Responding to change with grace increases happiness

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, August 8, 2007

Last week’s column contained several quotes on change that drew a humorous response from coffee companion Carrie Monk. She e-mailed us one of her own favourites: “Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.”

This, in turn, reminded me of a note attached to the tip jar on the counter at Cochrane Coffee Traders: “Fear change? Leave it here.”

Chuckles aside, that column touched on the more serious side of happiness and its intimate relationship with change. I cited English playwright and novelist Charles Langbridge Morgan: “Happiness, like a child, must be allowed to grow up.”

Morgan’s assertion really got me thinking: How can we respond to change so as to increase happiness in our world?

By “happiness” in this question, I am not thinking of selfish pleasure at the expense of others. Rather, I’m thinking of that shared quality of contentment with ourselves and with each other that is fundamental to life in community – finding our happiness in the happiness of the others, and the happiness of others in our happiness.

Or, to paraphrase writer and coffee companion David Ambrose: My happiness is inextricably bound up in yours. (David’s expression is: “My humanity is . . . inextricably bound up in yours,” an interpretation of the South African concept of ubuntu discussed in his 2006 book, Your Life Manual: Practical Steps to Genuine Happiness. See my column, Ubuntu underlies humanity, invites hope, happiness,” May 3, 2006.)

David knows a lot about happiness and change. “The people who are the happiest are those who undergo the most change,” he told me in a recent phone conversation. A near-fatal accident helped him re-evaluate his own life priorities and brought him into his fuller experience of happiness. He invites our readers to make the happiness journey with him through his audio presentations at

Along this line, coffee companion Jack Popjes quoted Charles Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

Since each of us has a part in the happiness of the other, and change – and our response to it – bears on that happiness, I began to think about other people I know who, faced with change, have become shining examples of agents of happiness. One who came to mind is a senior coffee companion from Oakville, Ont., Helen Hare.

I wrote Helen and asked her what her secret to increasing happiness in the world was. I commented that, for my part, increasing the happiness of others is part and parcel of the meaning of love.

She responded, agreeing that giving people happiness is the essence of love – and in particular, making people feel wanted. To show interest in the other person is not just some social pretense for Helen, however. From everything I know of this reflective woman, her affirmation of others flows from her authentic self. She wrote:

When I first married my academic husband 56 years ago and was plunged into a milieu a bit foreign to me – my problem was attending with him conferences and conventions, etc., all around the world and being forced to rub elbows with a great many very clever people in many different streams of science – my husband gave me one tip: just keep asking questions and make the person you meet feel comfortable.

That advice has become a mantra for me. I really do try to make people I am with feel I am interested in what they are, what they are doing, and what they are saying. I think people in general like to feel that they are understood, that their special interests, work, talents, skills, are appreciated.

Everyone has something to give of themselves, and something to receive.

I came from poverty and not from academic or “establishment” status, and being thrust into a totally different world made me very careful of relationships. I have been blessed through the years with a host of friends. Maybe I gave some of them a bit of happiness – hopefully, never any kind of unhappiness.

Helen’s moment of change came when she was thrust into a social world quite foreign to her, she says. But in accepting the challenge of change with grace, she has made many happy – including herself.

Now I’d like to throw out a similar question to the rest of you: What changes have you experienced in your own life that have motivated you to increase the amount of happiness in the world? How have those changes and your response to them matured your personal experience of happiness?

© 2007 Warren Harbeck

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