Everybody deserves to be happy. But what is happiness? Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs shows us the different levels of needs which can be met to obtain happiness. They’re in a pyramid form because the lower levels must be satisfied first before the upper levels can be achieved. First there’s the purely physical needs to sustain life. Then there’s safety and security. Follow that up with feeling loved and belonging. Above that is esteem and at the very top is self-actualization. This is an interesting way to consider it but maybe a little too methodical and strategic for practical use. It’s good for picking out on which stages you’re falling short in your attempts to correct yourself, at least. I find the older I get the more I agree with this quote from Aristotle,
With respect to acting in the face of danger,
courage is a mean between
the excess of rashness and the deficiency of cowardice;
with respect to the enjoyment of pleasures,
temperance is a mean between
the excess of intemperance and the deficiency of insensibility;
with respect to spending money,
generosity is a mean between
the excess of wastefulness and the deficiency of stinginess;
with respect to relations with strangers,
being friendly is a mean between
the excess of being ingratiating and the deficiency of being surly;
with respect to self-esteem,
magnanimity is a mean between
the excess of vanity and the deficiency of pusillanimity.
In Buddhism and the Middle Way philosophy, avoiding extremes is recommended. I’ve seen people extremely ecstatic and extremely depressed. This roller coaster of emotions isn’t a path to happiness. The highs can feel really good when you’re on them but the lows bring you crashing down. It’s much more rewarding to spread the happiness around over-all with a fair consistency. This isn’t always possible but it’s a good goal to strive for with your day.
It’s important to surround yourself with positive energy. I don’t quite mean this in the chakra sense. I mean, if you want to be happy, spend time with happy people. Plenty of people are only happy if they have something to complain about. They’re unsatisfied so they seek to make other people so. I can understand the logic in that but it’s flawed. If you’re unhappy with your own situation you should focus on changing it rather than bringing other people down. This also swings the other way. Some people feel they have to help everybody. This is a noble gesture but it leaves you open to being taken advantage of as well as adding significantly to your own stress and anxiety. You can’t always help everybody and you can’t always solve every problem. You have to be realistic with yourself and your expectations. As long as you do your best, that’s all anybody can ask of you.
Charlie Chaplin became famous for playing the “Little Tramp,” a character who had a pretty sad existence but wormed his way into our hearts through his sympathetic nature and goofy antics. Though at one point he’s so poor he resorts to cooking a shoe, we laugh because of his “oh well” attitude and how he struggles to even manage something as simple as eating it. It’s the struggle we relate to. In his worn-out, ill-fitting suit, this little gentleman never gives up – something we’d all like to remember in the darkest times. If you’ve ever seen the movie Chaplin, you know he really did have a pretty rough life. Yet even today his films entertain us and we remember him with a smile.
Bill Cosby is another interesting case. For his doctoral research he wrote a dissertation, “An Integration of the Visual Media Via ‘Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids’ Into the Elementary School Curriculum as a Teaching Aid and Vehicle to Achieve Increased Learning.” He’s a very intelligent man. If you ever get the chance to watch an interview with him I suggest you do it. He has a way of speaking to children that isn’t talking down to them but rather speaking as a buddy. He’s often seen as a father figure based on his comedy routines and his series The Cosby Show. I got the chance to see him speak at my college several years ago. I know he’s said some controversial things at times but he’s a very interesting person to listen to and always entertaining.
Fred McFeely “Mister” Rogers is a staple in many people’s childhoods. His show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, was a warm, gentle, friendly place. Some people make fun of it for being so inoffensive but it does deliver a certain charm to it’s intended audience. Above that, Rogers himself was quite possibly the nicest man in the world. From everything I’ve heard, he was a Presbyterian minister who didn’t drink, smoke, ate vegetarian, was such an advocate of recycling that he brought trash home with him when he went on vacation, and whenever he was asked to say something bad about non-Christians or gays he would sincerely say, “God loves you just the way you are.”
The Muppets are also a staple of many people’s childhoods. Even if you’re an adult now you can still enjoy Jim Henson’s funny, charming, and entertaining characters. They’re timeless and at their heart upbeat about life. It’s not always easy being green, as Kermit’s made famous, but it’s who he is and he’s fine with it. Just as we all should try to be happy with how we ourselves are.
Charles Monroe “Sparky” Shultz gave us Peanuts, a comic strip that has spawned movies, TV shows, musicals, you name it. Charlie Brown is the perpetual loser. Always hoping to kick that football. Always wanting to talk to the little red haired girl. The prime-time animated special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, dealt with depression and stress brought on by the over-commercialism of the holiday. It’s poignant, charming, and still holds up. At the end of the day, Charlie Brown goes to bed ready to try his luck again in the morning, because tomorrow’s another day.
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is a movie you can watch over and over again, finding something new each time you see it. Paul Ruebens’s character is a perpetual child and the cartoony situations he finds himself in as he searches for his stolen bike never cease to bring a smile. In some ways he’s like the “Little Tramp,” always facing his challenges with silly optimism.
Robert Norman “Bob” Ross hosted The Joy of Painting. I got into disagreements with my professors in college about this show. I always found him entertaining and it’s pretty fascinating that he got a show about watching him paint landscapes. My profs considered him a gimmick to sell paint to amateurs to use a handful of tricks on. I, on the other hand, appreciate his ability to construct a scene out of thin air and have fun with it. This is important to remember when you’re doing those tedious backgrounds that comics folk hate to spend their time on. Instead of seeing it as a chore, he’d make up little stories to himself about the caves and the mountains, maybe imagining a little bear that lives there. His technique is also very fluid, never making mistakes, only “happy accidents.” He once said, “I got a letter from somebody here a while back, and they said, ‘Bob, everything in your world seems to be happy.’ That’s for sure. That’s why I paint. It’s because I can create the kind of world that I want, and I can make this world as happy as I want it. Shoot, if you want bad stuff, watch the news.”
All of these people and characters set out to be happy regardless of what the world throws at them. It’s not always easy but I find when you smile at the world it can often smile back. 🙂