The common good, or the general welfare, in the United States, tends to presume that “the pursuit of happiness” is the good and the goal of life. Yet those of us descended from enslaved people know that our ancestors, and often ourselves, as well, have not been free to follow that pursuit, and thus have been forced to define happiness in a different way.
When I lived in Izmir, a neighbor asked me one day:
Doydun yerin nerede?
Literally, this means, where is your full place?
She was asking me where is the place that makes me happy. What I could not explain to her then, back in 2005, which some blogging friends have recently reminded me to point out, is that contentment, far more than happiness, is a stable emotion, rather than a fleeting feeling based on dopamine or serotonin, but it requires context. That context is built out of a life that renders service. A life, for me, that builds tools and leaves a scaffolding upon which others may continue to build, to create the equitable world that would be safe, kind, and respectful of the dignity and potential of every human being born into this world.
True it is, that happiness is a part of one’s overall health. Access to affordable and comprehensive health care is also a major part of that: freedom from the stress of knowing that one illness can set back all of your life’s savings, or that one accident can deprive you of a livelihood. Knowing just how precarious this health and access to health care is, especially for people who have no family or community to protect and/or take care of them, can be a major on brake a person’s moment to moment, not to mention overall, happiness. That is in spite of, and separate from, the satisfaction or contentment that one may derive from seeing the works of her hands accomplish good things. Even one who has stood in that small and fearful gap, in harms way for another, one who has brought hope to another at a moment when years had passed without greeting, even such a one may feel content with those works, yet aspire to rejoice at the happiness of others, when others are safe. Is this happiness, for that one person?
The happiness of one individual must be viewed, for me, in the wider context of each and every person’s ability to have every need met. The reason is that if I go to some other part of the world, my own safety is compromised, based on a variety of factors that have nothing to do with my desire to help others, and everything to do with my appearance, origins, and connections. That situation is neither equitable, nor safe, for anyone. Ignoring these unpleasant truths will not make them go away, and focusing on one small part of the world that appears positive, while ignoring most of the pain, will never solve our collective problem. Yet we have it within our power, collectively, to change the situation. We have the technology, the resources, and the strategic ability to build a system that can allow every human being to reach full creative potential. If we each choose to have a life of meaning, building for the entirety of humanity, over a lifetime of our pursuit of the fleeting happiness of a moment, we can leave a safer, kinder world where each individual is actually listened to, actually respected for the pebble of meaning that that person brings to help build the rising edifice, and leaves as part of the scaffolding. We can each have, and also help others, to have a life of lasting meaning, if we want to.
The question is do we want to?
1.) Search for two different sources related to happiness versus meaning.
2.) Share the context of those sources, and what you think of them, with us in the comments, here, please.
3.) Share your thoughts on how any ordinary person might help build a better world system, and thus be a Hero,
4.) Write a book, blog post or tweet that uses those thoughts, tells a good story, and makes a difference. I’m working on that through my historical fantasy #WiP, #WhoByFireIWill. If you write a book, once published, please consider donating to your local public library.
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