In the Outdoors


 Notes from the North Country
by Lon and Lynn Emerick

In the present worldwide economic climate, we’ll hear much about the Gross National Product Index or GNP. It’s a compilation of the prices of housing, food, fuel and other aspects of living in what are termed “developed countries.”
But have you heard about the small Asian country of Bhutan which uses another type of index— Gross National Happiness (GNH)—to determine governmental policies and actions? What a novel idea. The GNH Index was introduced by the King of Bhutan and is being carried forward by his son and successor.
As contented residents of our Superior Peninsula, the Bhutan experiment got us pondering about the topic of happiness: How do you define it? What are the ingredients? Is it really possible to pursue it?
Many observers see three major elements that contribute to the feeling we call “happiness.” We were intrigued by the concepts set forth by Eric Weiner in his thought-provoking book, The Geography of Bliss:
• When many think about being happy, they mention fun, pleasure, delight. Swiss chocolate, a good joke, a sunset from Brockway Mountain Drive at Copper Harbor, and intimacy with a loving partner are just a few of the things that make us joyful. Fun is important in our lives, especially in troubled times within our families or our country. Yet, notice all these things produce a pleasant, but temporary, interlude. We instinctively know contentment cannot be bought or sold; happiness is not related, except fleetingly, to the number of “toys” we have or the size of our house. For most people, there is more to meaning in life than solely the pursuit of ephemeral personal pleasure.
• Engagement in family, with friends, work and avocations is a second and more important ingredient of happiness. Being deeply involved with others is essential to well-being; in fact, when responding to surveys, people report that more than seventy percent of their lasting happiness derives from relationships with family, friends and colleagues.
• The last, and probably most important ingredient of happiness, is achieving meaning or significance in one’s life. In this case, a person uses his or her personal attributes to serve some larger purpose—in short, to be useful or helpful, to make a difference for others in ways that fit best for us.
We are so fortunate to dwell in this pleasant peninsula where fun and beauty abound, where people look you in the eye and say, “Good morning,” and where we endorse the mission to save, as well as to savor, the land, waters and unique way of life we enjoy.
We know happiness is a byproduct of tight relationships, a connection with community and the willingness to help each other…whether building an expanded library, supporting a children’s museum or Habitat program, contributing to a public radio or TV station, donating to (or better yet, volunteering for) local charities or environmental organizations, or showing up at that Saturday night spaghetti supper to fund vital medical expenses for a fellow resident.
So what about this “search for happiness?” What we have learned leads us to believe it is an elusive concept. Perhaps pursuing happiness as a goal actually causes it to recede from us, and when we engage with and for others, happiness comes as a serendipitous result.
Eric Hoffer writes that an obsessive search for happiness within one’s self (in our own more graphic words, by contemplating one’s own navel) actually may be one source of unhappiness.
The door to a happy life opens outward.
—Lon and Lynn Emerick

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