Friday, June 06, 2008

Your happiness index

by Chato Olivas-Gallo
(Talk for "Thought for the Week" radio program)

It has been almost 13 years ago, but I still remember the feeling so clearly, when I held my firstborn, my baby boy in my arms and I had a deep sense of joy. It was such great joy that even the word joy or happiness does not seem enough to describe it. I held him in my arms, stared at his little face, and could not have enough of him. He was my baby, God’s precious gift to me.

His coming into my life seemed to extend my years, and I could imagine him starting to walk, then going to school, finishing primary then secondary school, then going to college, having a job, and then his own family, and later my grandchildren. It was pure happiness. Then when I had my second child, that amazing sense of happiness doubled. I love being with them, and even gazing at them in moments when they are not aware, as when they are playing, or even sleeping. Being with them, and with my husband, make me extremely happy and satisfied.

Yesterday, I took a happiness test found in the internet. It’s quite a simple test with only five statements, and you are to choose how each one applies to you. You write numbers 1 to 7, 1 for strongly disagree and 7 for strongly agree. The statements have to do with your ideal life, excellent life conditions, life satisfaction, getting the important things you want in life, and if you would live all over again, whether you will mostly not change anything.

According to this test, there are key factors that influence happiness. Social relationships are one of these. The better your friendships and family relationships are, the happier you are. It follows that if you have bad personal relationships no matter how much money you bring home each month, your happiness score would be low. Another important factor is if you enjoy what you do at home, work or school, and if you find meaning in it. You must also consider personal factors such as spiritual life, leisure or learning, and a connection to something that is bigger than yourself - a sense of significance.

The test does not say anything about economic wealth as being a factor, because it is not. How many people do you know who make a lot of money and yet never seem to be happy? On the other hand, how many people do you know who have just enough to get by and yet are happy because of very satisfying personal relationships, satisfying work whether paid or unpaid, or a great sense of making a difference in the world?

The sense of making an important contribution to the world certainly makes people happy. At present, I am with an organization called Christian Solidarity Worldwide Hong Kong, a human rights organization that serves as a voice for the oppressed. We are an advocacy organization, speaking up on behalf of people in Burma and North Korea, where persecution takes place on a grand scale. People join our cause when we provide them simple yet important ways to speak up such as signing postcards calling for justice for North Koreans. These postcards are addressed to the United Nations Secretary General in New York, urging him to take decisive action.

Many have signed these postcards, including boys as young as 10 years old, after they see a video clip and hear about what is happening in North Korea. One little signature can call attention to the plight of whole groups of people, and this can eventually lead to change. For those who sign, it gives them a sense of happiness, a connection with a cause bigger than themselves.

This week, take time to reflect on what really makes you happy, and do not be afraid to take big steps in that direction. Have a happy week.