2013.01.02 Finding happiness at the movies

Written by David Green.

By COLLEEN LEDDY

With two more days to wait for their late Dec. 26 arrival, I was sad and impatient for my nearly 22-month-old granddaughter Caroline and her parents to visit this Christmas. They had driven up from Baton Rouge to Kentucky where they were first spending a week with Taylor’s family. 

It was hard waiting for our turn. I turned to Facebook to distract myself. Imagine my delight when I read this, posted by Rosie:

Christmas Eve service with Caroline:

When the prelude ended she yelled, "whoo!" clapping furiously, then yelled, "more, more!"

In the middle of the soloist doing 'O Holy Night' she yelled, "All done! All done!"

And toward the end, she pointed to the butt of her stuffed elf and yelled, "poo poo!"

I burst out laughing and was immediately sustained, sure that I could make it another two days before seeing that sweet funny little girl.

It doesn’t take much to make me happy. I can sit and stare for hours at my amazing grandson, Ryland, who continues to grow and smile and infuse me with the knowledge that miracles are real.

Just being in the mere presence of my children fills me with inner joy. They don’t have to do anything; just seeing them or knowing they are in the house is enough to make me happy.

Sitting on the couch watching Netflix movies on Roku with Maddie after everybody’s gone to bed: That makes me happy. She and I don’t mind giving up on a movie if it doesn’t grab us within 15 minutes.

We’ve gone through a slew in the last week, with only one, “Happy,” giving food for thought. “Happy” caught my eye because it’s one of the movies Heather Walker is showing in her film class at the high school.

“Happy” is a documentary that explores what really makes people happy. As the Rotten Tomatoes website says, “from the bayous of Louisiana to the deserts of Namibia, from the beaches of Brazil to the villages of Okinawa, Happy explores the secrets behind our most valued emotion.” 

The summary on Amazon tells us that “Happy” “combines cutting-edge science from the new field of ‘positive psychology’ with real-life stories of people from around the world whose lives illustrate these findings.”

This movie is filled with so many interesting tidbits about and ways of looking at happiness, including that 50 percent of your happiness is pre-determined by genetics and 10 percent is circumstantial or situational (things you can change, but don’t always have a tremendous amount of control over). But 40 percent is all you...things you can do to change your happiness level.

You wouldn’t think a rickshaw driver from India would be happy, but as he described the delight of seeing his children waiting for him at the end of a long day of work, you could see that happiness.

There’s not really a whole lot of revolutionary science in the movie, just a lot of common-sense advice backed up by science.

Count your blessings.

Perform acts of kindness.

Appreciate what you have.

Exercise…especially in novel ways, like participating in a race dressed up as gorillas.

“To laugh is very important,” said an African bushman.

And, don’t get caught up in thinking that money will buy happiness. After basic needs are met, there’s not much happiness to be had by having lots of money. You’re more likely to step on the Hedonic Treadmill—whatever level of wealth you have, you always want more.

Extrinsic goals like money, image and status won’t make you as happy as intrinsic goals like personal growth, close relationships, and a desire to help.

“Are you happy?” I asked Maddie when the movie ended.

“Sometimes,” she said.

“I don’t think I’m happy,” I said. “I don’t like that we’re not all together all the time.

“You and Dad need to live in a group so you can be the grandmother type to the young kids,” she said, in reference to an intentional community in Denmark where 20 families happily live in close proximity and share meals.

“But I want to live with my own kids and grandkids,” I countered.

“You can’t always get what you want,” she said, unmoved by my perpetual lament.

“Now you know what to do,” she said. “Change the 40%.”

Then she summed up other lessons learned: exercise, help people, practice meditation and compassion, hang out with people.

“Sleep!” she suddenly remembered. An 106-year-old Japanese woman from Okinawa had emphasized the importance of that for happiness. 

“Have some sake and go to bed,” Maddie advised.

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