Recently, I was reminded of the documentary Happy by filmmaker Roku Belic. A friend brought up the 2011 film in conversation and I couldn't remember if I'd seen it. Such is the information overload I experience being connected to the 24/7 library a.k.a. the web. I check subjects in and out so much I don't give each source enough time to resonate.
Which is why I restarted my suspended Netflix account. Once I'd confirmed I'd seen Happy, I'd plan to move to the Werner Herzog's film Happy People: A Year in the Taiga, which was conveniently next in my digital cue. Not so. I rewatched the entire film, taking notes and on more than a few occasions, crying. As I struggle with my own trajectory of creating something I want to last forever and wondering how I'm going to feed that something, I'm attracted to things that help me either confirm or deny the constant question in my mind, "Am I doing the right thing?"
The turning point in Happy that loops me back in happens in Bhutan, the first country to model a Gross National Happiness indicator. My own company, Azawhistle Kids, was crafted from the desire to help people (and myself) be happy. The best way I know how to be happy is to do something. However, what we choose to do is extremely important, even when it's a question of going to the doughnut shop, tackling a math problem for a science degree or washing the car. Every decision comes at the cost of another activity and each decision gets you further down a path.
It seems like Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the unemployment rate, housing starts or the housing market, and Entertainment Tonight are the indicators that come across my radar -- mainly because my information sources lean towards Public Radio and celebrity pop culture (to see how bad it gets). Admittedly, these information sources affect mood and outlook. Yet imagine, if we as a nation were a leader in human progress and measured society's happiness with real-life indicators, instead of cold dry economic factors? Imagine that indicator threaded through national news sources and discussed on Entertainment Tonight. I dare say we'd have a different national conversation.
The documentary moves on to Japan, where larger problems loom. A country that promised to rebuild after WWII has done so to such a degree that their culture identifies with Karoshi, which means to work oneself to death. Yet, Japan is also home to the largest group of centenarians per capita in Okinawa. As one elderly woman describes, the reason for long life is happiness and friends. She describes this as Ichariba Chode, which means "no harm to anyone."
From here the movie takes us to the Benicia Middle School in California, Namibia, Calcutta, the Dalai Lama, to meditation, which reminds us and reinforces that people are happy when they do what they love to do, live in a supportive, uncompetitive community, surrounded by compassionate and kind people.
"My real guru to teach me the value of compassion is my mother," said the Dalai Lama. Mother/child bonding is by nature, not by law or by religion. So why is law and religion the few avenues our government, and thereby our society, formally recognizes as a blue print to a good society? Why not have more benchmarks for our kids and communities to come together and simply be happy. The Constitution says we have the "right to pursue happiness." We want our independence but too much independence comes at a price. It's true, as community increases, stress decreases.
The Japanese have another useful term, Osouji, which means the big clean up before the New Year. Families and communities clean up to get rid of the old and start the upcoming year fresh and clean. Osouji was one of the big influences to create my own company and an app to teach kids that not everything is measured in grades or money. You can make your mom happy by simply cleaning your room.
Isn't it time we updated our values on a national level, in a national conversation? Because when we're happy, we know we're doing the right thing. I have a feeling it's as easy as that.
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