AN observation by the Oxford scholar, cleric and writer Sydney Smith caught my attention.
He pointed out that if each of us could gladden the life of one other person each day, “in 10 years you may have made 3650 persons happy, or brightened a small town by your contribution”.
Apart from being a striking reminder not to discount the power of small beginnings, it set me thinking about happiness.
It reminded me of a conversation with Nightline’s clinical psychologist George Burns.
It’s a subject on which he has been invited to address the UN by the people of Bhutan. This tiny nation conducts an annual nationwide survey of Gross National Happiness. George has spent several months working there as a volunteer.
Our conversation was about common misconceptions that prevent people experiencing happiness, particularly seeing happiness as an end goal. “It’s the journey, not the destination”, he explained.
That makes sense to me.
If happiness were the goal, it could never be experienced along the way. It’s hard to imagine a golden pot of glee at the end of a joyless slog.
What’s more, as John Lennon sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”.
Author Henry David Thoreau agrees. “Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder,” he said.
I find the words resonate with a piece of what I think is called the GROW wisdom (used by the excellent self-help group of the same name). It’s stayed with me ever since I first heard it.
“Settle for disorder in lesser things for the sake of order in greater things; and therefore be content to be discontent in many things.”