‘He took comfort in the rich random patterns of his life.’
So Says Christopher Plummer, in the movie Hector and the Search for Happiness.
Hector, a psychiatrist perturbed by his life and its rhythms and routines, takes off for an adventure. He travels the world, he reconnects with old friends, and he asks people if they are happy and what makes them so. He scribbles their answers in his notebook, amongst sketches and quotes and dreams.
Hector asks, really, what is the nature of happiness.
I was reminded of this film by two things. An excellent blogpost by my friend on The Happiness Advantage, and a discussion with students at work yesterday, on what it means to be happy.
We, the students and I, pondered questions along these lines…..Is it enough to be happy or do we want meaning or flourishing or achievement in our lives? What about the role of pleasure? We compared Epicurus and Aristotle on happiness and eudaemonia. Thus, we discussed the nature of happiness…is it pleasure? Can a truly altruistic life be happy, or do we need some pleasures as well in our lives? Enjoying a cup of coffee, the smile of another, stretching out after a hard day. The ecstasy of prayer.
Ultimately, the students wondered about universal principles of happiness. Aristotle thought there were these principles, principles that lead to eudaemonia or flourishing. These build on what it means to be human and the idea of virtue.
Surprisingly, much of what Hector notes mirrors that of Aristotle. Aristotle points out, for example, that ‘Man is a political creature’, so that ‘man is a rational creature who lives in poleis (societies)’. Hector also notes the role of societies in happiness, writing that ‘It’s harder to be happy in a country run by bad people’.
This leads me to ponder happiness and human flourishing. Part of this is purpose and that corresponding P word, passion.
It helps to be aware of our purpose. To lead a life on purpose implies intention. For this, it seems to me, we need some time for prayer and reflection, as an ongoing thing and not just once-a-year. We also need to look at what it is that makes us smile, interests us, breeds enthusiasm (our passions).
And some of that is, simply, self-care. It’s hard to be purposive if we are generally tired or unwell or so busy that we don’t have time to just sit and be and pray. That’s the bone-tired that many mothers of young children feel. And yet it is doubly important that they, too, have time for self-care, for reflection, for enjoying nature and the world and their children and life, to help with burnout.
For parents, too, understanding flourishing means we can promote this flourishing in our children. It is a holistic approach.
No-one is always happy, or flourishing, or being intentional and purposive. That’s okay. We know that.
Overall, however, our life should have meaning and growth and pleasure, caring for others and caring for ourselves. Yes, I am talking here of loving God and neighbour.
To quote Cheryl, a character in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, yet-another-movie-about-life-and-happiness: ‘I love mysteries. There’s parts you think can’t connect and then in the end they do.’
I think she is talking about life. And meaning. And purpose. And happiness.