By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ & Director, CREDI
“Everyone you meet always asks if you have a career, are married or own a house, as if life was some kind of grocery list. But no one ever asks you if you are happy.”—Heath Ledger
On Wednesday, March 20, the world will observe International World Day of Happiness. The theme is Happier Together. It focuses on what we have in common, rather than what divides us.
See the statistics from the 2018 World Happiness Report (2017 figures). T&T ranks 38 out of 156 countries. Denmark, Finland, Norway, Iceland and Switzerland are the happiest countries in the world.
“All the top countries tend to have high values for all six of the key variables that have been found to support well-being: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity… three emerging health problems threaten happiness: obesity, the opioid crisis, and depression” (http://worldhappiness.report/ed/2018/).
In our busy lives, many of us miss the signs/symptoms of depression in others and fail to act to save them from misery and even death. Aristotle said: “Men generally agree that the highest good attainable by action is happiness, and identify living well and doing well with happiness.”
What does “living well” and “doing well” mean? The internet is full of examples of rich people or people who have won money on the lottery and who end up unhappy and lonely. Money does not always bring us happiness. Also, living in abject poverty or being socially excluded and pushed to the margins of society are obstacles to happiness.
An article in The Economist (September 1, 2018), entitled: ‘Loneliness is a serious public health problem’ states: “The lonely are not just sadder; they are unhealthier and die younger. What can be done?…’London’, says Tony Dennis, a 62-year-old security guard, ‘is a city of ‘sociable loners’. Residents want to get to know each other but have few ways to do so’…’Young people are increasingly feeling disconnected too’, argues Alex Smith.”
This epidemic is more widespread than we think. There is a song, ‘Eleanor Rigby’ by the Beatles. The chorus goes: “All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?” In 2018 the UK became the only country to have a Government minister for loneliness.
It’s estimated that one in four of us is lonely. This can impact adversely on one’s mental health, can lead to depression, self-harm and suicide.
The Catholic Church teaches that God did not create man and woman to be solitary beings, but wanted us to be social beings (cf. Gen 1:27; 2:18–20, 23). Our Catechism, #1880, states that: “A society is a group of persons bound together organically by a principle of unity that goes beyond each one of them”.
Promoting the theme: Happier Together does not mean that we have to be bound together in order to be happy. What it means is that we will be happier if we come together in community; celebrate our common humanity; become a gift to each other; build the common good; stand in solidarity with each other; practise virtues such as empathy, compassion, and love for neighbour. We are one human family and our happiness should not come at the expense of others.
The parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19–31) is a good example of how selfishness, greed, individualism, moral relativism and indifference could prevent us from building right relationships in our communities; from striving to ensure that we are, indeed, happier together. In considering happiness, let us not forget the transcendent dimension of each person – made in the image and likeness of God, with an inherent dignity.
Some say that happiness is a state of mind; it is about being content with what you have. There have been a number of studies that focus on happiness. Read Robert Waldinger’s 80 year Harvard Study of Adult Development and find out about five of the lessons learnt about what contributes to a happy life (www.health.harvard.edu).
Lesson 5 states that: “Time with other people makes us happier on a day-to-day-basis, and time with a close partner buffers us against the mood dips that come with increased physical pain.”
Michelle Chronister reminds us: “We are made for happiness, but Christian happiness isn’t the same thing as worldly happiness…real happiness, is in the hope of Heaven. The death of Christ on the cross opened the gates to Heaven.” May Lent draw us closer to Christ and to each other.
We will be happier if we come together in community, celebrate our common humanity and become a gift to each other.