(This is part two of a six part series on cultivating happiness.)
In the Part One of this series we looked at the importance of paying attention in cultivating happiness. At the end of that post we heard from Eric Weiner's book The Geography of Bliss. He stated, "Attentive people are happy people." He observed that what children want most is undivided attention.
Attention is what allows us to make progress in uprooting distress. If we divert our attention from our discomforts, if we seek endless entertainment or distraction, we will be not be able to make real progress towards happiness. The impulse to seek relief from distress through distraction is a subtle form of denial of what's distressing us, no matter whether it's watching a movie, or reading a book, or even going for a walk.
Paying attention to the source of discomfort gives us a chance to actually fix our problem.
Very frequently our distress comes from our relationships.
Now let us turn our attention again to Weiner's book, particularly its conclusion where he gives us his final word on happiness. It's worth listening to.
Of all the places I visited, of all the people I met, one keeps coming back to me again and again: Karma Ura, the Bhutanese scholar and cancer survivor. "There is no such thing as personal happiness," he told me. "Happiness is one hundred percent relational." At the time, I didn't take him literally. I thought he was exaggerating to make his point: that our relationships with other people are more important than we think.
But now I realize that Karma meant exactly what he said. Our happiness is completely and utterly intertwined with other people: family and friends and neighbors and the woman you hardly notice who cleans your office. Happiness is not a noun or a verb. It's a conjunction. Connective tissue.
If I've learned anything from all these years teaching kindergarten, it's that relationships do matter.
At the end of the day being the best reader or the best math whiz in the school isn't really so important. What will reliably make us happy is being considerate of others, being helpful, being generous, patient, ethical, trustworthy, attentive, and caring for the people we find around us.
The happiest kids in the school are the ones who get along well with their friends.