September 27, 2010

Lasting Happiness

Just about everyone I know or have ever heard of wants to be happy. Unfortunately, there is little agreement on how to be happy. Everybody has their angle they play. While most people don't list happiness as their top motivation, it does generally underlie their ultimate motivations. We as people try lots of different things to try to get happiness, and most of us achieve it, but only temporarily. What I think most people don't consider is that far too little of what we do brings lasting happiness, and instead only brings temporary happiness.

Consider many of the things people do to be happy. They go to parties, hang out, date, play games, watch sports, drink alcohol, take drugs, seek adrenalin rushes, seek fame, seek social approval, spend money, try to get money, etc. etc, etc. I could go on for a long while and still not exhaust the list. If we consider much of our economy and culture, what would be a fair estimate of what percentage is based around finding or achieving happiness? Probably very close to 100%, if not actually 100%.

Perhaps we might be better off if we were to consider what would bring us lasting happiness instead of temporary happiness. One thing is certain, lasting happiness can not be based on specific situations, as by their very nature, situations are temporary. Of course, there is the argument that everything is temporary. I suppose it depends on your belief system. Ultimately, belief systems and religion are a structure for defining how to find lasting happiness. Interestingly enough, even amongst active members of any given church or religion, the beliefs about how to find lasting happiness are often dissimilar.

What are your beliefs about how to find lasting happiness?

September 18, 2010

Vision and Direction

Today, my family and I went to one of the many patriotic functions around in recognition of constitution day. Yes, I know, it was a day after constitution day, but they had this stuff going on with people dressed up as major figures from American history, and booths and storytelling, and speeches, and so on and so forth. I had expected to find a bunch of Tea-Party activists or something like that. Really, despite all the flags, there weren't that many people there.

They had several "Winners" from some local speech contest give their speeches, and a little video presentation punctuated with re-enactments of famous speeches and quotes. While listening to this, it brought back an epiphany I had last night in relation to revolutions and movements. During a labor and delivery false alarm, my wife and I spent several hours at the hospital, and the only thing on the hospital TV that was not completely stupid was Glenn Beck's show, where he was discussing revolutionary figures from history. Specifically, they discussed Moses, Jesus Christ, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. Most of his panelists had some kind of personal connection to one or another of the historical figures, and mostly said nothing in a lot of big fancy words. One point they did make, however, was that for each of these figures, they placed the their purpose and mission as higher than themselves.

However, in the political context of the day, I realized that there is something distinct about real revolutions and movements that transcend the individuals who might be tied to them. That something is clear vision and direction. Now, most of you who have ever read a book on goals, or planning, or achievement, or project management, or leadership, etc, etc - have heard this sort of thing, but I wonder how many of us who think we know it really do. When I say vision and direction, vision means more than just a pretty picture or conceptualization. It defines what needs to be done. It requires the foundations that lead to direction, and direction means actual steps and things for the followers and proponents of that revolution or movement to do.

While listening to tonight's speeches, many of which would probably be best described as tea partyish, I realized what problem I have with the whole thing. There are not clearly defined problems with clearly defined visions of what things should be with clearly defined direction for what each of us should do about it. There were a few things listed here or there, but all vague, or ethereal, unclear in some form or other. Ok, maybe I could support the Tea Party movement, if only I knew where it was going.

September 9, 2010

Economic Justice and Mercy

"It's Not Fair!"

How many times do we hear that phrase in the course of our lives? Surely the average for each of us has to be somewhere between once a month, and perhaps, once an hour. Those with young children, such as between the ages of 5 and 25, probably hear it more than others.

Do we ever stop to think about what Fair really means? If life were truly fair, we would all start out the same, with the same parents, culture, language, talents, and access to wealth and opportunity. If that really were the case, think how boring life would be. Same interests, same abilities, same - same - same. Not that it wouldn't be fair, just not desirable.

At the same time, it isn't desirable either to have huge disparities between individuals that prevent happiness in some, and condescension in others. This leads to all sorts of negative emotions, and for every individual that somehow overcomes a really bad starting place, there are many who become bitter, hateful, or full of despair.

The ideal is that despite our many differences, if we have equal access or near equal access to opportunity and life is what you make of it, then we can all thrive to the best of our abilities and interests. Unfortunately, the ideal is generally not reachable. Ever. There are some things that can at least move toward the ideal though. We can make sure everyone gets a chance at a good education. Well, no, we can't. There are no public schools that provide what I would call a truly "good" education. In fact, there really aren't private schools that do either.

We can try to balance the playing field economically. Usually this is done through taxation. It gives money to those who don't have it, and takes from those who make it. Those who have amassed huge fortunes, however, somehow seem pretty immune to it, since it only taxes earnings, but not if those stay invested. So much for balance. But, aren't we in a country were we are proud of our imbalance? We love our capitalist system. You know how this works. "Those who have the gold make the rules." "It takes money to make money."

Ok, so perhaps not all of us like our system, but it is what it is, and it isn't likely to change any time soon. So, what we have, at the moment, is economic Justice. Certainly not the same as economic balance. Those who start in a good place have all the advantages. Those who start with very little, have a very hard time making progress. But, what each of them do results directly in the natural consequences of their actions. Cause and effect. That is justice, and when you start imbalance, it takes extraordinary effort for the guy on bottom to get on top, and extraordinary bungling for the guy on top to end up on bottom.

What the people who complain about the system usually want (what they call 'fair') is mercy. It has nothing to do with fairness, and everything to do with compassion and kindness and love for ones fellow man. More fortunate people give, help out, or provide opportunities to those who are less fortunate because they care or because the think it is the right thing to do. This usually comes from the Christian ethic of mercy taught by Jesus Christ. None of the other major religions teach about mercy in the same way. It says we are all indebted to Christ for his atonement for our sins. If we want mercy, we have to give mercy. If we give justice, or demand justice, we will get justice, and pay for our own sins.

So what does money have to do with this? Scripture talks about the city of Enoch and about the followers of Christ after the day of Pentecost sharing everything and having no poor among them. The didn't do it by force, but by choice. It wasn't based on law, but upon mercy. If we have mercy economically, we do what we are able to help all those around us who are less economically fortunate than ourselves. If we have economic mercy, the poverty problem around us will be solved.

Unfortunately, the real disparity between rich and poor is a sad and indicator of the lack of mercy in the American economic system. We don't give unless we have to. We are focused on ourselves and how we measure up to either our neighbors, various celebrities, or some ethereal standard of success, and we never look outside ourselves and think of those in need who are constantly around us. We each need to re-examine our economic values. Perhaps the success and happiness of our fellow man should factor in just a bit more.