I recently watched a documentary on Amazon Prime Video called: Happy. It featured real-life stories of people around the world who, despite their circumstances, live happy lives. Something about the ideas presented in the show lingered in my thoughts for days.
If happiness depends on our lives being simple and uncomplicated, none of us stand a chance. Our desire for the glossy perfection we see splashed across our TV’s, phones, and computer screens make us think that happiness is right around the corner, or even worse, completely out of reach. But chasing all of that external perfection is like a vapor in the wind—it disappears before we have even reached for it.
I thought about this as I drove past miles of freeway billboards while on a recent vacation. I was partially convinced that I needed a new ‘ultimate driving machine’ and that I should be a part of a class-action lawsuit for a drug that I may-or-may-not have taken in the past. After five consecutive miles of billboard ads for a total body make-over, I became a little paranoid and wondered if the whole world was aware of the grey hairs on my head and the fine lines that are beginning to appear on my face. Convenient for me, the billboard told me the best body clinic in the western hemisphere was located off the upcoming exit next to a Chick-fil-A. Why wouldn’t I check it out?
Later, I checked my phone for messages and texts and when there were not as many as I expected, I wondered if something had gone terribly wrong. Had I somehow inadvertently offended my friends on Facebook when I posted a picture of my dog wearing a too-tight Seahawks jersey? Was it doggie abuse? These absurd thoughts crowded my mind, and as a semi-reformed perfectionist, it stripped me of happiness and left me feeling somehow less than adequate.
This week I was reminded what real happiness—even joy—looks like. I had the opportunity to speak at a luncheon to support community housing and vocational services for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The audience was filled with business leaders, educators, job coaches, librarians, city council members, families, and caregivers. At one point in the program, a choir of young adults with a range of ability levels took the stage and sang for the audience. They were not all in tune, on tempo, or even singing the exact same words at the same time, but the level of happiness that entered the room the moment they began to sing made the room crackle with energy. How could this handful of young adults achieve this?
The answer is community. That’s what the show, Happy was all about. It was about people showing up for one another, supporting one another, and rooting for one another. It’s hard to believe that it took scientists decades of research to discover that when we feel connected to one another, when we are needed and when we choose to accept help from others, our happiness quotient goes up and we become healthier, live longer lives, and have a greater capacity to give and receive love.
My son had a teacher once who told every parent that his goal was to make sure his students went out into the world with places to go, things to do, and people to see. I didn’t realize how valuable that piece of wisdom was until my autistic son was standing on the precipice of adulthood. Now I understand what that wise teacher was referring to—his goal was for each of his students to belong to a community that valued them, supported them, and most importantly, knew them by name. This I believe, is the true path to happiness.
*For a movie that will raise your happiness quotient, check out: The Peanut Butter Falcon
Kristin Jarvis Adams is a public speaker and advocate for children with special needs, helping to bridge the gap between the outside world and the inner world of autism. Her speaking engagements have included: Seattle Festival of Trees Gala, a benefit for Seattle Children’s Hospital and The Seattle Children’s Autism Clinic. Learn More>>