By Judy Spiers
I used to believe that good news and events, or even gifts, were what made me happy. The trouble is that when these were gone so was my happiness. Expectations based in materialism can be fleeting because it is the inherent nature of matter to be short-lived.
It began to dawn on me that it’s often things like caring and gentleness, or the warmth behind a smile that give me prosperous and happy feelings.
The Prime Minister of the tiny country of Bhutan, in the Himalaya Mountains, concluded that if greed is the source of unhappiness, then, instead of thinking in terms of that nation’s GDP, or Gross National Product, “We need to think gross national happiness.” This idea was adopted as policy by the Bhutanese government and its people.
I’ve been entertaining the notion that happiness has more to do with attitude than money. If we sever the ties between prosperity and money, it is entirely possible that we could live happy lives – despite negative economic news.
There is nothing foolish about that idea. After all, there are lots of things that cannot be perceived through the five senses: joy and integrity, generosity, vitality and humility, to name a few.
We’ve probably all known people who are cheerful and gracious even when their worlds are turned-upside-down by their current material circumstances. Even in dire times, their happiness seems to prosper.
Such instances prove that positive attributes of thought are not limited to life’s sprinklings of occasional good news, events or pleasant gifts. I began to suspect that things like joy, gladness and happiness actually fill all space and are as present as the air we breathe – we just don’t see it.
My husband, Mark, and I decided to consciously look for examples. Here’s what we found in just our own little world.
Three years ago, we bought a house that was in such failed condition that it took two years of labor every day to restore it. Now, our home is like new. It is prospering, and we are happy in it.
When we moved here, the yard was nearly as bare as it was thirty years ago when the dozer hauled the top soil away. Today, the landscaping is flourishing. Looking at it through our windows brings us a great sense of lasting beauty and contentment that can’t be taken from us regardless of the stock market’s gyrations.
Last spring, I put small pieces of potato in rows in our new garden. By fall, each had yielded a dozen potatoes. Our compounding interest in that investment grew all summer long. It was a symbol of budding prosperity that made us feel happy.
We planted raspberries, enjoyed them all summer long, and now have a winter’s supply in the freezer. Our tomatoes bulged on their vines and we’re still picking them even though it is November. While there was no monetary value attached to them, they are symbolic of plenty in a time of rising costs. Examples abound.
We love birds. Mark put up a “condo” for them to nest. Numerous birds raised their families over the summer. It is good for the heart – the joy we feel – when we realize that we contributed to these flourishing bird populations.
The more we made a point of seeing alternative forms of prosperity and abundance, more of them manifested. While we were recounting them, my husband said, “Oh, look! There’s a red-breasted sap sucker.”
It’s been freezing at night and the days are short now, yet, every morning hungry flocks of birds fly-in for breakfast as if they’re going to dine at a fine restaurant.
There are juncos, black-capped chickadees and gold finches in their dark winter plumage; hummingbirds, crows and doves, and an occasional red – tailed hawk. I even photographed a peregrine falcon on our trellis the other day. Whole populations of birds are prospering! And that makes us happy, too.
The more we purposely look, the more we see of the accumulating evidence of a kind of prosperity that money just can’t buy.
We recently attended the Open Studio Tour where the public is invited into artist’s studios to watch them at work. For three days, we drove from one studio to the next. This concentration awakened in us a sense that art is everywhere – even in the falling leaves. By the time we were through, we felt rich in a very real way.
Such kinds of spiritual prosperity cannot be measured in dollars, or euros or yen, because it is a state of mind that is full of gratitude. I long ago noticed that when I say I’m grateful for something, I can just as well say that I love that thing. There’s something very deep about the connection between love and gratitude – especially with Thanksgiving upon us.
Size is not a factor. We could have had a very small garden or none at all. The loveliness of love is all around us. We just need to take time out to see it.
For instance, I took a couple branches off my daughter’s indoor cactus three years go and put them in a jar of water where they have been ever since. During the summer, they dried up. I was about to toss them when I noticed a tiny bud. I rewarded them with potting.
The other day my husband said, “Your cactus is blooming.”
There on the tip of one branch was a single, fluted, orange-colored bloom. Looking closer, I saw that the whole plant is covered with buds. It’s going to be in full bloom for Thanksgiving. It’s prospering.
The point is that we don’t have to let negativity overtake our thoughts. We can draw the line against cynicism. It’s precisely in times like these that we can push against the currents of dire forecasts by being willing to see the evidence of good everywhere. We can be grateful. Our happiness is not dependent on how much “stuff” we do or do not have. We have a friend who demonstrates this every day.
He lost his job and has struggled through some really rough times financially. He’s got a start-up business going. Even so, it’s been a lean year. The three of us recently rode together to a meeting. Our friend was so bright, so cheerful, so positive that we could not help but be impressed.
“I just feel so prosperous,” he said excitedly. “I went to the food bank and came back with my arms full of groceries. I can get food stamps to tide me over until my first check comes in. Yesterday I was on my hands and knees looking under my bed and counting all the cans of tuna and vegetables I have. I just feel so grateful!”
After the meeting our friend offered to treat Mark and me to pizza. He’d been paid for a small job and wanted to share. And do you know what? He could afford to do that, because he was giving of his heart’s rich overflow of gratitude, and from his well-cultivated sense of abundance, happiness and prosperity.
We drove to West Seattle and sat at the beach, watching the sunset and eating pizza with our dear friend. We all felt rich and happy.
Decoupling our sense of prosperity from doleful reports on the economy can go a long way toward helping us all see the evidence of good everywhere. It seems to me that the Bhutanese people are really on to something. We don’t have to wait until we get hired, or until our ship comes in, or for the economy to change. While we wait for all that to happen we can have our eyes wide open to those things that make us feel prosperous, happy and grateful to be alive – right now. And that’s a lot to be thankful for every day.
© 2011 Judy Spiers