Is spirituality a realistic option in the Quest for happiness?

This blog, by Assistant District Manager, Melvyn Howe, first appeared in the “This Is” series.

© Glow Images – models used for illustrative purposes

Given a choice just about everybody would opt for happiness.

For some, according to government research, the answer appears to be living on the Western Isles or in some similar away-from-it-all locations.

Others score high on the contentment index if they are a lawyer or doctor. Still more manage to swop the mid-life blues for the emotional equivalent of Shangri-La for no other reason than they have reached 65.

So say figures released in the summer by the Office of National Statistics.

To my knowledge though no-one mentioned the 1964 box office hit Mary Poppins.

The film memorably featured Dick van Dyke’s somewhat sooty character, Bert, prancing around London’s rooftops and singing: “No where is there / A more ‘appier crew / Than them what sings /Chim chim cher-ee Chim chim cher-oo!”

To some that might suggest an engaging, if socially inconvenient answer – joining the decimated ranks of chimney sweeps, perhaps throwing in a few singing lessons for good measure and then warbling from on high.

Of course, if it was that easy we could end up with lots of sweeps cavorting along the nation’s ridge and hip tiles and leaping from gable to gable while searching for the few coal-fed chimneys still left.

But perhaps, like me, you might want to plump for a more easily accessible form of happiness.

I like to think an Indian yogi glimpsed something of a more universal solution when he pithily observed: “Happiness is not what you want, but wanting what you have.”

To me, that translates as noticing and appreciating the good already in your life – and gratitude is a health-giving attribute say researchers.

I have a feeling 108-year-old Alice Herz Sommer would empathise with that outlook. This amazing woman survived Nazi concentration camps, coped with cancer at 83 and now lives in a tiny London flat where she still plays the piano three hours a day.

“I look where it is good. I know about the bad but I look at the good things,” she said during a recently posted interview.

Even in the concentration camp, where her skills as a pianist proved essential to the survival of herself and five-year-old son, she refused to hate her captors and found that despite the lack of food she never felt pain.

“Maybe we don’t need food when we have something spiritual…Music was our food.”

Extraordinarily, another lesson she has learnt was never to complain. “Be thankful, thankful for everything…Everything is a present, everything.”

Alice’s continuing happiness comes from a spiritual well within, one that never seems to dry up despite the most appalling challenges. It constantly bubbles over with joy to embrace and bless those around her.

She is an example of an important lesson echoed in this year’s World Happiness Report: “The sages taught humanity, time and again, that material gain alone will not fulfil our deepest needs.”

Perhaps the false lure of materialism is why many people struggling with illness and other demands in today’s pressure cooker society find happiness increasingly elusive.

Maybe it’s no surprise then more people of all ages now suffer depression. It’s the West’s principal psychological disorder which, by 2020, is forecast to be the second most disabling condition after heart disease.

That may explain why, last year, almost 50 million prescriptions were dispensed in the UK for Prozac and other so-called “happy pills”. According to the NHS Information Centre that’s a 9% rise on 2010 – figures which follow increasing doubts about the effectiveness of such treatments.

There was a time when my thoughts were plagued with anxiety and questions like “Am I clever enough? Am I worthy enough?”

Although I never got my condition diagnosed, for over a decade I would regularly be plunged into deep despair. I even experienced suicidal urges knocking – unpersuasively, fortunately – on the door of thought.

I always got through these situations and not by taking drugs. Instead, by turning to what I understood to be my spiritual resource – my unbroken link with the divine – a clearer sense of my identity and self-worth would re-emerge

However, when the next problem arose I would again be ridden with doubt.

Then, one day, as I watched Disney’s Lion King with my young son, one thing stood out: the Swahili phrase “Hakuna matata“, which literally translates as: “There are no worries.”

While on one level this is just a sweet thought, for me it triggered a deeply transforming moment that shook me to the core. It struck me that worry had probably never helped any man, woman or child alleviate or solve a single problem. It also occurred to me there had never been a moment when all my needs (although not necessarily my wants) had not constantly been met.

As for that paralysing despair, it’s now a thing of the past.

While I am not yet in Alice’s league, I daily strive to value all the good that is already mine and is constantly increasing.

She reminds me that when happiness is cultivated from within and not solely sought from without, life’s continuing challenges can be better met from the rock-like vantage point of stability and strength.

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Categories: Spirituality and Society, Uncategorized

Author:Tony Lobl

I write and speak on spirituality from my perspective as a Christian Science practitioner. I am also an Associate Editor for the Christian Science periodicals. I studied at the University of Surrey earning a BSc Hons Degree in Modern Mathematics before the impact of spirituality on health caught my attention and re-shaped my career.

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