I am sitting in what my kids as teenagers characterized as a dumpy, stinky cottage. It’s raining. The kitchen is warm and bright. The phone doesn’t work and there’s no internet and I am writing this blog in Word to paste it later when the phone lines are whole again.
We were just speaking at the “breakfast table” (almost like “real” folks from a black and white movie from the black and white period before we were born) that some close friends never seem happy. These friends always speak about what is missing in their lives, what they want and usually where they would rather be. And what they want is similar from person to person varying in time and intensity and order –
A sexual partner
A new sexual partner
A new country in which to live and love
A new job
A new home
The return of a loved-on
The opportunity to farm, to ranch, to become a gentleperson farmer
Their own business
To love (“I’ve smoked (pot) so much that I don’t think I can ever love her”)
To be loved
To be where happiness is!
(There’s a guy in a yellow rain suit raising himself at the end of boom to our telephone lines. Maybe we will soon have telephone and internet again!)
If I say anything to someone about their transparent unhappiness, I am deemed an authority on happiness and therefore know nothing about their unhappiness. We have the Inn; we have people working for us. We live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, and so on. It is interesting – the people about whom I am writing include some in Mendocino, with jobs and apparent job security, surrounded by people who care for and love them.
I can tell you that we didn’t start with an inn, employees. We didn’t even start at 3rd base, which is code for someone born into money and privilege, I recently learned. Certainly our parents did well, but they weren’t privileged. They worked to get where they were. And as far as we know they worried little about their own happiness. Joan’s dad was the son of immigrants to Canada and his father was very ill for an extended period and died when her dad was only 15 or 16 with three younger brothers to worry about. Joan’s mom had deeper Canadian roots but there was no great prosperity – her dad was a hotel engineer, what we call the head of maintenance at the Inn. My dad immigrated to the United States leaving behind a country and family devastated by the Great Depression. Both of our fathers worked and neither complained about their work. Both of our moms kept their houses and were involved in their communities in volunteer work, in our schools, in social activities such as bridge clubs and in hauling their children from one activity to another.
I know that we worked without concern about whether or not we were happy. We had and have purpose – to live, work and express our spirituality in a single context. In a way our lives are an application of principles gleaned from my years in anthropology. But the last thing that I was concerned with was happiness. There was and is too much to learn, too much to do, too much to live. We wanted our kids to see us work with joy – I wanted work integrated in LIVING. We wanted to help people and providing opportunities for people to express themselves has been a blessing. We have had to deal with ill health of parents, animals, friends – and through all of it we did not dwell on what change would make us happier. It wasn’t a focus of any of our thoughts or conversations.
The Chinese concept of “joy” – kuài lè – is a state characterized by inner peace and happiness through appreciating the gifts in our lives. Joy in action is simply embracing our lives. In Western parlance it is “counting one’s blessings” – taking stock – and then moving on in life – in living.
I never spoke with my parents regarding “happiness.” I didn’t talk to them about whether or not they wanted to live in another country – they had been through the Great Depression and WWII and implicitly I understood that they would move within the USA but never leave it. I don’t know whether they “loved their lives” but I do know that my mom sought out and enjoyed her friends and my father sought out spiritual teachers and enjoyed his practices.
Back to our unsatisfied friends: I suspect that they do not truly acknowledge and deep;ly appreciate what they already have – embrace it all – as in kuài lè – JOY! Until they do, perhaps they will never truly know what gifts they have and what a gift they are to others. Pining always for something else, for someone else, for some other experience, for some other place, they may never know where they are. They look at the emptiness at the top of the proverbial half full glass and fail to enjoy the water – the elixir of life – in the lower half.
Finally, both Alex and Kate, now in their twenties appreciate the values of cottage life on the western shores of Lake Winnipeg. There’s family here and much more – nature is so incredible and present. There’s not a square inch that is not a rock or road that doesn’t have something growing from it. Manitoba is Joy.
This article was written by stanford