A King & his chief advisor one day began talking about happiness. They quickly reached a point of disagreement about what brings happiness - a lucky star or wisdom & imagination. King said was luck - vizier said it was intelligence. Disguised themselves and went into town to find out who was right. They saw a poor house, man drinking wine - but looked happy. They asked him why, when he was so poor. He explained: "I am a carpenter, earn 2 rupees a day, one and a half rupees for my family, half rupee for wine. Happy." King told vizier he would now prove that happiness was all a matter of luck.
Decree: forbade giving work to carpenters.
Week later, returned to poor house. But man still happy! "Now work as a painter. 2 rupees a day, one and a half rupees for my family, half rupee for wine. Happy."
King still determined. New decree: Forbade painters.
Week later, returned to poor house. But man still happy! "Now work as a policeman. 2 rupees a day, one and a half rupees for my family, half rupee for wine. Happy."
Decree: police wages reduced.
Week later, returned to poor house. But man still happy! "No problem: I sold my police gun, lots of wine now. Made wooden gun (I'm a carpenter!) painted it (am painter). No problem!"
King still determined.
Next day, order execution of a murderer. Made sure policeman was there.
Ordered him to fire the bullet to execute prisoner.
"Your Majesty, I am a religious man - perhaps prisoner is innocent. Only Allah knows, so release me from this order."
King's orders must be obeyed.
"Then I'll carry out order, but first I'll pray. If prisoner is not guilty, may Allah turn my gun to wood to protect the innocent." Prayed, tried to fire, but miracle happened - gun was wood! All
amazed. Then king turned to Vizier - admitted he was right, not only a lucky star is important for happiness in life, but wisdom and imagination.
Today is the first Sunday of a new month - August - a month of abundance. I've eaten the first tomatoes from the plants growing in pots outside my kitchen. They were sweet and juicy -
like August itself. Life now is in full flow. The days are long and - with any luck - we'll even have a bit more sunshine. Later, there will be time for thinking about autumn and the changes it will bring. Now is the time of summer's true glory. I hope that for all of us, it will be a time with ample blessings of joy and delight!
Not coincidentally, the theme for August is joy.
We know that this world is full of both joys and sorrows, and as we explore together here from week to week, we consider many aspects of how we can deal with life's unpalatable parts - the brown and mushy spots on the fruit of life.
But we less often reflect on and practise enjoying the luscious, sweet, and juicy parts. This month is for sweet and juicy. This month is to help us get more out of every delectable bite of life's goodness.
The poor but happy man of our story illustrates an assumption that I want to make explicit. Your happiness depends on more than your life situation. Your joy depends on more than what happens to you, what you are given, who your parents are, or where you are born.
Now, there is absolutely no question at all that your happiness is strongly affected by what happens to you and the resources that are available to you. Your happiness will be different,
for example, if you are born into slavery than if you are born in freedom.
I took a look recently at an outstanding first-ever report that was released earlier this year. It's called the World Happiness Report. Unfortunately, it's more than 150 pages long and packed with all kinds of rather dense data, but there are wonderful bits we can draw from it.
For example, the authors looked at how big an effect a variety of life situations are likely to have on your happiness. As a way to standardize, they compared those impacts to the effect of getting a 30% increase in your income.
First of all, you need to know that being female vs male is one and a half times as beneficial to your happiness as getting a 30% pay rise. Truly. Women are statistically happier than men.
Being employed is six times as good as a 30% pay rise compared to unemployment. Good health is 15 pay rises worth of happiness over being in poor health.
Being married is worth two times a 30% pay rise compared to being single, 4 times compared to being separated, and 3 times compared to being widowed.
Being in a free country is worth 2 pay rises.
It is quite clear that situations mostly outside of our control can affect our happiness a great deal. There are also aspects of our situations that we do have at least partial control of.
One that we can readily set out to affect is social support - our friends and community. This has a is a huge positive effect on happiness - worth at least four and a half pay rises. Want to be happier? One recipe is to find some community. Make friends...
But beyond our situations and the genetic endowment we have been given, how we approach the world - what we do with our situations - is crucial.
There is a Frenchman called Matthieu Ricard who has been called by popular media 'the happiest man in the world.'
Ricard earned a Ph.D. in Biology... and then left it to follow Tibetan Buddhism. He participated in a scientific study of happiness and scored far higher than average on a range of happiness measures.
He and a number of other people were then subjected to sophisticated brain scans. In those scans, Ricard and the other experienced meditators among the volunteers were shown to
have extremely high activity in the joy centres of the brain and low activity in areas responsible for negative thought. Over many hundreds of hours of meditation, they had trained their brains into a particular, happy, mode of action.
Meditation is not the only way, but it can be a tool for training your brain to be happier.
You may have noticed that I have been talking mostly about happiness, although the theme and the sermon title is joy. Joy is a manifestation of happiness. Think of happiness as a measure of your overall average state of mind. It takes into account your satisfaction, your pain, your pleasure, your frustrations, your losses, and your delights.
Joy emerges from happiness. Joy us a state where we positively shine with a feeling of delight. Happiness creates the conditions that allow this to happen. Unhappy people may have brief moments of joy. Very happy people have a lot of them.
In his poem, Joseph Campbell tells us that 'we can choose to live in joy.' He exhorts each one of us to 'follow your bliss.' Importantly, he reminds us to live from our own centres and that 'the divine lives within [each of us].' There is a unity among us that is unseen, but that we have the opportunity to experience.
Naomi Shihab Nye, much of whose poetry focuses on the suffering of her mother's people - the Palestinians - talks not about misery in the poem we heard today, but about the difficulties of coping with a world full of so much happiness.
Everything, she tells us, 'could wake up filled with possibilities.' We can 'love even the floor which needs to be swept' and 'the soiled linens and scratched records.'
This is not something that can be grasped in an intellectual way. This is joy.
Joy is indeed something we can choose. No - we cannot always be joyful and we will not be unaffected by life's vicissitudes, but we do have the choice of whether or not we will love and rejoice in the moments of our lives.
I want to share some words from author Richard Rudd.
“We [feel a] need to attach a reason to our emotional states. At the high end of the emotional spectrum, we believe that true joy is an effect rather than a cause. Because of this deep-seated belief, we spend most of our lives chasing whatever we think causes the effect of joy - it may be a perfect relationship, lots of money, fame, the perfect place to live, even our God. At the low end of the emotional spectrum, the game we play is blame. We blame anything from the food we have just eaten to our partners to the government for the reason that we feel bad.”
What is outside us does have an effect, but how we respond is not preordained - it is within our power to affect. I spent a lot of my life chasing happiness in success and money. I learned the hard way that these things - or a perfect vacation spot, or a nice home, or a wonderful wife - these are not the causes of happiness. They did not make me happy until I made a shift and became a person who could feel happy - until I became a person who chose to be happy.
Now, I am still not a perfectly joyful person and I will probably never be. I can get very cranky and negative at times, but now I know that I have a say in how I feel and how I respond. Now I know that when I choose joy it is there to be found. I know that if I stop to look around me, I can find a reason for joy and the simplest and most mundane things of life - for glass, for cushions, for hair-cuts, for ties - not to mention the big things, such as wonderful people like you, health, and this building.
There are many things you can do to increase your joy. And none of these are what all the advertising tells you. It is not your shoes, your car, your make-up, your body wash, your perfume, your new phone, your giant TV or any of that which brings more than momentary joy.
I have already mentioned a few things that really make a difference: friendships, community, and meditation practice. Having purpose in your life and good work to do are also certain paths to increase your happiness.
And then, let's turn to the well-known and seemingly paradoxical words of the Dalai Lama: "If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice
One of our truest and surest sources of happiness derives from caring for and even serving others. Focusing on others takes our very busy worrying minds off of ourselves and our own challenges. Freed from that self-obsession, we are free to see the beauty around us.
And I think this points to something absolutely essential.
Bo Lozoff - an American author active in interfaith puts it this way:
“The great teachings unanimously emphasize that all the peace, wisdom, and joy in the universe are already within us; we don't have to gain, develop, or attain them. We're like a child standing in a beautiful park with his eyes shut tight. We don't need to imagine trees, flowers, deer, birds, and sky; we merely need to open our eyes and realize what is already here, who we really are - as soon as we quit pretending we're small or unholy.”
What all of these sources of wisdom are telling us is not specifically what to do to have more joy, but what to stop doing. Stop ignoring the world around you. Stop worrying and planning for the future so much that you fail to enjoy where you are now. Stop telling yourself 'later' or 'I don't deserve joy.'
Joy requires that you allow yourself to be fully present to this moment - to what is around you right where you are at any given moment. Finding joy does not mean searching for it. It means stopping everything we do to push joyful moments away.
There will be more about this in the Sundays to come.
For now, I simply wish that you will increasingly let joy in.
Let happiness flow over you and through you.
And let it shine from you and touch everyone around you.
May this change you. May it change our world.