Thursday Mar 05 2009
It seems that no matter where I turn these days, the search for happiness seems to be on many people’s mind. Perhaps during this time of economic turmoil, people are reconsidering the happiness quotient they attributed to possessions and financial security. In the Telegraph of London, Richard Gray and Alastair Jamieson report that “Psychologists have found that people who spend their money on simple experiences such as going to the theatre, dining out or taking adventure holidays tend to be happier than those who buy possessions, regardless of how much they spend.”
They went on to quote Professor Ryan Howell, a psychologist at San Francisco State University, who conducted the study: “In life experiences, the only thing left afterwards is a memory of the event, but this tended to give people a greater sense of vitality and of being alive, which is satisfying to the higher psychological needs that humans have. Material items do not do that to nearly the same extent.”
Certainly, it has been my experience that my memories of times in which I was happy seem directed at events that occurred in my life, rather than focused on possessions that I collected over time. The happiest memories of my youth include going to the zoo, rides at the Calgary Stampede, and sailing off the coast of British Columbia as a Sea Cadet. As an adult, my happiest memories include my honeymoon, the arrival of my son, family vacations and our annual father-and-son trips. I have little or no memory of the new furniture for our first home or of the new cars in my life. Any sharing with my friends always seems to be centered on my experiences in life rather than on my possessions.
Deepak Chopra in his book, Power Freedom and Grace, asks the question, “Why not make happiness our primary goal?” Perhaps there is a link as to why Elders in our community seem to find happiness in the simple things of life. As I was swimming today, I noted two Elders who were just finishing up their exercise. They retreated to a rather large hot tub and when I completed my swim, they were still in the hot tub just enjoying a relaxing conversation. It appeared to me that happiness for them occurred as they combined a light workout with a restorative soak and pleasant conversation.
When my wife and I pick up her 91-year-old mother at her assisted living residence, we regularly see Elders happily engaged in playing cards, enjoying a game of bingo, taking a walk inside or outside, playing a game of Wii, or engaging in a conversation that incorporates a good deal of humor. Happiness for them does not require a new car, a bigger house, or the latest addition to their wardrobe.
Of course, the article I mentioned above doesn’t delve as far into happiness as Deepak Chopra does in his book. Deepak calls us to a higher state of happiness, which is to be happy for no reason at all. Happiness, it seems, is well within us—we just have to allow ourselves to experience it. My experience is that many elders seem to have the ability to experience happiness with ease and grace. I, for one, commit to pursue the simpler things, to live in the moment and to allow my inner happiness to flow out from me to those I love.