Submitted Date 11/21/2020

I have spent a lot of time during this year thinking about the real meaning of happiness. The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition describes happiness as a state of well-being and contentment: JOY. Also, a pleasurable or satisfying experience. Well, if we are all being brutally honest, this year of 2020 has only brought a great majority of the population possibly a sliver of any of that. Then I thought that maybe life was more about gratitude than happiness. But then again, it's hard to find gratitude when there is so much suffering, dying, and mayhem going on either in our own lives or in those who live among us. This made me think about so many other unimaginable experiences people have endured throughout our history. The 1918 pandemic, which lasted two years and was a profoundly traumatic event that had also ironically, originated in China. The Holocaust, which was the state-sponsored genocide by the German Nazis in which two-thirds of the Jewish population was obliterated. Wars, in which the number of US military fatalities (in all of the major ones from 1775-2020) total a staggering 1,304,680 according to Statista. All of the political unrest in this country, starting in the 18th century and continuing right on up to the present day. Which has also contributed to an infinite number of deaths, destruction, and lunacy. Racism, which is older than our republic itself and goes back way further than the 19th century and has grown exponentially like a malignant growth that has created more inhumane cultural disparity than the world has ever known. There were/are people who have LIVED a good amount of their lives throughout these horrific decades and have recorded their experiences. It makes me wonder all the time if they managed to find their gratitude/happiness while living through them.

I think it had to have been found within each person, individually. All of us view our personal experiences very differently, most especially while under duress. For example, while Anne Frank and her family were hiding in the Secret Annex for over two years during the Nazi occupation she found solace writing in her well-known diary. There were so many things she wrote about that spoke to how she kept her gratitude while living during that time as well as finding happiness in the midst of all the fear and misery surrounding her. One was: "Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy". Another was: "We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same". I think her words are not only speaking of happiness but of gratitude as well. On the other hand, many people who lived through the 1918 pandemic chose not to ever speak publicly or on the record about their experiences because the trauma was simply too much to bear. They wanted to just forget about the whole thing once it had been contained. However, it came out decades later about how important talking about and sharing their experiences would have been. Who knows? Maybe there was someone like Anne Frank who lived through that experience and had stories to tell about how they kept going, finding their gratitude and happiness through all the horrors. It turned out that forgetting and not speaking would have consequences. Like so many other events in our history. Forgetting is how history is more open to repeating itself. Many of our military vets from all of our wars have had the courage to share their stories of the atrocities they endured while serving our country as they fought to keep us all free and safe at home. But when they did finally come home, for some of them, finding any gratitude or happiness proved to be as easy as stopping sand through a sieve. But the ones who were lucky enough to find help in dealing with the mental fallout have shared such amazing stories of discovering huge amounts of gratitude and happiness, even from those who had lost limbs or had other devastating physical maladies.

In terms of all the derision going on with regard to all of the political unrest and ongoing racism, well, both of those continue to be a work in progress in terms of us as a country and uniting as ONE people. It seems as if the further ahead we get, (as far as any lasting progress being made on either of these fronts) the further back we tend to go for some inexplicable reason. I am not exactly sure how anyone could find gratitude or happiness in either one of these areas due to the severity and longevity of both which have at times infected our society just as much as any virus has. This is why there is still so much more work left to be done. Call me crazy, but I still believe that there are good people entwined in our (at many times corrosive) government who understand gratitude and believe in the pursuit of happiness for the people of our country. And even with racism continuing to spread like the California wildfires, I know that there are multitudes of good, humane, decent people fighting to put it out every single day, and will continue to do so while finding gratitude and happiness in the work it takes to stop it for good. So I guess happiness and gratitude are really two sides of the same coin. With one, you find the other. But it all starts from within each one of us in order to bring it out of the others. And remember, happiness and gratitude can never be found or sustained in useless, materialistic things or in the midst of hate of any kind. It would ultimately be winnowed out under those circumstances.

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Julie 🌺


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