeatedly shows that happiness is not related to material circumstances; rich and poor alike are just as likely to be happy, or not. Instead, some recent social research found that happiness is “a byproduct of pursuing things that have intrinsic value to us”, and this rings true to me.
Desirable events certainly can give us an extra lift … by now my Western Bulldogs really have won a premiership, and in such style! But on their own, these big ticket items are not what make us happy people; substantial happiness is the kind that settles gently on us as we go about activities that nourish our spirit.
Learning new skills, working to change what needs to be changed, or just doing our very best in whatever we do. Applying ourselves wholeheartedly to whatever it is that has real value to us, this is what can make us all feel like we are the happiest person in the world.
Happiness comes from positive interactions with family, friends, neighbours and occasionally total strangers. Be alert for any opportunities which may arise, avoid commercial media as much as possible. If you’r not happy today, be content with a balanced life.
Frank Coldebella, Wonthaggi