Are You Happy?

As I care for my son during the day, I try to expand my mind in two ways:

First, I play with my son whenever he wants. When you are around a child so young day in and day out, you get to learn a lot about what it really is to be Human.  You see how we come into thought and cognition, and the feelings that really drive us when we are not bogged down by useless cognitive detritus. My son is very independent, most of the time he doesn’t need his daddy; he is happy to experiment and play, especially with blocks, construction paper, and toy tools. He often plays with me only when he has spent a lot of energy, and needs the comfort of a hug and a smile to warm him.

My son is my Great Educator; I learn a lot by being present with him.

Second, I listen to interviews, lectures, and speeches of great minds and world leaders throughout history. It is amazing whose thoughts you can find recorded and reshared on YouTube. Philosophers, great artists, world leaders, Nobel Prize winners – if they made an impact on the 20th century, somewhere someone has a copy of that voice, and is dying to share it. Sometimes I find thinkers I might not have appreciated, or even heard of have unbelievable depth. Sometimes idols of my youth prove to be vapid and uninteresting. I always manage to find something that will challenge the way I think.

These are my Lesser Educators; and their voices are on my stereo as background noise to my day much of the time.

Today, I had a great educational convergence. I was giving my son his lunch, and he was clowning; he would make increasingly big and silly grins to see how big he could make me smile in return. At the same time, I was listening to a 1969 interview with the actress Marlene Dietrich, when she said something that struck me very powerfully.

“You see in our language, in German or in French, there is no such word as relax. This is an American invention. We don’t have a feeling like the American has, now it’s 7:00 or something and I have to have a drink and relax. It’s not a necessity in Europe; he drinks because he likes to drink. Success in America means a lot to a man, and it means a lot to his wife and family. There is a general belief that success is synonymous with happiness. Well it doesn’t, as you know… they don’t go together at all. The American is striving for success and works much too hard in order to get, whatever – a little more money or a raise or something -He loses out on all the pleasures of life because of that.
“In Europe they have a car, they have it 15 years and they polish it and they wash it and they love it but here people don’t love their cars because they know next year they are going to get another one. And then everything is on credit: they don’t own it… and then you buy many more things than you need because it’s on credit and it doesn’t bring them happiness. It just doesn’t. Possessions do not make you happy.”
Marlene Dietrich, in an Interview with Jay Hackelman, 1969
Marlene Dietrich on Happiness.
Marlene Dietrich on Happiness.

This is something I have always known on some level. I have few things, and don’t look to them to make me happy – but there was something profound about those words and my baby boy’s smiling game that struck me profoundly. In the life coaching business, I focus on goals, achievements, and refining methods. I help people either succeed, or at least get out of their own way. There is an underlying assumption that people are trying to reach their goals in order to be happy.

But I realized that this is part of a core problem with life in modern Western civilizations, something that has vexed Men a long time, and in the world of Women in the Workplace, it has become a universal toxin. We often set goals that have nothing to do with being happy. Many of the goals that I see people setting won’t make them happy at all. A lot of us think that we need to be worthy by succeeding first, before we can be Happy. That Happiness is a side-effect of Success… Or in many cases, people (especially a certain class of Men) don’t believe that they deserve to be Happy, that their job is to make other people happy, not to enjoy Happiness for themselves.

Happiness has little to do with Success. It is something that we create for ourselves through mental discipline, good choices, and being present in the moment.  It is something we find in a game with a small child, or cultivate through meditation, spirituality, or hobbies. If you want a goal to make you happy, that goal has to be to create Happiness for yourself. No other goal will accomplish it, although some other goals might serve it.

And so, I wanted to pose some questions as food for thought to my readers:

  • Are you happy?
  • Have you chosen to start doing things that make you Happy?
  • Are your goals serving your Happiness, or distracting you from finding it?

I also wanted to share another short video I streamed today that helped drive home the ideas I was exploring form one of my favourite renegade thinkers, Frank Zappa:

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