The annual World Happiness Report is out. This year Norway ranks as the happiest place on earth. That’s strange because I always thought it was supposed to be Disneyland.
At any rate, each year the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a United Nations initiative, measures world happiness country by country based on such factors as “income, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on in times of trouble, generosity, freedom and trust, with the latter measured by the absence of corruption in business and government.” The United Sates is now number 14.
According to SDSN, social well-being is the best gauge of a country’s progress. John Helliwell, an economist at the University of British Columbia and lead author of the report, told the Associated Press: “It’s the human things that matter. If the riches make it harder to have frequent and trustworthy relationship between people, is it worth it? The material can stand in the way of the human.”
To read the World Happiness Report, go to their website.
It seems to me, though, that happiness is a difficult thing to measure. At least on a personal level. While happiness means generally the same thing to most folks, each of us can have a slightly different definition. And, of course, since time immemorial, philosophers and other folk have been weighing in with their take on the meaning of happiness…
And Gandhi said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
Both of these “definitions” correspond with the Buddhist/Taoist notion of happiness, which is not the absence of suffering, but rather the ability to find joy and tranquility in the midst of suffering.
Chuang Tzu, the Chinese philosopher from around the 4th century BCE, believed that happiness or the ultimate satisfaction in life came from doing nothing, that is, the practice of wu-wei (not-doing, non-action):
“I consider doing nothing to obtain happiness to be true happiness, but ordinary people do not understand this. It’s said that true happiness is to be without happiness, the highest praise is to be without praise. The world can’t make up its mind what is right and what is wrong. And yet doing nothing can determine it. Since supreme happiness is found in keeping the body alive, only by doing nothing can you accomplish it!
Let me try putting it this way. Space does nothing, and thence comes its serenity; Earth does nothing, and thence comes its peace. Through the union of these two inactions all things are transformed and brought to life. Wonderful, mysterious, they seem to come from nowhere! Wonderful, mysterious, they have no visible sign! Each thing minds its business and grows from this inaction. So I say, space and earth do nothing and there is nothing that is not done. But who among us can attain this inaction?”
In the United States, the pursuit of happiness is one of humankind’s basic rights. It’s guaranteed by the Constitution. But this is not the greatest goal in life. When we calm our mind and when what we do is in harmony, we do not need to seek happiness, for we realize that it is already all around us.