Do you remember Barney, the purple dinosaur? Barney and his entourage used to sing a song called, “If you’re happy and you know it…” There were two signs of happiness that followed this preposition, if one was happy. One would stamp their feet and/or cap their hands.
I was watching a YouTube video recently about some African American kids, from San Francisco, who went on a trip to Ghana, in West Africa. Ghana was the first African country to gain its independence (in 1957) from Britain. Its largest city is the capital city of Accra; a bustling metropolis that has many of the urban amenities of any western city. Of course, it still has the traditional African villages, where one steps back a bit in time when visiting. The American kids were quite impressed by the happiness and the attitude of gratitude they witnessed in the village children who had little, in terms of material wealth. This caused many of them to promise that they would have a different attitude about materialism and the fleeting attachment to things. Several of the kids talked about how the children were anxious to be in school daily and seemed satisfied with their life overall.
There’s a reality that many of us in the United States don’t realize, and that is that most of our poor have more materially than many of the poorest people of the world. We in the west tend to measure our level of happiness and well-being by how many material possessions we’ve been able to latch onto. We want the biggest flat screen television, the latest iPhone, a house much too large to hold all the stuff we don’t need. And, once we’ve achieved that prideful level of consumption, we often find ourselves hankering for more, or the latest versions of what we already have. We just don’t seem to able to achieve a sustained level of happiness, satisfaction, contentment that would allow us to stand fast and enjoy ourselves, our families, our friends and all that’s around us.
I’ve come to realize, at this point in my life, that outward manifestations of just how well a person is doing are symptomatic of things we can’t see, touch, smell. When was the last time you saw love, happiness, joy, contentment, satisfaction, or any state of mind that exhibited itself in some degree of euphoria? We can’t measure these emotional states, but we can see their effects on a person’s well-being.
At this autumnal stage of my life, I often harken back to the days of my childhood, when I lived in dire poverty. Disposable income was not to be had. Subsistence living was the model for all aspects of my family’s earthly existence, but I recall my cousins, uncles, aunts, and all people around me laughing, and seemingly at peace with the little they had. Of course, an enormous number of things in life could have been better, but folk seemed to have had a way of making the best with the worst. Today, when I retrospectively look at those times, I think how there was an imbalance of a healthy mental/emotional state, compared to the paltry physical state in which many people around me existed. That might have been true, but the fact that I’m thinking about those days (with what some might call an inaccurate degree of romanticism) they convince me that life is best enjoyed by having an abundance of things we can’t see, smell, touch, or even quantitatively measure.
Just as I’m now finishing up this bit of musing, I’m reminded of a song Dionne Warwick sang, “What the world needs now is love…” That’s one of those immeasurable commodities that would exhibit great measurable results for us all.
I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.