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Happiness is a choice. We humans have an extraordinary capacity to choose our way to authentic happiness. Regardless of social, economic and environmental pressures on the outside, we maintain an extraordinary, you might even call it miraculous, ability to choose our lens of perception.
We can view our challenges as failures or learning opportunities. Most of us know which one leaves us powerless and which one empowered. Like the drunk in the bowling alley remarked to a lamenting Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day, "I betchu's a glass half-empty kind of guy." The soused sage was illuminating the principle that we always have a choice to view a situation from the negative end of the scale or the positive.
After we've had our fun complaining and moaning, we usually get around to looking for the gold in the hole we've found (or dug) ourselves in. I can say I've had a lifetime to experiment and test the "Happiness is a choice" maxim. It's not always easy, but it's definitely true. The trick often lies in bringing your body along for the ride. We'll exercise our happiness muscles in this call. It's something I've taught for nearly 20 years. It works.
Freedom begins with liberating our nervous systems.
Let's hear your stories of how you create happiness...
I wish I could juxtapose videos of the babies being torn apart by US drone bombs in their beds or in their parents' arms with videos of the happy, laughing, smiling US voters who knew what their government is doing in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mali, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Syria, when they voted their consent of the governed to authorize their government to keep killing babies in their name.
Many voters are smiling and laughing because they are on anti-depressants or have narrowed their lenses so as not to see what they're responsible for. Those who have to do their killing as not as fortunate--for every US troop killed in combat, another 25 commit suicide.
I create happiness by opposing genocide. People I've convinced to stop voting for genocide tell me that they feel literally enlightened, as if a huge weight had been lifted off their shoulders. I know that the world will be a much happier place without genocide. I will continue to create happiness by opposing genocide and trying to convince people not to be complicit in crimes against humanity. Some may believe that genocide is necessary for their happiness, but it is not. They could choose to be happy without genocide. They really could if they had the guts and imagination to try.
The people of Bhutan are happy because they are not the targets of genocide and are not committing genocide. Venezuela went from being a miserable, impoverished oligarchy to one of the happiest countries in the world when they ousted their oligarchy and got a government that was not tied to US imperialism.
The point you make Mark is most important and the source of great controversy. We had this very discussion among our Occupy Cafe Core Team members yesterday. Ought another person's suffering, no matter where in the world, preclude our personal happiness? If I am happy, does that mean I am numb, uncaring or oblivious to the suffering of others?
My quick, over-simplified response here is that being happy within myself, does not preclude my ability or capacity to feel empathy and compassion. If I cannot find the muscles to my own happiness, most likely I will be of little use to another person who is suffering. This I have found this out through decades of holding space for others to come through their suffering. There is a saying I've found useful for clarifying this confusion: "You can't be hungry enough to feed staving people. You can't be sick enough to heal the ill. You can't suffer enough to relieve a person's suffering."
Thank you, Jitemdra. I wasn't expecting a reply and it makes me happy to see one. It makes me even happier that your response takes what I wrote seriously and addresses it rather than attacking me. You have never attacked me, but I have gotten responses on Occupy Cafe that resorted to attacking me or my writing style and tone, to avoid addressing the problem.
I certainly don't think that anyone should be unhappy, or that being unhappy will help others. There are many people who are happy specifically because they have devoted part or all of their lives to helping others in need and to alleviating suffering. Their happiness does give them the strength to bring happiness to others. They are capable of being happy without causing or condoning the suffering of others, their happiness is well deserved and extremely useful, and should be a model for us all.
What I'm talking about are people who cause or condone suffering to innocent others, and remain obliviously happy. Democrats were not happy when Bush began his wars of aggression based on lies in Iraq and Afghanistan, and many spoke out against it and campaigned against him because the suffering of others did not make them happy. But when Obama because President, continued those wars and started five new ones, they remained happy. They were happy that their candidate won, and the fact that he did more evil than Bush and hurt more innocent people did not make them unhappy. They voted for him again in 2012.
Although I'm an atheist, I was born and raised Jewish. Because I heard so much about relatives I'd never met who died in concentration camps, I did a lot of reading about The Holocaust. Nazi officers who were assigned to work in the camps had different reactions. Some suffered nervous breakdowns and had to be assigned other duties. But some were able to detach themselves from the horrors they saw and were a part of daily, and went home to their families every day and were happy. They rationalized that they were doing their jobs, that what they were doing was necessary to their country's and their families' happiness, and they did not allow conscience or morality to stop them from being happy.
A few years ago there was an elderly Jewish Holocaust survivor living in Israel who had rented rooms to some Arab students. He remembered when nobody in Germany would rent rooms to Jews and he was determined not to be like the people who had hurt him. Hillel said that the essence of Torah is not to treat others in ways that you would consider hateful if you were treated that way, and this man was simply following Torah when he rented to Arabs, because he had felt the hatefulness of Germans who refused to rent to Jews. But his Israeli neighbors threatened to kill him and he had to evict the Arab students to avoid being killed by his Jewish neighbors. As you can imagine, this didn't make him happy, nor did it make the students happy, but it certainly made his neighbors happy. Some derive their happiness from alleviating suffering, or at least from knowing that they are causing the least amount of suffering they can, but some derive their happiness from inflicting suffering on others or ignoring the suffering of others.
I'm part of a small mailing list for election boycott activists, and when I wrote about how my local organic food cooperative, in trying to get out the vote for Prop. 37 (non-GMO labeling), used the headline in their monthly newsletter, "If You're Not Voting, Who Are You Electing," and why I am bringing a proposal to their Board of Directors to ask that they stop condoning genocide and not help get out the vote in any Presidential election where the only candidates with any chance of winning are both committed to genocide, Deborra Ann Low responded by writing:
One of the things I find extremely frustrating is how easy it is for voters to
convert a non-vote into a vote with statements like, "When you don't vote, you
are actually voting for the bad guys and you're apathetically letting the
greater evil win." Yet, they completely deny how their vote truly endorses
everything the government does in their name. They'll over emphasize and
praise things like the possibility of lowered taxes while they completely
dismiss or even justify things like genocide as the nettlesome hazard of
collateral damage - as mindless as putting up pest strips in their backyard
patios. We are a nation of psychopaths and their enablers.
Prop. 37 failed, but it doesn't matter as we already have non-GMO labeling. It is voluntary rather than mandatory, but in a capitalist system any corporation that qualifies for the label will use it voluntarily as it enables them to sell more of their product and make greater profits. Should it become mandatory, Monsanto would probably take it to the Supreme Court and it could be struck down as interfering with Monsanto's constitutional rights, making even voluntary GMO labeling illegal. But even though it didn't pass, it did serve the purpose of helping the corporations that spent billions of dollars financing election campaigns, get out the vote for an election in which only a pro-genocide Presidential candidate had any chance of winning.
I truly believe that people are happier when they don't have to detach themselves from the evil they are doing or condoning, and when they refrain from doing or condoning evil, and that when people are happier, they are better able to help others be happy. At least they're not causing or condoning more unhappiness in the world.
In my Thanksgiving essay this year "Giving Thanks For Nothing!" I wrote, in response to those who say that boycotting elections is doing nothing, "If refusing to do, participate in, or consent to evil is doing nothing, then the more people who do nothing, the less evil there will be in the world." In saying this, I am being selfishly concerned with my own happiness, because the less evil and needless suffering there is in the world, the happier I am.
We have a winner-take-all electoral system, in which the Presidential candidate who gets the most votes, can claim to have been democratically elected and to represent the will of the people, even if half the people didn't vote and half of those who voted, voted for somebody else or left that line blank on their ballots. In a system like that, when the only candidates with any chance of winning are both pro-genocide, all votes are taken by the winner and claimed as their consent of the governed to whatever the winner wants to do, including genocide.
Here in San Diego, many people voted for our new Mayor, Bob Filner, a former Freedom Rider who is definitely one of the good guys and who will do great things for our city. Among the things he wants to do is to end homelessness, particularly for veterans, who constitute as much as a quarter of all our thousands of homeless people. Bob cares about veterans. During his years in Congress he chaired the House Veterans' Affairs Committee. But the number of homeless veterans kept increasing, the military budget kept increasing, and he found it difficult to get enough money to be able to help veterans. He said during his election campaign that he thought he'd have more power as a Mayor than as a Congressman, but he still won't be able to stop the military from creating more homeless veterans. They have billions to spend on war crimes that cause our troops to die, kill themselves, or become human wreckage struggling with PTSD, and he will, at best, only have a few millions to try to help a fortunate few while more are created every day.
To answer your question, Jitendra, no, another's suffering should not preclude our personal happiness. unless we have caused or condoned that suffering. If we personally caused that suffering, or if it was done in our name because we signed our name when we voted in an election where we knew that suffering would be the only possible result, then the only way those who caused or condoned the suffering can be happy is by being numb, uncaring, and/or oblivious to the suffering they caused. Helping to alleviate suffering that you caused or condoned is like a fireman first setting fire to a house, and then rushing to put the fire out. It may make him happy to put out fires, but that doesn't justify arson. Protesting government actions that you condoned by voting is the same thing. If you know the result won't make you happy, just stop doing it, rather than first doing it and then protesting what you did.
Nor can people shirk their responsibility by saying that they did not commit genocide, they delegated their power to the government and it was the government that did it, not them. If somebody is drunk and you give them your car keys, can you say that you are not responsible when they crash?
My writings have convinced thousands of people to stop voting. I have never seen a single report of anyone becoming less happy as a result, and I've heard from many who wrote to me to thank me because they'd become happier once they'd stopped condoning things that didn't make them or others happy.
I hear you use the word happy to describe members of one party or another, or even the Nazi officers that remained to participate in the concentration camps. I'm not certain these people were/are actually happy. There is a a significant difference between adapting to a level of comfort or acceptance and genuine happiness. A genuinely happy person is really incapable of harm. A person appearing happy on the outside, yet foisting harm or suffering on others may better be described as dissociated to a lesser or greater degree. At the greater degree, sociopathic.
As far as the vote/don't vote, you already know we have informally agreed to disagree here.
Yes, the words for those who give their consent of the governed to a government they know is engaged in genocide, would be disassociated or sociopathic, even if they appear to be happy.
Where we seem to disagree, and please correct me if I'm wrong, is that you don't think that voting is delegating your power, granting your authority, and giving your personal consent of the governed when you sign your name in order to vote, to the government holding the election, and, more specifically, in an election in which the only Presidential candidates with any realistic chance of winning, are both pro-genocide, consenting to genocide.
If a government is engaged in genocide, and the only candidates with any chance of winning an election are both pro-genocide, I don't see how voting for local candidates or worthy initiatives, in a winner-take-all system where the winner claims all votes as proof of having been democratically elected and representing the will of the people, is not consent to genocide. While it may make someone happy to consent to genocide, I think their happiness is better described, at best, as being disassociated from the harm that their vote foists on other people, and to the extent that they may be aware of what they are doing rather than disassociated, even sociopathic.
Many websites are started by Democratic Party activists as a tool for getting out the vote, particularly the better ones that have more start-up funding. They usually focus on attracting a larger audience between elections, so that they can use their popularity to leverage votes for the Democrats. Therefore they allow greater leeway in discussions between elections, when they are trying to attract a wider readership, but at election time they make it clear that their purpose is to support the Democrats.
I fully agree that the Republicans are at least as evil or more evil, and that other parties have no chance of winning. But I don't find genocide that is unacceptable when Republicans do it, to be acceptable when Democrats do it. It is still a crime against humanity no matter who does it. I think you have to be disassociated or sociopathic to be happy when genocide is being committed in your name, just because it is being done by your own political party.
Wars of aggression and genocide are the worst crimes against humanity there are. There is no greater evil. Those who commit fewer atrocities are not less evil than those who commit more atrocities. The person who kills a thousand innocent babies is just as evil as the person who kills five hundred thousand innocent babies, as we did in Iraq. The person who has only five drinks before they get in their car and kill a pedestrian is not less evil than the person who has seven drinks before doing the same thing. But if it were true that there was a lesser evil, then the Democratic Party, which is engaged right now in seven wars of aggression, would be a greater evil than the Republican Party which engaged in only two. We know that reasoning is incorrect. But what reasoning can say that the party that does more evil is less evil than the party that does less evil? Isn't that as disassociated or sociopathic as you can get?
Voting for evil is doing evil. Being happy about it is disgusting.
I don't think that people who vote their consent to genocide are really happy, no matter how happy they may appear or claim to be. If they were happy, why would they be protesting the results of their votes? Why would they be seeking ways to disassociate themselves from their votes? Why would they refuse to even discuss the cause and effect of voting, and close their minds to reality?
I agree that there is a difference between adapting to a level of comfort made possible by genocide, or acceptance of genocide, and genuine happiness. I think people will be genuinely happier when they stop hurting other people. I try to create happiness by helping people to understand that they will be happier when they stop adapting to or accepting genocide. It isn't necessary for them to hurt other people in order to be happy, so they become happier when they learn that they don't need to adapt to or accept things that aren't really necessary.
There is a certain amount of harm we do that we cannot avoid. When we breathe we are not only inhaling oxygen and pollutants, we are also inhaling microscopic creatures. I'm certainly not saying that we should stop breathing in order to stop doing harm. But when my vegetarian co-op stands firmly opposed to the taking of life, but makes an exception for the taking of human life, I feel an obligation to explain to them that the taking of human life is no more necessary than the taking of animal life. I do this for my own happiness, but knowing that it can also increase their happiness and the happiness of the people in the countries where our government is committing genocide.