Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Of Friends and Happiness
The question of what is the relationship between finding friends and happiness. Perhaps the place to start is with meaning of the words “friends” and “happiness”. For truly we all have friends (to some degree) and we all have happiness (to some degree). Maybe what we are searching for is “true friends” and “true happiness”.
After some time on this planet many of us discover that we can have short-term happiness that leads to long-term misery. If you want to fly like a bird and jump off of a high mountain and flap your arms and say “I am flying” you will have a few moments of happiness and then you will feel great pain or perhaps you will die. This is short-term joy. The same happens if you drink alcohol. For a short time you escape from the things that burden your mind. But while you are drunk you may do something that can impact your life in a bad way for a long time.
Some things bring long-term joy. If you help another person without an expectation of something in return you feel real joy. An elderly woman is walking home from shopping. Suddenly the plastic bag she is carrying cucumbers in breaks. You help her in some small way and go on your way. You never meet her again and no one else knows. Your reward is in your heart and in your heart only. Or perhaps you could say that only you and God or Heaven know.
So this kind of thing is true happiness. It can be a big act or a small action but helping others brings you joy and this joy lasts. Helping others becomes a habit. You find little ways to help others wherever you go. This makes the world a better place and brings joy to your heart. So in a very real sense this is the secret of happiness. You look for magic opportunities to help others, to encourage others, to bring joy to others.
But you are not alone in the world. We have family, we have friends, we have many people we know. How can friends and family make me more or you more happy?
Let’s first look at the negative part. If you have a “friend” who always criticizes others does it bring anyone joy? No, in fact it is one of the most divisive and negative acts in the world. Gossip based on fact or fiction brings only misery. Misery to the person who spreads the gossip, misery to the person who listens to the gossip and misery to the person who is being talked about. So I would say a friend like that is not a friend. To a friend like that I think we should tell them that this is not a good thing to do and you’d like them to not gossip around you. If it does not work, then I would avoid such a person.
The Baha’i religion (which I accepted as my path in 1970) talks about the importance of love, of unity and justice. It also forbids gossip. It says, “Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art thyself a sinner. Shouldst thou transgress this command, accursed wouldst thou be, and to this I bear witness.”
In the Baha’i Faith there is not a lot of talk about the “evil one” as some force like a devil. There is no description of some evil force with “god like” powers but who is evil. However, there is one passage that stands out in relation to friends and how to find friends. Baha’u’llah states, “The Evil One is he that hindereth the rise and obstructeth the spiritual progress of the children of men.” To me this means that the most evil kind of person (or the most evil kind of actions) are those that prevent the “spiritual progress” of others. Some people are what I call “dream killers”. You know such people. Whenever someone has an idea or a dream, they feel it is their duty to explain that the dream is not practical or that you don’t have enough money or intelligence or beauty to accomplish such a dream. These people, I would also avoid in my choice of friends.
So how to choose “good friends” ? Should they have money, good looks, be smart or what? Well it turns out that often those with the most beauty or the most money often make the worst kind of friends. (The reasons for this are complicated.) Earlier we said that being kind and loving and helping others make us happy. Choosing friends by this standard is a good way to find “good friends”. Don’t just look for friends who are kind to you. Look for friends who are kind to strangers or to children. Such people make good friends.