Happiness is sliding down a big banana leaf

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, June 26, 2002

Last week's column on the late Paul Mark of Morley has opened wide the door to a subject that is obviously dear to the hearts of many: happiness. In that column, I referred to the 100-year-old Stoney Nakoda elder as "one of the happiest people I've ever known."

Happiness is such a fundamental quality of life. Yes, Lobo, in a song popular throughout Stoney Country, captured the joy of living every day in his lyrics: "Stoney, happy all the time / Stoney, life is summertime."

But happiness has long been given top billing almost everywhere.

The United States Declaration of Independence contains these memorable words:

"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*" (italics mine).

The Greek philosopher Aristotle would certainly have agreed. "Happiness," he said, "is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence."

Some would qualify Aristotle's statement, however. Indian Buddhist philosopher Shantideva sees happiness, not as individualistic aim, but as by-product. My wife Mary Anna has carried a quote from him in her wallet for years:

"Whatever joy there is in this world, all comes from wanting others to be happy; and whatever suffering there is in this world, all comes from wanting oneself to be happy."

But happiness is not a matter of just "oneself" or just "others," according to Vietnamese Buddhist monk and author Thich Nhat Hanh. Regarding what I like to call "the lamplighter virtue," he says:

"If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work."

This contagious quality of happiness is echoed in lines many of you have forwarded to me (original source unknown):

"Smiling is infectious, you catch it like the flu. When someone smiled at me today, I started smiling too. I passed around the corner, and someone saw my grin. When he smiled I realized I'd passed it on to him. I thought about that smile, then I realized its worth: A single smile, just like mine, could travel round the earth. So, if you feel a smile begin, don't leave it undetected. Let's start an epidemic quick and get the world infected!"

Not long ago I came across something success guru Dale Carnegie once said that really caught my imagination:

"Did you ever see an unhappy horse? Did you ever see a bird that had the blues?"

Carnegie's question brought two beautiful images to mind that, I think, get to the very heart of the matter.

I was traveling with Lazarus Wesley and Gerald Kaquitts along the Trans-Canada Highway west of Morley some years ago when we saw a horse rolling around in the dust.

To Lazarus and Gerald, it was clear that the horse had just had its saddle removed and was ecstatic in its freedom; it felt so good just to roll in the dust! And vicariously, the three of us could feel good, too -- right in the midst of the day's work.

Then there is this beautiful image passed on by Cochrane coffee companion and avid birder Mike Veloski:

Mike has an environmentalist friend Richard Thomas, also a serious birdwatcher, who was caught in the Nicaraguan rainforest one day during a tropical downpour.

Near him was a banana tree. Swooping out from its trunk was a large V-shaped leaf that reached to the ground, forming something like a rain trough.

A hummingbird flitted to the top of the leaf, jumped into the gush of water and rode it down as if on a waterslide. When the hummingbird reached the bottom, it shook itself off, flew once more to the top of the leaf, and did the same thing again – and again and again.

Amused, Richard had to conclude the only possible explanation for the bird's behavior was sheer fun.

As French novelist and political writer George Bernanos put it: "To be able to find joy in another's joy, that is the secret of happiness."

© 2002 Warren Harbeck

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