Graham Doke recalls a conversation on Happiness

'I think,' Mike said, his breath puffing as we pressed up the mountain. A clear blue sky, cow bells in the distance, alpine meadows all around: the ideal environment in which to discuss matters of import. 'I think people are too bothered about happiness. As long as you can take your next breath, you should be happy.'

He paused for a while, ensured that taking the next breath was not beyond reach. 'It's all a matter of making the best of the moment, the best of what you have now.'

Kim lived an affluent Manhattan lifestyle, surrounded by her friends and all that Manhattan had to offer. Affluent, successful, beautiful, she passed her life in a state of normalised low-level anxiety, wondering if she earned enough, had enough, did enough to prove her worthiness to her friends.
She did all she could: she bought the latest technology, owned the correct mix of designer and non-designer clothes to prove she didn't care; she went to the right places, holidayed where she was supposed to, refused to use cotton buds, and sent money to a refugee charity her neighbour had mentioned once. Careful in monitoring what her friends had and did, she ensured she kept ahead. In short, she did everything her modern lifestyle demanded of her: she was for modern society the the very model of a modern maitre general. And in its turn, modern society delivered deep unhappiness, an unhappiness she dealt with by occasionally closing all the curtains and spending the day crying, no matter what her therapist said about her doing that.

Kim then realised she could outstrip the worthiness of all of her friends by going to live in a village in Africa for a month. If such worthiness did not bring happiness, what would?
She travelled to Africa and joined a village in rural Africa. Here girls of fourteen or fifteen left their youngest children with their older children while they worked all day in the fields. They would return at the end of the day, carrying the water the village would need for the night, and help with preparation of the evening meal, serving it to husbands twenty and thirty years their senior, to whom they had been traded.

Here was a group of girls with by Manhattan standards absolutely nothing. Their days were filled with hard manual labour with virtually nothing the first world has to offer; they passed their lives in virtual slavery, and at the whim of disease and famine.
And when the day's work was done, the young girls got together around the fire, they braided each others hair, told stories, sang, laughed. For the first time, Kim saw happy people. Happy with nothing, happy with complete lack.

And Kim saw one lack that was the key to these girls' happiness: competition. No-one cared how much the next person had. These girls sat around their fire at night and shared their lives without envy, jealousy, or resentment; they shared their humanity, without possessions. And it made them happy.

We do not have to give up possessions to be happy. But we do have to give up comparing ourselves with others to be happy. We will never be happy if what we want in our lives is dictated by what other people have, for there is no end to that comparison.

If we remove that comparison, we remove an obstacle to our own happiness. We free ourselves up to make the most of what we have in each individual moment.

'So, are you happy, up here on this mountain on this beautiful day with this beautiful view?' I asked Mike.

He smiled. 'Happy? Yes, I am happy. Very happy. And, I was happy coming here on the train, and I will be happy back at my desk on Monday.'

He thought for a moment. 'I won't be as out of breath at my desk, though.' 


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