The Pursuit of Happiness
The inspiration for my May Bead Journal Project began when I was walking the run course of the Liberty to Liberty Triathlon. Walking when everyone else is running in a triathlon is like showing up to a black tie event in your jeans and t-shirt. It's embarassing. And it makes you feel like a failure because you feel like everyone else is running by thinking... "Oh, at least I'm doing better than her; at least I'm not walking..." So, I was thinking this way, when I saw a beautiful thistle on the side of the path and it caused me to break my self-pitying line of thinking. One thought..."I wonder how I stitch this thistle?" broke a whole series of negative thoughts that had entered my mind...feelings of failure, hurt, defeat...all vanished in an instant. Like magic. Which led me to question myself, why was I thinking this way to begin with? What good did that do? And, for the umpteenth time during that race, my day took a turn for the better.
And when my friends ran back out -- after they had already finished -- to keep me company, to walk me into the finish line...so I wouldn't be alone...so I wouldn't feel like a loser...it was one of the happiest moments of the day.
There was power in my thinking and I felt it. And there was power in the actions of my friends and I felt that too. And maybe this power, this energy...this pursuit of something greater than ourselves, was what the day was all about.
We had immersed ourselves in patriotic fervor; participating in a bike ride which took us from the Gateway of Freedom, the Statue of Liberty, in New York City to the Home of Democracy in Philadelphia. My girlfriends and I couldn't help but embrace our country, embrace our fellow man, and embrace the truths on which our country was founded. Sure we had a lot of fun, but it wasn't about the crowns that we wore, or the streamers we placed on our bikes or the songs we sang to the volunteers as we rode into the rest stops...
It was about our attitude. That day, we were five Liberty Ladies and we spread smiles wherever we went. But how did it happen?
I think it's because we, as a group, made a conscious decision that day. We had decided we were going to have fun, no matter how tired or hot or thirsty we became. And because we had decided that, we forced ourselves to smile and to wave and to sing -- even when we weren't feeling it. So when we met other bikers, runners, volunteers, photographers, family members and innocent bystanders, we smiled and waved and sang and then they forgot how tired and hot and thirsty they were. And we started a chain reaction and happiness spread like wildfire. I honestly couldn't believe it.
And I had no idea it was so powerful until we were thanked by one person after another at the end of the day -- and they told us -- "You made our day!"
Right there in Philadelphia, in the birthplace of our country, we had made happiness a priority and it had grown larger than ourselves. So, as I stitched this bead journal piece hour after hour, I ruminated on the power of the human spirit -- I mean, heck, we were only participating in a triathlon but what if we were trying to change the world? And so I thought some more, more about the meaning of democracy, the meaning of freedom and the meaning of life.
"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....[Declaration of Independence]"
...the pursuit of happiness...
What is the pursuit of happiness and what does it mean? Why are so many people unhappy even though they live in this country where liberty and freedom are protected? What makes us happy and what makes happiness worthy of pursuit?
FDR once said, "I believe that happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort." And I believe that too.
I also believe that great effort springs naturally from great attitude.
Amen. Attitude is everything.
So maybe, it's life, liberty and the pursuit of a positive attitude.
Oh, I know, I'm not the first to think that there is power in positive thinking.
Buddha said, "All that we are is the result of what we have thought. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him."
I mean, thoughts are energy. And I believe that positive thoughts change the world. And we must be the change we wish to see in the world. (Who said that? thanks to Google. It was Mahatma Gandhi.)
Ergo, we must embody happy thoughts.
And Actions Speak Louder Than Words. The Dalai Lama says that "Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions" And our actions began with our thoughts, right?
So, happiness is generated from within...within our own thoughts...and it comes not from other people. For to look for happiness through other people is a folly BUT
Surrounding ourselves with people who think positively, who act positively, can help us change the way we think and act. It can help us to toss away our judgments, our criticisms and treat all men as our equal. It can help us to be better neighbors.
So maybe it's Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of the Golden Rule -- I will love my neighbor as myself. Or, Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness for our friends and neighbors??
Buddha said that "Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared."
So then, does happiness occur when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony? If so, then the freedom of thought, the freedom of speech and the freedom to act are critical to our happiness.
That leads me to believe that without the protection of these unalienable rights, the pursuit of happiness would be severely hampered. And with the protections of these rights, happiness can almost be guaranteed. So then why aren't more Americans happy?
It seems that there ought to be happy people everywhere.
Well, I think EVERYONE has happy thoughts, at least occasionally, and sometimes all it takes is a happy word or action to trigger them into action. And though, it doesn't always work and the spark sometimes fizzles, the idea that one happy spark might ignite a whole series of happy fireworks encourages us to try again.
So, this is what happened when five of my happy friends, decided to help their neighbors and to smile and sing even when they were dog-tired. And they Changed the Day for a lot of people.
While working this piece I thought about this powerful example in life and I had an epiphany of sorts. A realization that I must be more purposeful and intent on my pursuit of happiness. That living in this great country doesn't guarantee happiness -- but it does guarantee the freedom and liberty to pursue happiness. And I must be diligent to calm the busy-ness that robs me of the time to think good thoughts and do good deeds -- that perhaps, the pursuit of happiness requires one to be more present in the moment and to pay more attention to our neighbors -- more than just waving to them as they speed by in their cars.
And spending all day yesterday at the Statue of Liberty National Park cemented it into my brain. That amazing statue was the result of a very powerful idea from a very talented sculptor; a very powerful thought from a purposeful French statesman; and the very powerful ideas and words of a (now famous) newspaperman in New York City -- as a result, we have the Statue of Liberty. But that's a subject for another day.
Have a Happy Day.