Thursday, December 27, 2012

Happy endings

Sorry, guys. This is not about what you may be thinking right now.
Recent postings on my FB page have prodded me to blog again on the subject of happiness which I have tackled in the past particularly with regard to Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness (GNH) as a unique way of measuring national progress instead of the more popular Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The Bhutanese people have long recognized that the GDP as it is currently used by most nations does not adequately reflect the happiness and well-being of the people.
The average income in Bhutan is about $110 per month, making the kingdom of Bhutan one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world. Most Bhutanese don’t pay taxes which are only levied on annual incomes less than $2,000. Yet, Bhutan is ranked as the happiest nation in Asia and the eight happiest in the world, despite being one of the world’s poorest.
Bhutan's wheel of happiness. Photo courtesy of Laura Turner Seydel. Click link to view
"What is Gross National Happiness"  as explained in 3  minutes in a video by Morten
But again, this is not about the Bhutan alternative model of Gross National Happiness for there are already many interesting articles describing how it has affected not just the Bhutanese people but also the United Nations which has placed happiness on its global agenda last July 2011. This blog is about happiness from a philosophical reflection, though not strictly from the vantage view of philosophers as we know them. In other words, this is not a highly intellectual essay but simply the down-to-earth observations of an uncomplicated mind.
A friend on my FB page has once asked why we are so concerned about happiness. A relatively harmless question but impudent, perhaps even profane, in these difficult and trying times. Typical of the young who would spin an issue into a process of thought experiment, he would pose questions for the sake of asking, the cerebral luxury of idle minds. There’s no definitive purpose in his asking or throwing an observation, but simply to pick on his friends’ brains to complete a supposedly holistic and analytic examination of an issue, even if the question itself is self-intuitive or plain common sense. To him and others like him, there’s nothing commonsensical about things, and apparently this is what drives him to look at all angles (Euclidean and otherwise) and to examine the history and roots of an event or phenomenon as if he’s learning it for the very first time.
To cite a disingenuous example of this person’s FB posting, this Christmas he enjoined others to remember the original message of this holiday season. According to him, this message is about “hope and unity and struggle against the ills of the world,” as perpetuated by imperialism. When I was young, I also mouthed anti-imperialist slogans as a student activist and later as an actual participant in the national democratic struggle. At least our grievance then against imperialist control and influence over developing societies, particularly by the United States, was well-grounded on easily understandable political issues and the conditions of those times. But today’s anti-imperialist harangue is more or less the ambiguous product of unbridled leftist passion, couched in the hardline language of an ideologue, and shows a gaping disconnect between those who condemn its evils with the existential problems of oppression.
What is really egregious about this young friend’s FB posting is when he attempts to pervert the true meaning of Christmas. Yes, we are all in this struggle against oppression, but this is not what Christmas really means to most of us. The true spirit of Christmas is to share with others our love and compassion, especially to those who are less fortunate. This person has the temerity to greet all his FB friends with “merry, merry all,” a message that is not only lacking of the object of what we ought to be merry or happy about, but is insulting and defiant of the rest of us common folks’ celebratory mood, which he is probably painfully struggling within his own subconscious.
There are many other issues over which he has painted an imposing landscape of his constricted or prejudiced opinions, which by and large project his abject view of the world. Perhaps, the reason why he once asked why people were so concerned about being happy.
There is a good and sensible advice for this young man that I have picked from a message sent in 1739 by Comte de Mirabeau to his friend the Marquis de Vauvenargues, where the former reproached his friend for living from day to day without having any plan for achieving happiness: “See here, my friend, you think all the time, you study, and nothing is beyond the scope of your ideas; and yet you never think for a moment about making a clear plan leading to what should be our only goal: happiness.” Every important political idea has promised, more or less directly, greater happiness. Nothing is there to be embarrassed about because it doesn’t diminish you a bit if you dream of mundane happiness even once in a while. Broadly considered, happiness has always been the main quest of mankind.
One final advice: when you ask whether you are happy or unhappy, always remember that only unhappy people ask such questions. Get a life, and in the words of Bobby McFerrin, “Don't Worry, Be Happy.”
A picture of happiness on the faces of young Bhutanese boys. Click link to view
 images of Charlie Chaplin while  listening to the music of "Smile" by Michael
Jackson, Photo by Jean Timsit.
 As we turn the page to a new year, let’s dwell on some happy endings we have experienced during this year and some wishes that others could also turn into blissful conclusions as well.
Foremost among these happy endings is the non-event Mayan apocalypse of the end of times. Nothing happened and we’re all standing alive, hoping and greeting one another with the traditional greetings of Christmastime. But the actual end of the world could happen one day and perhaps much sooner if we continue not to show respect to the increasingly fragile environment that we inhabit. At least we survived the Mayan prediction and we should be happy about it.
U.S. President Barack Obama has been re-elected for another four years. This is a good reason to rejoice, considered against all odds of what a Romney presidency could bring. To our American cousins in the south, life is the sum of all the choices you make, as the great French writer Albert Camus once said. To echo a familiar line from one of Obama’s speeches, you will all sink and rise as one nation under God. Every American, whether Democrat or Republican, should be happy with the re-election of their president and hope a détente between their bickering representatives in the U.S. Congress can eventually be achieved in order for them to rescue the country from its worst fiscal crisis of all times.
Last June 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi was finally able to receive her Nobel peace prize in Oslo, which she won in 1991 for non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights in Myanmar (formerly Burma). An important symbol in the struggle against oppression, Suu Kyi was under house arrest for more than 15 years. Released on November 13, 2010, Aung San Suu Kyi was elected to the lower house of the Burmese parliament last April 2012.
Prince William and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, will soon become parents to a new heir to the British throne. Obviously a happy non-ending even for their naysayers, the blissful life of this royal couple is still a work in progress.
The Seattle Seahawks has found a gem in its quarterback, Russell Wilson. Not picked up during the first round because he stands at 5 feet 11 inches, Wilson is too short for a prototypical N.F.L. quarterback. Against the San Francisco 49ers that appeared like the league’s best team after a road win over the New England Patriots, Wilson threw four touchdown passes, one short of Peyton Manning’s single season rookie record. Who said short people could not throw the football in the big leagues? Doug Flutie already disproved that, and now Wilson is on the road to a great football career.
As much as we have some happy endings this year, there are also some events we hope would as well close as happily.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was found by the court guilty for breaching a conflict of interest guideline and as a consequence, lost the mayoralty. On appeal, Ford hopes to get back his post against the hopes of majority of Torontonians that he’s done for good. It could be a happy ending to Toronto to see Rob Ford out of city hall. Ford, at least, would not run out of choices for another career. He could always bring his confrontational leadership skills on the football field which appears to be the most natural environment for bullies whose bodies are much bigger than their brains.
Darwin, the Ikea monkey that shot to worldwide fame on YouTube, has been ordered to stay at an animal sanctuary until at least mid-January of next year. The famous monkey was found wandering an Ikea parking lot in Toronto wearing a faux shearling coat and seen on YouTube brushing his teeth with owner Yasmin Nakhuda. Darwin’s owners filed a suit to regain custody of the monkey. The owner of the pet monkey claimed that “Darwin is not a dog, he’s not a cat, he’s not lizard. He’s 93 per cent human DNA.” Let’s hope Darwin gets freed to live with his owners happily ever after.
Manny Pacquiao lost to Mexican fighter Juan Manuel Marquez by a devastating knockout in the dying seconds of the 6th round in Las Vegas. Pacquiao’s surprising loss could still turn into a happy ending if only he could accept the nobility in hanging up his gloves for good and focus on politics and humanitarian or civic work, or anything that would not entail fisticuffs on the ring.
A Filipino has recently been appointed by the ruling Conservative government to the Canadian Senate, the first ever for a Canadian of Filipino descent. A senator in Canada has virtually no significant legislative function but serves merely as a formal stamping pad in approving bills passed by Parliament. If he were elected as a city councillor or a member of the provincial or federal Parliament, then every Filipino-Canadian should have a valid reason to be happy, but then he’s not.
As human beings, we don’t have an inexhaustible period of time. We’re not the immortal characters in a Jorge Luis Borges’ story who are unconcerned with their lives or their surroundings. We’re just filling time for now. If we could achieve happiness in our lives here on earth, whether for a long time or short period, then we could tell ourselves that we have lived our lives the way we wanted. Happiness could be that simple.

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