My husband recently bounded in the door after a routine neurologist visit. Now that sounds a bit odd (after all, what is routine about a neurologist visit?), but he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a condition that depletes his body’s dopamine supply, so he sees his neurologist routinely. While he is faring very well…as I certainly expected knowing the overachiever nature of my dear spouse, he does worry what the future holds.
His “bounding” came from a good visit where the physician felt his symptoms were under control – no change in meds, no serious concerns. He was in good spirits and relayed the one recommendation the physician had for him: do things that make you happy.
A bit of a weird prescription, don’t you think? “Take two tabs of joy and call me in the morning”! He was not telling him that because he has a short time to live and should make every moment count (nope, I plan on having him around for a very long time), but purely because happiness increases dopamine levels. So as it turns out, Bobby McFerrin was right…
My husband is the glass-half-empty kind of guy. We have had a wonderfully happy union, yet there are times when I have to remind him of this. In another post, I described his first tattoo, the Chinese symbol for JOY. I told him “You’re always complaining that you have no joy in your life. Now, you will see joy every day”. Chinese joy, but joy just the same.
His prescription for happiness was received on the official International Day of Happiness, March 20th.
This is a real thing – a celebration of happiness established by the United Nations General Assembly on June 28, 2012. Why does the United Nations think we should celebrate happiness? It turns out there is good reason to “recognise the relevance of happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world and the importance of their recognition in public policy objectives” (UN Resolution 66/281).
There is one place on this planet that uses a different measure. The Kingdom of Bhutan, a South Asian country in the Himalayas, initiated the UN global happiness resolution. Bhutan has the distinction of being the happiest country in Asia and the 8th happiest in the world (Denmark was ranked 1st, US ranked a lousy 23rd “due to nagging poverty and spotty health care”). So why didn’t Denmark start the movement instead of that tiny Kingdom? Bhutan is unique, as all the economic factors used to measure gross domestic product (unemployment, agriculture, retail sales, etc.) are analyzed for their impact on its residents’ happiness – called the Gross National Happiness (GNH) index. To the Bhutanese, happiness matters most, not money. Public policy follows as decisions are based on the happiness-based economy rather than a consumption-based one.
Buddhist principles teach us that happiness is our birthright. Pharrell Williams clumsily tried to say this at the UN during its Happiness Day Celebration. Best to stick to writing songs and singing, Pharrell.
According to B. Alan Wallace in Buddhism with an Attitude: The Tibetan Seven-Point Mind-Training, happiness is a birthright that just needs to be discovered by stopping behavior that encumbers innate contentment. Hmmm, may be easier sang then done (with apologies to Paul Simon):
The problem is all inside your head they said to me
The answer is easy if you take it Buddhist…ly
We’d like to help you in your struggle to be free
There must be fifty ways to make you happy
You just throw out the blues, Hugh; get a new job, Bob
You don’t need stress, Bess; just make yourself smile.
Go for a hike, Mike; you don’t need to be anxious much
Let go of the strain, Wayne; and get yourself free
Unfortunately, it can be tough to give up all the baggage that leads to our winter (spring, summer, fall) of discontent. It would be nuts to arrogantly say “Snap out of it!”
But wouldn’t it be lovely to just walk away from the unhappiness? To spark those happy neurotransmitters? Let’s spark some right now…cause I am happy when watching people of age dance and laugh their arse off.
With mental prescription in hand, my partner in life is determined to turn around any pessimistic, curmudgeon, glass-half-empty tendencies…with my help of course. Why me? I am his optimistic opposite. I am as happy as a dog with two tails!
Half-empty, half-full. Together we make a tall flute of sparkling dry Prosecco… oooommm, something that give us both joy!
Share your thoughts…tell me what gives you joy.
Original published here.