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Published:August 14th, 2009 20:42 EST
The Hammock Conclusion: How To Be Happy

The Hammock Conclusion: How To Be Happy

By Tony Graff

A research paper on how to be happy.


The founders of the Declaration of independence states that the Pursuit of Happiness is one of our God-given inalienable rights. Everyone in the world has been flocking here since it was established. Why don`t we feel happy then? Is it like Will Smith said in his portrayal of Chris Gardner, that it is merely a pursuit, but something unattainable? Or is it like a buried treasure that we are somehow supposed to find? We, as Homo Sapiens, seem to have a huge fixation with not being happy, stressing out, and wondering why we aren`t happy. It seems we are just like what Agent Smith told Morpheus in the movie The Matrix: Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world?  Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. 


It was a disaster.  No one would accept the program.  Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world.  But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. " We all know people who are like that. People who are content to sit in a city of gold and complain that it is all too yellow. We dream of a perfect world, without suffering, without sorrow, that would leave a lot of empty space to be filled with happiness, right? Just like Adam and Eve experienced, right? They didn`t know sorrow, so they must have been chock full of happiness.


That does raise the question if we really are defined by what we suffer, and our misery. I don`t believe that. No one is exempt or sheltered from the storms of life that is a universal truth. This does not mean, however, that we are to fling ourselves in the epicenter of mortal strife to feel closer to happiness. If we constantly need a thorn in our side in order to understand what happiness is, it would seem that God is rather sadistic, which we both know is flat out wrong and blasphemous. So, if suffering has a place, and we aren`t meant to suffer, why isn`t it easier to be happy? 


The quest to find enjoyment is certainly something everyone, regardless of race, culture, religion, personality, or lack thereof considers at one point or another. In the Qur`an, it says, Trust all things to Allah, and he will provide. " Jesus of Nazareth put it a different way when he said, Consider the lilies of the field, they don`t toil, but God made them beautiful. " Even Timon and Pumba, from Disney`s the Lion King, had something to say on the subject with their song Hakuna Matata, which, of course, means no worries for the rest of your days. There hasn`t been a culture or people on earth that hasn`t tried to figure out how to be happy, and stay happy. The idea of just be happy, don`t worry, and relax.


The invitation being presented to you is to simply do that. Jim Henson told his children that life is meant to be fun, and joyous, and fulfilling... Watch out for each other, and love and forgive everybody. It`s a good life, enjoy it. " Lean back in your chair, kick off your shoes, and see if something in here can assist you in finding your happiness, or show you the happiness you already have.


If asked the question, What makes you happy? " People answer with a variety of answers. A favorite food, an activity, or being in particular company will incite happiness in humans. A few will even answer services in the name of Deity. Why then, when you are walking in the mall or on the campus of a college, does no one really look happy, and everyone wound tight enough to snap? Is something wrong with us?


Yes, and at the same time, a loudly subtle no. The problem I have experienced is that we worry too much. Our society seems to have an obsession with stress. Which is why the second most frequent message is this: Don`t Worry. Paul McCartney has told us Let It Be. " Douglas Adams put it bluntly with the words Don`t Panic. " The  hardest part of the situation is that we are justifying what we worry about. A research survey states that one in three people are lying awake at night stressing. So what is it we`re worrying about while we stare at the ceiling all night? Primarily two things: money and work, the main woes for nearly 75 percent of Americans. That`s way up from 59 percent of us stressed out over those two things a year ago. Those are things that we need, so how does it get thrown out of proportion?


The answer is that we are placing too much under the umbrella of needs, when really, they are desires. To exemplify this point, I turned to the group of people that seemed the happiest: Children. For some reason unknown to me at the time, they have the secret of happiness. In the India Times newspaper, they posted an article entitled Why Children Smile A Lot and Adults Are Grouchy. In the article, it stated that a child smiles 400 to 500 times a day and when we grow into adults the number of smiles per day comes down drastically. A child does not have much expectation. She is happy because she is pleased with whatever she gets. One could always be like a child - in a state of happiness by being satisfied and contented with one`s lot. Though difficult to achieve, it is not impossible.


One could reasonably figure that children smile more. They don`t have to worry about jobs, car payments, road rage, or anything like that. This was a concept that needed to be researched further.


I took some time and listed what made adults and teenagers happy. Largely, they were material things, or related to their current vocation or enterprise. All of these items had price tags, and big ones. Then, I turned to children, and listed what I had seen makes them happy. There were cupcakes, crayons, a hug, a parent posting a loved piece of work on the refrigerator for all to see, someone sharing with them, playing on a playground, and bedtime stories.


From that, there could be two logical conclusions: Either children don`t know about all the fun things to worry about, or adults have forgotten how to prioritize what is important. Thankfully, this was something I could test and experiment without the need of additional funds. With a list in hand of what made children happy, I set out to be happy like them. What made them happy, made me happy, for seven days. If someone shared, I smiled. If I got to laugh, or play, or hold someone`s hand, or get a hug, I expressed it, both in action and vocally. Halfway through the experiment, it was so easy to do, and by the end of the week, people were asking what it was that had changed me.


I compiled my results, and found some amazing discoveries. The things that had bothered me as an adult were divided into two categories: Things that I needed to worry about, and things that were soon forgotten. If someone pushed me or said something bad, I was affected at the time, but soon forgot about it. Mature aspects of life, like family, friendship, love and education, stayed a priority, and even more, I had the desire to share those aspects with others.


Look at that a little more. Family, friendship, education, all of those things don`t have price tags, and aren`t what the majority of people worry about. Maybe it should be.  I worried about how my friends were, and how my family was doing more in the week I spent being happy like child is happy.


Robert Fulghum captured this idea with his essay All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten, " which tied the simple life lessons we learn early on to the very mature, adult problems we face. Take any one of those items [the lessons we learned in Kindergarten] and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all - the whole world - had cookies and milk at about 3 o`clock in the afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess. "


The next question that came was why couldn`t we all be like that forever? To be that kind of person who is easily happy, and quick to dismiss what doesn`t have real value, and live these simple, basic principles? One could argue that there are things that we should be sad about, things like death, tragedy, and natural disaster. These are hard things for people to bear, and affect us in a very powerful way. Everyone goes through the lonely path of sorrow, and it does put a dampener on being happy.


Penny, from the satirical, short movie Dr. Horrible`s Sing-Along Blog, consoles her friend Billy with the idea that even in the darkness, every color can be found. " Bad things happen to everyone, whether we are happy or not. In our dark times, when it is hard to be happy, we can still see all the colors, all the things that we can still be happy about. She also tells Billy that everything happens. Billy first things she will finish by saying for a reason, " but she simply said that everything happens.


The world-famous band, The Beatles, recorded one final song before the group split. Sung by Paul McCartney, that final song, Let It Be, provides an account of Paul McCartney`s struggle to regain control of his life, which had been ravaged by addiction, and tragedy. His mother, named Mary, who had passed away of breast cancer when he was fourteen, came to him in a dream, and said it will be alright, just let it be." His experience became a clarion call to the world when we `find ourselves in times of trouble.`


Combining these ideas together, we have to choose to be happy, sort out what things we don`t need to be worry, and learn that even when things are not going well, there is still something to be happy about. This sounds like happiness is a lifestyle, and each day we choose to live that way. Victor Frankl, the WWII Holocaust survivor, gave us a hint of the power our choices can have, even the power to be happy. He said, The one thing you can`t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one`s freedoms is to choose ones attitude in any given circumstance. " You and I have the right to choose to be happy. Once we have given our power to choose, we can be about as useful as a table, simply letting everything happen to it.


Happiness has a moral code to it, solidarity in standards. Mahatma Ghandi, the great Indian philosopher, taught that Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony. " How we see ourselves and others affects how happy we can be, as much as how we perceive the world around us. Victor Frankl and the kindergarteners have taught us about what we think and how it affects us.


The second thing that Ghandi mentioned was what we say needs to be in harmony. With any of the three he mentioned, it must be in harmony with itself, and with the other two factors.


Happiness is not a stagnant feeling, more like something we experience when we are doing something. Have you noticed that? When all the factors are correct, can we really experience happiness just by sitting there? More often, we feel the happiest doing something, and that is for a reason.


Now comes the tricky part. You have been introduced to the words of great people who had great things to say on the one subject that every human being is a part of, and want to take part in. We, in our renewed quest for happiness,  get to go back to our lives, our jobs, schools, and homes, and figure out what we are worrying about that we don`t need. When I first learned this idea of choosing to live in happiness, I found the following to be helpful. Have pencil and paper ready. If you don`t write it down, you will forget it. Guaranteed.


First of all, have a glass of your favorite drink beside you. I recommend chocolate milk. If there is a hammock available, lie upon it. No one can feel stressed in a hammock. Think about everything you have done in the past week, and what you told people you have done in the past week. Yes, that does mean you are now accountable for what you do. That does not imply that you need to book yourself solid with activities to say you have done stuff, but find those things that you have been excited to tell to people. It could be something general, like storytelling, which it was for me, or it could be something specific, like Salsa dancing.


If you find that you can`t remember detail or something last week was just hazy, figure that it means you may not need it. Then don`t do it. Simple as that, unless that haze was created by your job. You may still need that. But, fill that free time, where you are just sitting in front of the television watching Jay Leno and eating a hastily made ham and cheese, with some salsa dancing, or whatever it is that you like to do. Remember what Victor Frankl said earlier? You are in charge of your reaction to your day. Don`t let TV suck out your desire to do something that might actually make you happy. TV isn`t a bad thing, just don`t let it be the only thing.


If you have your list made of the stuff you are not going to worry about, and you are unsure how you are going to fill that time, try something new. Read a book, invite some friends to play a game or something, make cookies and share them, think of what those kindergarten kids are doing, and see if you can find something you love in something that comes to them naturally. Painting, reading, drawing, cooking, gardening, talking to friends and family, there are a ton of things that we were basically taught to do as children that we just put big names to make more mature. So, take that box of rich chocolate cookies and stop calling it your little indulgences every now and then. It`s snack time. Have a friend over to share, and see how happy it can be.