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Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Pursuit of Happiness - Is It Worth Pursuing?

Isabelle and Therese
     Reuben                                                                          Andre    

The Happy Alejar Children :) - 2013


Happiness.


Some people live for it.
Some people die for it.
Some people do everything it takes just to pursue it.

"Basta masaya, yun ang mahalaga." (As long as one is happy, that is what is important.)

I usually hear this too, "Basta masaya at walang nasasagasaan, yun ang mahalaga." (As long as one is happy and doesn't hurt others in the pursuit of it, that is what is important.)

From the outset, yes there is some truth to those statements. As long as a person is happy, it doesn't really matter what circumstance one is in, or what other people think of him/her, or if one has no money in the bank...

But I have also experienced for myself, (I don't know if you'd agree with me on this.) that the pursuit of it, once you have possessed it is fleeting at worst and empty at best. Because in and by itself, HAPPINESS cannot really last. It cannot really give lasting JOY.



Should one really pursue happiness? Is it all there is to life? To be eternally laughing and smiling?

First let us define HAPPINESS.

According to Wikipedia,


Happiness is a mental or emotional state of well-being characterized by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy.[1] A variety of biological, psychological, religious and philosophical approaches have striven to define happiness and identify its sources. Various research groups, including positive psychology, endeavor to apply the scientific method to answer questions about what "happiness" is, and how it might be attained. 



It is of such fundamental importance to the human condition that "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" were deemed to be inalienable rights by the United States Declaration of Independence.




For several years now, the Gallup Poll has been releasing annually their results of "THE WORLD'S HAPPIEST COUNTRIES", and this is their surprising finding for 2012 from LiveScience.com.

Latin American countries are usually
"happy" and "positive" despite
not being "wealthy".
Gallup poll released yesterday reveals that people in seven developing Latin American nations are among the most likely to report being happy and feeling positive about life. Surprisingly, those who live in robust economies like wealthy, business-oriented Singapore are among the least happy people on Earth.

To gauge the relative happiness of residents in 148 countries, the Gallup organization called roughly 1,000 people in each country and asked about their experiences the day before. Among other things, people were asked if they smiled a lot yesterday, if they felt respected all day, if they were well-rested and if they learned or accomplished something interesting.

The countries that reported the highest rates of "yes" answers to these questions were Panama and Paraguay, with an 85 percent positive rate each. El Salvador and Venezuela were next, followed by Trinidad and Tobago, Thailand, Guatemala, the Philippines, Ecuador and Costa Rica.

People sift through trash looking for recyclable plastic bottles at the
 city dump on the outskirts of Belgrade, Serbia, Tuesday, May 24, 2011.
A number of economically challenged families living on the outskirts
 of the Serbian capital make their living by collecting recyclable items at the city dump
 and reselling them. (AP Photo/ Marko Drobnjakovic)
The United States scored in the top half of the poll, at No. 33. Some other wealthy Western nations were near the middle: Germany and France, for example, tied for 47th spot with Somaliland, a relatively poor African region of Somalia.

Many of the nations that scored lowest in the Gallup poll were — not surprisingly — war-torn countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, or places where ethnic strife or political instability were commonplace, including Serbia, Belarus and Azerbaijan.

The Merlion of Singapore, a rich country where people are 
        supposedly "miserable" based on a 2012 poll.
The poll found the least happy residents in the world, however, were in Singapore, a palm-studded, tropical land with a thriving economy and an impressive per-capita GDP comparable to that of any leading Western European nation, according to the CIA World Factbook.



But they're miserable, according to many residents — only 46 percent reported positive feelings. "We work like dogs and get paid peanuts," Richard Low, a 33-year-old businessman in Singapore, told theAssociated Press. "There's hardly any time for holidays or just to relax in general because you're always thinking ahead: when the next deadline or meeting is. There is hardly a fair sense of work-life balance here."


                                                                  Photo Credit: y55happy.com
In addition, various polls use different measures of happiness. For instance, other world-happiness surveys have looked at long-term life satisfaction, with a recent United Nations "World Happiness Report" finding the United States came in a No. 10. That same report revealed Northern European countries, including Denmark, Finland, Norway and Iceland, consistently rank among the happiest and most satisfied nations. Tanzania and Zimbabwe often sit at the bottom of such happiness lists.       (from the article in LiveScience.com.)



Still on the subject of lists...

Here is 2013's list of "THE WORLD'S HAPPIEST COUNTRIES" according to the World Happiness Report 2013 released by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UNSDSN). 

The selection focused on six aspects, including GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, perceptions of corruption and generosity.

 1.   Denmark
2.   Norway
     3.   Switzerland
      4.   Netherlands
5.   Sweden
6.   Canada
  7.   Finland  
8.   Austria
9.   Iceland
 10.  Australia 



Interestingly, based on a 2010 Gallup Poll where most of the "Happy Countries" in the 2013 poll also figured, it was noted that the "happiest countries" were also the "least religious." Based on an article by UTNE.com:

The world's happiest countries have been announced, and three of the top five are among the least religious countries in the world, reports Alfredo Garcia at Religion News Service. Garcia acknowledges that this "might be like comparing apples to bookshelves" and that "measures of 'happiness' or 'religiosity' can often be so vague and difficult to quantify that they lose their meaning" but it's a notable finding all the same. Here's more:
Denmark is the "happiest place on earth."
The nations taking the top spots include: Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands. This might not come as a surprise to many who have been to these nations. What is surprising, however, is that three of these five nations are among the top 10 least religious nations in the world (also from Gallup).
 Indeed, Sweden, Denmark and Norway came in at second, third, and fourth, respectively.  Only Estonia was less religious than these nations.



It gets even more interesting! Based on an atheist student, in the civil debate forum, Debating Christianity & Religion -- a forum for all persuasions including atheists and agnostics, "arguably the non-religious democratic countries are the "BEST PLACES" to live in the world." To prove his point he came up with some facts and figures (I don't know exactly where he got them but he put up some links of those in that forum. The figures below in gray highlights are from his research.)


Here is the list of the richest countries in the world in GDP    (Gross Domestic Product) per person in 2011:



Ranking, Country, US$ 


  1.  Luxembourg 122,272 
  2.  Qatar 97,967 
  3.  Norway 96,591 
  4.  Switzerland 84,983 
  5.  Australia 66,984 
  6.  United Arab Emirates 66,625 
  7.  Denmark 63,003 
  8.  Sweden 61,098 
  9.  Netherlands 51,410 
  10.  Canada 51,147 
  11.  Singapore 50,714 
  12.  Austria 50,504 
  13.  Finland 50,090 
  14.  Ireland 48,517 
  15.  United States 48,147 
  16.  Belgium 48,110 
  17.  Kuwait 46,461 
  18.  Japan 45,774 
  19.  Germany 44,558 
  20.  France 44,401 

Out of the top 20 countries in the list above, 14 belong to the top 25 most atheistic countries in the world. Among the countries that are not part of the top 25 non-religious country is of course USA. 

           Here are the top 4 non-religious countries in the world: 

1. Sweden - up to 85% Atheists - Sweden is leading the world in aid to "poor" countries when looking at giving aid in percent of GDP, Sweden is ranked number one in the world in IT technology, has the most women in the equivalent to the Unites States congress plus many other positive ranks. 

2. Denmark - 80% Atheists or agnostics. Basically has the same numbers as Sweden with the most aid to poor countries in percentage of GDP. Leader in "happiest country" in the world. 

3. Norway - 72% Atheists or agnostics. Once again Norway is really similar to Sweden and Denmark in all the stats about freedom, technology and that the people are satisfied with their life. 

4. Finland - 70% Atheists or agnostics. Has the highest school results of the western world in test results for math, reading (The test is called PISA) 
                                   Click on this to view the 50 Countries with the Highest Percentage of Atheists.                                                                                                        Photo Credits: Impact Lab

       Other countries in the top 25 most atheistic countries include: 

Japan 65% Atheists - Good economy histrionically and has created many high tech things 

South Korea - 52% Atheists This country is growing and growing and will soon have the same GDP per capita as most western nations 

Poorest countries in the world: All of these except Nepal is over 98% religious meaning less than 2% atheists or agnostics: 

Ranking, Country, US$ 

164 Timor-Leste 649 
165 Nepal 644 
166 Gambia, The 620 
167 Guinea-Bissau 585 
168 Rwanda 585 
169 Afghanistan 575 
170 Mozambique 551 
171 Tanzania 550 
172 Togo 511 
173 Central African Republic 483 
174 Eritrea 473 
175 Uganda 453 
Ugandans ranked 175th in the "Richest Countries in the World" Poll

176 Guinea 438 
177 Madagascar 428 
178 Niger 428 
179 Ethiopia 351 
180 Malawi 350 
181 Sierra Leone 347 
182 Liberia 258 
183 Congo, Democratic Republic of the 211 
184 Burundi 
185 Somalia 

Note: The most religious country in the world where 99.99% are believers is in Somalia. Guess how they are doing......Worst in everything..... 

In the UNDP ranking (United nations developing program) Norway is considered the number one country to live in (third most non-believers in the world after Denmark and Sweden). The country in the bottom which is also the most religious is Somalia which is considered the worst country to live in the world. 

Somalia is the "worst country to live in the world", according to a poll.

                You can also look at the most religious Christian countries: 

Honduran Children   Photo Credits: Travel Adventure.com




Honduras - Over 85% religious - Has the most murders in the world per capita 
El Salvador - Over 85% religious - Same problems as Honduras. 

  





                                      Some interesting facts:                                          

This shows the most "happy" countries in the world in which Denmark (80% atheists) is on top. The religious countries are way down below. Of the Top 10, 7 are in the most atheistic/agnostic countries. 

1.   Denmark 
2.   Switzerland 
3.   Austria 
4.   Iceland 
5.   The Bahamas 
6.   Finland 
7    Sweden 
8.   Bhutan 
9.   Brunei 
10. Canada 



Because of his convincing research, this particular agnostic/atheistic student concluded:
                                    A meme

"I have in many forums read arguments that "non-religious" people are living an empty life and are very unethical. 

Look at Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland. You people who think this, I have a question for you...where would you rather live...In a country that has creative people, on top of the world in technology, gives most to other poor countries, have most women in politics, are on top of the "happy nations" when looking at the satisfaction of life but they are not religious. 

I would like you to come over to Scandinavia and debate your negative view of being non-religious to the Scandinavians. 

I also want you to go over to the countries that agree with you such as El Salvador, Honduras, Greece and many other countries that agree with your view on religion (meaning they are religious). Where you you rather live. I think I know the answer. In my view all the non-religious democratic countries seem to be more creative and care for other people in the society. "



                                                                                                    Photo Credits from atheist website:  reedsecular.org







"If God exists he must hate religious countries and love non-religious countries when looking at the facts. " - atheist student



Reading through his lists and data and seeing how "HAPPY", people who do not even believe that God exists or at the very least, do not care if He is real or not, makes a Catholic Christian living in a third world country (The Philippines is the ONLY Christian country in Asia at that!), feel pathetic. :(

How come the "HAPPIEST" ones are supposedly the ones who do not have any relationship with God?
                                                               Photo Credits: Politics Daily


                                      And...

How come the "SADDEST" ones are supposedly those who believe in Him?
                                                                        Photo Credits: Inquirer.net



In the first poll conducted by Gallup, the questions asked were with regards to:  "if they smiled a lot yesterday, if they felt respected all day, if they were well-rested and if they learned or accomplished something interesting." In this poll, the poor nations (predominantly Catholic Christians/ Christians) figured way high on the "happy list" including the Philippines; and Singapore was deemed "the country with the least happy residents in the world."

In the next few polls conducted by the United Nations, the questions asked were: "focused on six aspects -- including GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, perceptions of corruption and generosity."  In this poll, the rich countries (predominantly agnostic or atheistic) figured very high on the "happy list."


                                                               Photo Credits: ampyourstat.com 


I personally believe that polls should not be considered as the holders of the ABSOLUTE TRUTH (there are many factors still to be considered) but they are a GOOD GAUGE of the "pulse" of a nation or group of people. The findings above are worthy to be pondered on and considered.


Given what we know now that poor countries can still be "happy" despite their conditions and rich countries, even more so... Is BEING HAPPY really all there is to life? Should we pursue it at all costs? Should we aim to make it to the "TOP TEN LIST OF THE HAPPIEST COUNTRIES for 2014"?

Ecclesiastes explained it clearly when he said that the pursuit of happiness is like "chasing the wind."

                                     Ecclesiastes 2: 1-11, 17-26


Does “Having Fun” Bring Happiness?
"Happy" Man
I said to myself, “I will try having fun. I will enjoy myself.” But I found that this is also useless. It is foolish to laugh all the time, and having fun doesn’t accomplish anything. I decided to cheer myself up with wine while my mind was still thinking wisely. I wanted to find a way to enjoy myself and see what was good for people to do during their few days of life.

Does Hard Work Bring Happiness?
   "The Successful Man"
Then I did great things: I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made gardens and parks, and I planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made pools of water for myself and used them to water my growing trees. I bought male and female slaves, and slaves were also born in my house. I had large herds and flocks, more than anyone in Jerusalem had ever had before. I also gathered silver and gold for myself, treasures from kings and other areas. I had male and female singers and all the women a man could ever wantI became very famous, even greater than anyone who had lived in Jerusalem before me. My wisdom helped me in all this.10      Anything I saw and wanted, I got for myself;            I did not miss any pleasure I desired.I was pleased with everything I did, and this pleasure was the reward for all my hard work.11   But then I looked at what I had done                                        and I thought about all the hard work.Suddenly I realized it was useless, like chasing the wind.    There is nothing to gain from anything we do here on earth.

Is There Real Happiness in Life?

17 So I hated life. It made me sad to think that everything here on earth is useless, like chasing the wind. 18 I hated all the things I had worked for here on earth, because I must leave them to someone who will live after me.19 Someone else will control everything for which I worked so hard here on earth, and I don’t know if he will be wise or foolish. This is also useless. 20 So I became sad about all the hard work I had done here on earth. 21 People can work hard using all their wisdom, knowledge, and skill, but they will die, and other people will get the things for which they worked. They did not do the work, but they will get everything. This is also unfair and useless. 22 What do people get for all their work and struggling here on earth? 23 All of their lives their work is full of pain and sorrow, and even at night their minds don’t rest. This is also useless.


* * *

Depressive and negative people "love" Ecclesiastes because they say he is just like them -- gloomy,
                                   Credit: © Laurin Rinder | Dreamstime.com
negative and hopeless....  Woohoo! The poster child for despair!

I used to love him too for those very reasons. Somebody in the Bible understood how worthless and senseless life was! Somebody knew what I was feeling!!! Somebody found this life a drag too!!!!! (I had lots of depressive episodes in my 37 years of existence before the Lord convicted me of my sins in September 2013 and changed my heart and nature. There were also long periods of time when I was even suicidal.)

But, what we failed to understand was this:  Ecclesiastes was not "negative" just because he was clinically depressive or perpetually hopeless. "Vanity of vanities. Everything is vanity!", he said. He was merely pointing out that everything on this earth was all in vain, lacking in any sense or meaning... without God. That's the crucial part. The one that we most often fail to see. Without God in the picture, EVERYTHING is futile, including being "happy."


Here was a man who by his own account had:


  • great fun all the time
    Forbes' Richest Man in the World Mexican Telecom mogul
    Carlos Slim Helu of Mexico estimated at $74B probably has
    a checklist similar to Ecclesiastes.
  • enjoyed all the time
  • laughed all the time
  • cheered himself up with wine 
  • done great things
  • built houses and planted vineyards
  • made gardens and parks
  • planted all kinds of fruit trees
  • made pools of water for himself
  • bought male and female slaves (!)
  • possessed large herds of flocks (more than anyone in Jerusalem had ever had before!)
  • gathered silver and gold for himself and other treasures from kings
  • male and female singers
  • all the women a man could ever want (!)
  • fame (He was more famous than anyone in Jerusalem who had lived before him!)


By all accounts, he seemed to be "HAPPY"! He should be super "happy", right? I mean he had all that the world could give -- fame, power, money, women... EVERYTHING!!!

                                                                      BUT...

By his own account too, "he had everything he wanted in life and every pleasure he desired" but "he hated his life"... because "noone can eat or enjoy his life without God."


24 The best that people can do is eat, drink, and enjoy their work. I saw that even this comes from God, 25 because no one can eat or enjoy life without him. 26 If people please God, God will give them wisdom, knowledge, and joy. But sinners will get only the work of gathering and storing wealth that they will have to give to the ones who please God. So all their work is useless, like chasing the wind.



I do not know if the Danish are really as happy as they claim to be or if the Singaporeans are really as sad as they are portrayed to be. Those are just lists, even if surveyed by highly credible polling bodies. Nobody knows for sure. What is on the outside, doesn't really matter. What is inside is what counts. And it is only God who sees our hearts... no matter what the polls may say.


Devotees receive Holy Communion during Sunday Mass
at Santo Nino Church after Supertyphoon Haiyan (Yolanda)
battered Tacloban City -
Yahoo Philippines
I can only speak for myself and I can only speak for my country and I am not a traveler, but I have seen the poorest of poor here and though we are beset with so many problems -- poverty, unemployment, natural disasters, corruption -- Filipinos believe in a Great God. The Filipino puts his hope in God. Even in the midst of all these Job-like tragedies that seem to happen to a lot of the less fortunate Filipinos here, it is rare that you hear of them cursing God. It is almost always, "May awa ang Diyos." (The Lord is Merciful.) or "Mabuti ang Panginoon. Di Niya ako pababayaan." (The Lord is Good. He will not leave me.).

                                                                       Photo Credits: Bubble News

I wonder though... If the rich are stripped of all their material riches, for any reason whatsoever, (and I don't mean in just the rich countries because there are rich Filipinos among us too) would they still be able to truly say they are "happy"?

It is easy to be "happy" when everything is going well. When health care is great and money is easy to earn. When one's children are given the best education and people are well-fed. When the "biggest problem" of the day is what pair of shoes to wear to go with one's new outfit.


But could one be "happy" when nothing is going right? When you see your own mother die in your arms because the nearest 
Sto. NiƱo Parish Church, whose roof was blown away by the storm.
“My faith is stronger than Yolanda. She should fear my God,”
 one churchgoer said. RAFFY LERMA - Inquirer.net
hospital is three towns away? When your children are out-of-school youths because there is hardly enough money to eat and education is the least of your concerns? When the "biggest problem" is if one would survive to live another day?




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
The Lord knows the Filipino is super flawed too and has a myriad of deeply ingrained attitudinal problems that makes it hard for us to progress or become a rich country.
                                Photo Credits: Flicker


(That deserves another lengthy post by itself!) But one thing that I always see and experience amongst the poorest of the poor is their belief in God and their uncanny ability to be "happy" even under the worst of circumstances.






One thing I do know too is that whether we are in sad circumstances or happy circumstances, we must learn to be content and to thank God for everything.

                                      Philippians 4:12 

"I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want."

To end this lengthy post, to the question THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS -- IS IT WORTH PURSUING? My answer is NO.

Why? Because peace of mind can only come from putting all of one's faith in GOD. True joy can only come from focusing on  Him and Him alone. Everything else is fleeting. All else apart from God is as Ecclesiastes said, like "chasing the wind."

I end this with excerpts from 'Bringing The Imitation of Christ in the 21st Century' by William Meninger, a book that seeks to preserve the message of the original Imitation of Christ by Thomas Kempis. The message of both books is "to have a singleness of mind in the pursuit of God through the imitation of Christ and the purity of heart."

"I speak to Jesus: Lord, I must tell myself again and again that my heart is made for you and I cannot find rest elsewhere. In spite of myself, I am always looking for contentment in things, in people, in places, in success or honor.  Help me to know that I will never be satisfied in anything less than You.  When I consider that You have made me for yourself, how can I possibly find any true joy  or satisfaction even in Your Gifts? Knowledge, talent, joy, fame, consolation even the temporary happiness that I sometimes receive from Your Bounty is not YOU.  I cannot ever truly rest in any created being.

Your Gifts are wonderful but they are not You, my God.  They speak of You but only imperfectly. They remind me of You and sometimes even seem to make promises that I know they can never fulfill.  Everything I find in them is but a shadow that calls me to seek the Light.  Only You are truly good, truly beautiful, truly loving.

Let me cry out to You day and night. Let every beat of my heart speak Your Name and let my every breath call forth my desire to be with You.  Everything else is but a chasing after wind."

God speaks to me: "You must not, my child, let your happiness depend on anything but
Me. This includes anyone close to you in whatever capacity; spouse, children, or friends.  Yes, you should love them but always for the love of Me. Remember the Commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself for the love of God.  It is for my sake that you must love others if you wish that love to be real, abiding and everlasting. Anything different from or less than this will only prove to be ephemeral.

Where are your energies directed? What do you have when your efforts succeed in bringing you prestige or a summer home, or expensive cars, or luxurious vacations?  You have just what your labors have sought. How long will these things last?  How satisfying will they ultimately be? How sad it is when people seek anything less than Me, that is what they will get.  You must realize that your hearts were made for Me  and they cannot rest until they rest in Me.  If in your lifetime, you strive to achieve anything less than Me, you will get just that. That is what Hell is.


As long a you focus your gaze and attention on anything less than Me, you will be frustrated and disappointed. Do not let my gifts get in the way of the Greatest Gift I have to give you: MYSELF! If your total attention is given to created things, no matter how good or noble they may be, then you have no room for the only thing that matters, the one thing necessary --- to love the Lord your God with your whole heart and soul and mind and strength."


It is because my heart rests in God that I am most joyful. :) May we always set our eyes on the Giver and not the gifts in order for us to have long-lasting happiness. :D
Daddy and Mommy Alejar - happy couple :)
May we all be richly blessed! :)



4 comments:

  1. I think one should consider that the Scandinavian countries were founded on very Protestant Christian values (hence the excellent social welfare) by their ancestors. God did promise to be faithful to descendants of faithful believers. So saying atheism produces results can only result from short term, non historical thinking.

    ReplyDelete
  2. P.S. My comment was basically meant to criticize tge atheist student's comment, hehe.

    ReplyDelete
  3. P.P.S. Although unfortunately, the materialistic values are slowly creeping in Finland, they are actually much simpler than Filipinos. Also looking at Scandinavian history foremost in their values was a pursuit of living according to Christian values and the success was a side effect of that. Case in point, they all work hard inspite of the welfare.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Erica is Rich! :)

      Thanks for pointing that out. :) It is good to have some background about the Scandinavian countries. My research could only give me very limited insight into why they are what they are now...

      The Philippines has a loooooong way to go with having good (what more excellent) social welfare and being a third world country, it is not free from materialism. We are all witnesses to that. I wrote a post on that too earlier: 'First World Concerns in a Third World Country'. Sometimes the poor are even more materialistic than the rich.

      I pray all nations regardless of material wealth turn to God. Real happiness can only be found in Him.

      Thanks for dropping three lines! ;)

      Ate Nikka

      Delete

Feel free to comment. I would love to discuss things with you. :)