We are all familiar with this famous phase from the American Declaration of independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
One definition that seems to fit my feelings about Happiness is a mental or emotional state of well-being characterized by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. I wouldn’t say that I am a sad person nor can I say that I am especially happy. But for me Happiness is now my highest aspiration, even greater than life, liberty, or fame. So what are the attributes for Happiness?
Denmark is ranked as the Happiest country in the world because of its many Danish communities which are considered the Happiest places to live. These communities are very much like large extended families. Community members share looking after the children in common play areas so they are able to safely and easily interact with other children in the community while parent can visit or do other things. People live in very compact apartment units which do not have many of the amenities typical of American homes. But the units are comfortable, efficiently laid out and easy to maintain and clean. There is a centralized kitchen and eating area where everybody eats and meets together. Families take turns preparing meals and doing laborious kitchen and cleanup chores. Everyone looks after the welfare of the other. Consequently there is virtually no crime. The cost of living is very low because of the efficiency of shared facilities, food, and resources so one does not have to spend much time earning money or doing chores to maintain their simple standard of living but instead spend more time in social interactions and doing things together. Because they consume few natural resources and live efficiently they contribute little environmental pollutions. Everyone feels like a part of one big family. There are rules and regulation so people know what they are responsible for but otherwise it is a very free, happy, and homely community.
We often vilify cults that establish large communal living facilities out in the middle of nowhere who only want to be left alone like the Pilgrims who left England for America because of persecution as a cult there. We have been responsible for destroying a few here in our country due to our fear of them. We want to impose our standards upon them and physically destroy them if they don’t conform saying that their members and children are there under duress. But is it possible that their members are there because they find more safety, security, and meaning in their pursuit of God and Happiness there than in the world from which they came? Who’s to say that they haven’t found it and we have.
People seem happiest when closest to their ancient ancestral origins. Ancient tribal life consisted of extended families living closely together where adult siblings, parents, and grandparents shared chores caring for the children, cooking, gathering, and hunting. Children laughed as they played with their siblings and cousins while the women gossiped when doing their chores awaiting the return of their men from a hunt. Life was simple, about doing things together, and traditions. People felt happy in spite of having little. So doing things together, a simple life, and stability seem important for sustained Happiness.
I feel that Happiness is most sustainable in close knit social communities where everyone has a sense of purpose and togetherness, and care for the well being of each other. I believe that one is Happiest when free of stresses related to social conflicts and changes while living in a safe and stable community. I believe that people are Happiest when they feel contented as part of a larger community where life is simple and love shared. Happiness is more about belonging and giving than about having and receiving. Happiness also makes for a healthier and longer life.
These extended family communities are just the opposite of the American dream and values where owning a large home, becoming rich, buying and having a lot of the latest things, freedom and independence, ambition, and being at the top are hallmarks of an accomplished, dynamic, and happy life. Are we really any happier for it? Are the rich and famous any happier than the rest of us? Perhaps it is time to change our paradigms of what Happiness really is.
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