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Every March 20th, the world celebrates the International Day of Happiness to advance the UN’s global goals – and the happiness, well-being, and freedom of all life on Earth.
Ever since my father took me to New York City when I was 16, I wanted to work for the United Nations. Those vibrant flags standing for unity from most every country in the world made a huge impression and gave me hope for global oneness. I wanted to take part in it.
Later in life I fulfilled that goal by working in both the Nairobi and New York offices of the UN, and while rewarding, my colleagues and I also grappled with the intense complexities of putting achievable action plans into play on the international stage. Sustaining those plans proved even more challenging.
Nevertheless, setting aside a day to remember to be happy is a noble undertaking, and the timing this year is perfect. We could use a little happiness to help balance our fears escalating over the health impact of the coronavirus and its economic implications, in addition to our everyday personal trials.
Even a cursory glance online about the state of our global happiness can prove quite daunting, because numerous headlines appear about the prevalence of depression and anxiety.
So, what is worrying our world? Two years ago, a global poll found that four concerns top the world’s worry list:
- Poverty/Social Inequality
- Crime/Violence and
- Financial/Political Corruption – Ipsos News & Polls: What Worries the World, July 2018.
We definitely live in a world filled with anxiety. Few people would dispute that chronic stress has become a kind of cultural condition today. The World Health Organization listed anxiety as the sixth most common cause of chronic ill health in 2012, for example. In North America, 40 million people suffer from some sort of anxiety disorder. Globally, more people take anti-anxiety medications than ever before.
So how do we overcome anxiety without simply medicating it? It seems that anxiety always starts from a point of negative thought and then spirals downward from there. Working at the UN I learned to love tools, and replacing these thoughts of our lower nature with thoughts of a higher quality is maybe my favorite, most tangible tool to combat anxiety. The Baha’i teachings put it this way:
I charge you all that each one of you concentrate all the thoughts of your heart on love and unity. When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. Thoughts of war bring destruction to all harmony, well-being, restfulness and content.
Thoughts of love are constructive of brotherhood, peace, friendship, and happiness. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks
Of course, prayer and meditation top the list of tools in my toolbox like they do for many people, followed by supportive talks with friends, music and walks in nature.
At the devotional coffee conversations we hold at our home once a month, we focus on prayer and inspiration from all religions, and have used this quote from the Bible to discuss the topic of achieving happiness over anxiety:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6.
At our devotional meetings, we also talk a lot about “finding the source.” Often, we may not fully understand the sources of our anxiety, but we get these free-floating unresolved thoughts in our minds that can take over completely, especially at night while lying awake watching the clock. It seems impossible to stop our thoughts, but we can replace the negative spiral that makes us worry with thoughts or words from the holy writings of the world’s great Faiths. Those beautiful spiritual writings can help us gain a sense of calm that allows us to more clearly acknowledge the source of distress and begin the process of resolution.
Rumi’s quote says it so beautifully: “Prayer clears the mist and brings back peace to the Soul.” Every religion uses prayer and meditation. When we feel anxious, depressed or sad, how can we elevate ourselves on our own? It seems we need something beyond us to raise ourselves up from our lowly state:
May your souls be illumined by the light of the Words of God, and may you become repositories of the mysteries of God, for no comfort is greater and no happiness is sweeter than spiritual comprehension of the divine teachings. If a man understands the real meaning of a poet’s verses such as those of Shakespeare, he is pleased and rejoiced. How much greater his joy and pleasure when he perceives the reality of the Holy Scriptures and becomes informed of the mysteries of the Kingdom! – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace
We can also very simply ask for divine assistance, like in this sweet Baha’i prayer I’ve memorized:
Thou seest me, O my God, detached from all save Thee and cleaving unto Thee. Guide me, then, in all mine affairs unto that which profiteth me for the glory of Thy Cause and the loftiness of the station of thy loved ones. – Baha’u’llah, from a recently translated prayer.
I hope we can not only take a moment today, March 20, to consider what truly makes us happy. I hope we can all reflect every day on cultivating a more joyful life for ourselves and for each other.