The Pursuit of Happiness. Did our Parents Have It Right?

The Happiness Rug

Most parents at some level want their children to experience a life of happiness. It was so important that it was part of the American Declaration of Independence. However the decision making process around pursuing happiness has been changing. Perhaps we need to apply more open-mindedness and  creativity to the way we think about it.

When I was growing up, my father would take me for those father and son drives and when we passed somebody digging a ditch, he would say, “ If you don’t continue with your education that’s what you will end up doing.” It did scare me and was more of the stick than the carrot. Yet, I didn’t have the presence of mind to ask my father whether he thought the ditch digger was happy or not. My dad’s assumption was that that man’s life was miserable, limited, and with no real choice. At that particular time the idea was that becoming all that you could be would give you the material wonders of the emerging world and a correspondingly better life. Is that true today?

Years later as a young naval officer I was on leave in Sidney, Australia and had wondered into the “common” bar of the Hilton hotel. By law even the luxury hotels had to provide a bar open to all people regardless of dress code. Many construction workers would be there. I was a “Yank” and could not buy a beer. My immediate new found drinking friends simply kept topping up my glass.  It turned out that one of them was a professional ditch digger, the one my father had warned me about. I asked him how it was going and he replied that it couldn’t be better. He dug every other day and drank every other day. He was happy.

I only bring this up because my father had not thought about happiness from this point of view. That is when we are happy doing what we are doing one set of experiences is no better than another.

Now we see top corporate, government and professional people so consumed with the multifaceted demands of their careers with tentacles everywhere, that a sense of the balanced life, and a sense of happiness may be eluding them.  The younger generations seeing this sensibly ask if there is a different or better way to be.

There is no doubt that we are in tumultuous times. Younger people entering the work force as well as those displaced by jobs being lost are having a difficult time. It is a time when developing new and critical skill sets are a must in whatever way one can.

The American dream was once to seek an endless stream of material possessions in order to achieve happiness. In so doing we became caught up in the old adage “Time is Money.” That did not necessarily produce happiness. The new paradigm is recognizing that “Money is time.” Disposable time with sufficient income is now perhaps a better route to happiness.  It may produce a richer palette of experiences involving more travel, meeting more people, continuous education, world wide connections,  a variety of careers and perhaps a more peaceful world. We may all work, rest, retool and move on to the next idea instead of chasing the one proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

On my recent Mexican road trip we visited a weaving shop outside of Oaxaca on the way to Mitla. It was owned and operated by a Zapateca Indian family. Many people do not realize how advanced these people once were with agriculture, astronomy, and a scale of building as reflected in their temple ruins that leaves one bewildered. In the scheme of things these people are the descendents and have been absorbed into the Mexican society as a result of the conquest of Cortez. While at one level their lives may look simple, they are perhaps holding on to a wisdom that is not so easily recognizable.

I bought the rug at the top of this article from a master weaver. It is referred to as the “Happiness” rug. I have put it on the floor beside my bed so that each morning when I arise I greet the day with my eyes gazing at and my feet touching a bit of happiness.  It helps me to visualize this as a goal and allow for the universe to perhaps surprise me.

What are your experiences around pursuing happiness? Your comments would be most welcome and appreciated by those who read this blog.

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