It is my pleasure to share with you a couple of thoughts that have been going through my mind recently. Maybe not the kind of thoughts you’d be expecting to read on International Happiness Day, but…
We’re born naked, vulnerable, completely dependent on others for a safe passage of our first days and first years on Earth.
In the beginning, our world is mom. Mom and dad. Brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts & uncles, other children, kindergarten colleagues –
step by step our circle of trust grows larger and larger and we learn to understand ourselves in relationship to others.
We learn everything from the people around us — the way to behave, social norms and faux-pas, what makes a happy life, who deserves to be successful and what one has to do in order to achieve that. We also learn how much of our inner life to expose. We learn what to do when it hurts.
I started thinking how funny, ironic and overwhelming it is that in the center of an infinite Universe, there lies the human being. Such a small creature compared to so many other things, but with such an odd ”weapon” under its belt: self-awareness. How strange that this oddity of the human being is a source of great joys: the desire for knowledge, for inventing things to make life easier, the desire to connect and experiment life, but also the exhausting need to understand why he is here.
How did the Universe came to life? Why are we here? How did we come to be? What’s our purpose?
These questions are the daily menu of the common existentialist. It is so wonderful to have our attention focused on these questions, because the attempts made at answering them have been a massive propeller of our progress and civilization.
At the same time, once we become interested in gaining real knowledge and understanding — of ourselves, of others, of the world around us — we actually uncover an avalanche of complexity and uncertainty. The more we search for answers, the more we accept our own irrationality, the more we want to train our ability for reflection, contemplation of different perspectives, the more we unveil the actual difficulty of the task at hand: to understand and to find meaning.
Finding meaning for our existence is an instinct.
It may be an instinct far more sophisticated than the one for survival or transmitting our genes, but it’s still an instinct. It comes to surface in early childhood, when the toddler won’t stop throwing “Why?” at his parents. Depending on the reaction of the parents, the child either learns to ask questions and to never do something without understanding the reasons behind it, or to numb its need to find meaning and to become disconnected, almost like a robot doing things “because I said so”, “because that’s how it has always been done”, “because that’s how everybody does”.
Another reason why I consider the search for meaning to be an instinct is that so many physical and psychological afflictions have a root cause in man not being able to find a reason for his existence. On the other hand, those who have indeed claimed a mission prove to be so motivated that they can overcome massive challenges and go beyond the limits of what we consider to be possible. Meaning is vital. Meaning is life.
For me, happiness is roommates with meaning.
For me searching for meaning is like opening Pandora’s box: on this journey I discover many joys and satisfactions, and I also get connected with and aware of so much of the human suffering. And although I often preach about happiness and the various recipes to achieve it, today I only want to say this…
Happiness is about connection with other people.
Over the course of my life, during the most difficult moments, I have found strength, joy, trust and comfort in those around me. It is my partner that teaches me the lesson of confident, unbreakable calm — he never seems to be frightened or discouraged by something. He is also the one to remind me that love is so much stronger than a fight, a difference of opinions, a flaw (be it a real or imagined one). It is my mum that teaches me the lesson of creation and transformation: when who you are and what you have no longer makes you happy, you have the power to start all over again and create your joy. There are people who teach me about courage. There are people who teach me about taking risks and opening my heart. Others teach me about dedication and perseverance — those who fall so many times but still find a reason to get back on their feet. Those who teach me that extraordinary characters often live simple, modest lives and frequently hide outside the spotlight -so it takes a very, very attentive pair of eyes to notice them. There were so many times when those who made me laugh — yeah, simply made me laugh — actually saved me. There are people who have shared their stories of struggle behind the appearance of success who have offered me a beautiful gift — the ”I am not the only one” lesson. There are people who fill my heart up to the brim with joy and warmth because they are stubborn about making something beautiful, doing some good — there are people who are complete strangers to me, but they speak to my soul through their writings, their voice, their creation.
I find myself there, standing in the midst of all these people. Connected to so many stories, so many hearts, questions and ways of answering. Luckily, in this strange labyrinth of life, we have each other. As mirror, as compass, as resting place, as recovery units. Sometimes as a kick in the butt, providing us with the cold shower we need in order to wake up.
This is my kind of happiness. Entering the game is how I find meaning.
Getting connected. Getting to know you, and you, and you. Telling you things that people avoid saying. Daring to come closer to you and believing in you. Being curious about what we can build together.
On International Happiness Day, I give thanks for having people around me.