Wednesday, October 15, 2003

The Happiness Warrior

It should be easy. We are constantly prodded to be merry, easygoing and jovial. Songs instruct us “Don’t worry, be happy”, bumper stickers carry the ubiquitous happy face logo, and even the Hasidic Rabbi, Nachman of Breslov, tells us it’s a “great mitzvah to be constantly joyous”. So how come happiness isn’t as easy as simple slogan?

Actually, happiness is often a struggle. Life can be miserable. If you don’t believe me, just read the newspaper. There are terrorist attacks, suicide bombings, ethnic cleansings, civil wars, as well as bankruptcies and unemployment. On a personal level, it seems that we frequently hear about a crime, illness or death that has affected someone close to us. And frankly, these are the good new days; for most of history, life was far more dismal.

But just because happiness is hard, doesn’t mean it’s absurd. Rabbi Nachman was right; God intended the world to be a joyous place. And if life is (to quote Hobbes) “nasty, brutish and short”, creating happiness is our responsibility. To transform a difficult world, we need people who understand that happiness is neither simple or trivial; we need people who are willing to fight for a happier world. We need happiness warriors.

The first battleground is ourselves. Virtually every human being has had to battle some form of melancholy. Winston Churchill even had a name for his dark moods, calling them “Black Dog”. Happiness warriors never let “black dog” get the best of them. Even during the bleakest moments, they can discover a bit of joy. Steve Lipman in Laughter in Hell: The Use of Humor During the Holocaust documents how concentration camp inmates invented a genre of dark, yet hopeful humor. How do you beat back “black dog”? By chuckling at a wisecrack in while living in hell.

But happiness warriors are not content with personal bliss; their goal is world happiness. They may seem like ordinary people doing ordinary things, but actually, they are transforming the world one smile at a time. Like the secretary who gives everyone she meets with a warm welcome. Or the college student who spearheads a fundraising campaign with his friends to help an impoverished family. Or the middle aged woman who visit hospital patients with a thermos of chicken soup. Or the Israeli highschooler who learns first aid so she can save lives, if God forbid, there is a suicide attack. These may be simple, small, everyday acts, but they transform an otherwise difficult world into a happy place.

Happiness warriors know they face a tough opponent. They stand armed and ready, with smiles, jokes and chicken soup. Perhaps you’ll consider joining the fight; the fate of the world depends on it.