Monday, February 9, 2015

Lessons I'm still Learning about Happiness

A story told by Alan Watts:
Once upon a time there was a Chinese farmer, who lost a horse. It ran away. And all the neighbors came around that evening and said: "That's too bad” And he said: “Maybe.”
The next day the horse came back, and brought seven wild horses with it, and all the neighbors came round and said: "Why that's great, isn't it?" And he said: “Maybe.”
The next day his son was attempting to tame one of these horses and was riding it and was thrown and break his leg. And all the neighbors came around in the evening and said: "Well that's too bad, isn't it." And the farmer said: "Maybe".
And the next day the conscription officers came around looking for people for the army, and they rejected his son because he had a broken leg. And all the neighbors came round that evening and said "Well isn't that wonderful?" And he said: "Maybe".
How do we know whether an event is good or bad?

"2 Nephi 2:25-26
25 Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.

26 And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given."

1) The purpose of existence is joy.
2) We are fallen and need a redeemer
3) Christ's sacrifice gives us the freedom to choose good
4) This freedom means we always have the potential to act, not merely react by being acted upon

How can we achieve joy? How can we achieve a state of lasting happiness which endures even through both fortune and misfortune? And why are we so terrible at predicting which actions will help us achieve lasting happiness?

A few years ago, I was stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. The driver in the car behind me was deeply upset that I chose to have a two-car length space in front of me. When traffic began to briefly move again, he took the opportunity to change lanes, cut me off and then use hand gestures to fully indicate his displeasure with my driving style. While I often respond in kind to anger, his reaction was so unreasonable that I found myself first laughing and then filled with pity at how much this man must suffer always having himself for company. That day, I learned that pain, suffering and violence are often poor teachers, and that much of the pain we experience is self-inflicted.

The Roman Emporer, Marcus Aurelius stated: "Choose not to be harmed – and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed – and you haven’t been."
He also outline 4 ways in which we do violence to ourselves
1) we are overcome with anger
2) we wish harm on someone else
3) we are overpowered by pleasure or pain
4) we lack purpose and sincerity

Why would people harm themselves in such irrational fashions? When exposed to powerful sensations or strong emotions we may confuse happiness with other things, like the desire for vindication, for pleasure, entertainment or even just getting through the day. We cannot surrender our agency, only our convictions. Also, it is often not the sensation or action against us which causes the most harm, but how we choose to respond to it. 

When I was in my twenties, as part of a business trip, I visited Las Vegas for the first time. Remembering many television commercials where visitors to Vegas were happy and smiling, I wanted to compare real-life Vegas to what had been advertised. I decided to conduct an experiment: I would walk around the casino floor and count the people who were smiling and compare it to the count of people who were not smiling. To my surprise, 45 minutes later, I found the first person who was smiling. I approached the smiling security guard and asked her: "I have been looking for anyeone smiling in this casino for 45 minutes and you are the first one I've found." She replied that I was smiling as well. I then asked her "Why do you think you we are smiling, but no one else I can see is?" She replied: "We're the only ones who aren't gambling"

Richard Turere is a 14 year old boy from Kenya. He was born into a Maasai family. The Maasai are a herding culture who believe that they came from heaven with their cattle and that in this life they have a sacred responsibility to care for and protect their cattle. Richard's family live at the edge of Nairobi National Park, an animal refuge which is home to many herd animals such as zebras, gazelles, and impalas. Since the park has no fence, these wild herd animals will often wander near his family's herd, and this attracts Lions from the park. These Lions will frequently kill and eat Maasai cattle, and to protect their cattle, the Maasai will often kill the hated lions. From age 6 to 9, Richard was given the responsibility to protect his family's cattle. One night, while his family slept, their only bull was killed and eaten by a lion. This deeply saddened him and he resolved that he would find a way to protect his family's cattle. At first, he tried leaving a fire overnight in the cattle pen. This just made it easier for the lions to see the cattle. Next, he tried a scarecrow, but the clever lions saw that since it didn't move, it wasn't a threat. Finally, he began walking around the cattle pen at night while holding a torch. This moving light worked to scare off the lions, but it did not allow him to sleep at night.

Richard also likes to play with electronics. He wired an old car battery through a motorcycle turn signal indicator box to some bulbs from a broken flashlights, with a small solar panel for charging. He put this blinking lights invention on his family's cattle fence, with the bulbs facing outward so the lions could see them. The flashing lights tricked the lions into thinking he was walking around the cowshed, but he was asleep in his bed.  His neighbors soon asked him to repeat his invention for them, and now it is used successfully throughout Kenya as a way to protect cattle without harming lions. 

Richard could have responded in many ways to the lions. He could have responded with violence, which may have protected some of the cattle. He could have ignored his responsibility, letting the lions kill the cattle. Neither violence or passivity would have produced a lasting solution. Instead, Richard chose a third way: the path of nonviolence and creativity. A path that shows love and respect for all involved, even if they are your enemy.

This is the same path the Savior outlined in the sermon on the mount:

Matthew 5
39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.
41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.
43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

Understanding this passage requires some cultural and historical context. When facing someone, the only way to hit their right cheek with your right hand is a backhanded slap, as given to an inferior. Turning the other cheek is not an act of mere passivity, it shows the attempt to demean and bully has not had its desired effect. The only way to hit their left check is with an open handed slap or punch which would be acknowledging them as an equal. In Jesus' time, coats were sometimes used as collateral for loans. Also, nakedness was not a shame to the person who was naked as much as to the person who caused it. Imagine the uproar in the community if people find out a loan shark is literally suing the shirt off someone's back. Likewise, according to Roman law, soldiers could conscript non-Roman civilians to carry their packs, but only for 1 mile. The penalty for forcing civilians to carry packs beyond 1 mile could be very severe. 

"Imagine then the soldier's surprise when, at the next mile marker, he reluctantly reaches to assume his pack, and the civilian says, "Oh no, let me carry it another mile."  Why would he want to do that?  What is he up to?  Normally, soldiers have to coerce people to carry their packs, but this Jew does so cheerfully, and will not stop!  Is this a provocation?  Is he insulting the legionnaire's strength?  Being kind? Trying to get him disciplined for seeming to violate the rules of impressment?  Will this civilian file a complaint?  Create trouble?....Imagine the situation of a  Roman infantryman pleading with a Jew to give back his pack!  The humor of this scene may have escaped us, but it could scarcely have been lost on Jesus' hearers, who must have been regaled at the prospect of thus discomfiting their oppressors. Jesus does not encourage Jews to walk a second mile in order to build up merit in heaven, or to exercise a supererogatory piety, or to kill the soldier with kindness." (Water wink on Jesus

In his sermon "Loving your enemies", Martin Luther King expounds on the nonviolence preached by Jesus:
"We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory."
The Jain concept of nonviolence echoes this: "In other religious traditions, violence is usually associated with causing harm to others. In Jainism, violence refers primarily to injuring one's own self – behaviour which inhibits the soul's own ability to attain mokṣa or liberation.[2] At the same time it also means violence to others because it is this tendency to harm others that ultimately harms one's own soul."
One of the main obstacles to our happiness is not forgiving. Not forgiving is choosing to harm ourselves. It is always the right time to forgive.
Matthew 18
21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
Recent scientific studies show that forgiveness even has tangible physical benefits. Those who have forgiveness in their hearts are able to life more weight and jump higher than those who are feeling resentment.

The key to happiness is love. Happiness is embodied in the two great commands: Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself. As we learn to love and forgive ourselves, our neighbors and God, we will lose the desires to cause harm. By not doing harm to ourselves, we allow Christ's atonement to heal us and make us like Him.

Moroni 10:32
“Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.”

Christ lives. His sacrifice and atonement have the power to give us joy both in this life and throughout eternity. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.