Archive for June, 2019


Act as if you were happy, and that will tend to make you happy. –Dale Carnegie (1936)

In 1651 the concept of sympathy, as we understand it today, did not exist.  Hobbes, for example, claimed that if one viewed a ship on the rocks (not an uncommon sight in Merry Old England) and its passengers and crew were drowning that this scene would give one pleasure for one would delight in one’s own safety.

In the 1700s a change occurred.  Sympathy, as we understand it today, was introduced into the Culture.  The thought became: If my friends are experiencing pleasure then I will experience pleasure and if my friends are experiencing suffering I will suffer with them.

Sympathy changed Hobbesian human beings – human beings that were entirely egoistic – into communal/social human beings: I view or hear about suffering and I suffer.

Gentle Reader, you might remember that the following photo was one that helped change our view of the Vietnam War – many of us experienced the suffering as we viewed the suffering.  As a reminder, here is the photo:


In our search for happiness we cannot escape pain, suffering and death.  This, of course, is a paradox.  Here are a few other paradoxes: Virtue needs Vice; Light needs Darkness; Good needs Evil and Happiness needs Suffering.

Sympathy, as I am thinking about it, is not pity (think: feeling sorry for the one suffering) it is empathy (think: I suffer because you suffer).  For many of us the power of the photograph moved us from pity to empathy, from feeling sorry for those poor people to suffering with them.  Once we crossed the empathy-threshold and suffered with ‘them’ the Vietnam War took on a very different meaning for us.

Voltaire upped the ante for us.  He noted that being empathetic (experiencing suffering with the one suffering) contained an unintended consequence: Survivor Guilt.  Anyone who has experienced this knows of what Voltaire speaks.  This type of guilt can lead one to take action – the anti-Vietnam War movement, for example – or it can dis-able.

Today, in our Country, the suffering of the little ones who are locked up in the camps on our borders are, because of sympathy and empathy, moving some to take action and is dis-abling others.

Sympathy and Empathy allow us to suffer along with the suffering.  Happiness lies dormant – waiting to be called to life.  Given this, let us return to our topic ‘Happiness.’

Happiness is nothing but everyday living seen through a veil. –Zora Neale Hurston (1939)

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One is never as unhappy as one thinks, nor as happy as one hopes. –La Rochefoucauld (1664)

Happiness!  For the ancient Greeks happiness was linked directly to success: the happy man (remember, women, slaves and barbarians did not count) was a man who was excellent at living up to the ideals of manhood.  For these Greeks, happiness, virtue and success were inter-webbed.  The standards for these three were objective – they could be measured – not subjective.  One was deemed to be happy only after one was dead and buried.

In A.D. 1651 Thomas Hobbes redefined happiness as a subjective experience – it was for him an emotional state.  For Hobbes the happiness of life rests with the mind and with pleasurable experiences.  In order to experience pleasurable experiences one must accumulate enough money, status, influence and friendship – once again, a number of folks were left out of this equation.  For a select few there was no limit in their quest for happiness/pleasure and power.

Hobbes said that we all compete – endlessly – with one another over these limited resources which he termed ‘power.’  Thanks to Hobbes the concept/word ‘Competition’ became quite popular.  Prior to Hobbes, ‘competition’ was viewed as a vice.  Hobbes flipped the coin and it became a virtue (it still is for many folks today).

Our insatiable appetite for pleasure – as described by Hobbes – is, for me, disturbing in two ways.  First, like the ancient Greeks, it never ends until we die.  Thus, there is no stable condition that one can deem to be a happy condition – there are only fleeting experiences; experiences that must be constantly renewed. We are in an endless pursuit of happiness – therefore, we are in an endless pursuit of ‘power’ (money, status, influence, recognition, etc.).

Second, we have come to embrace an imaginary pleasure and deem ourselves to be happy.  Since, according to Hobbes, happiness is subjective, imaginary pleasures are just as authentic as ‘real pleasures’ (we become addicted to imaginary pleasures and these addictions are in many ways more life-influencing than the pursuit of ‘power’ – they are certainly available to all of us and this is one of their hooks).  For those who are not able to secure ‘power,’ fantasy replaces reality.

Thankfully (for some), Hobbes’ view of happiness was radically modified in the 1700s by the introduction of sympathy.

No one has yet realized the wealth of sympathy. –Emma Goldman


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When one has a famishing thirst for happiness, one is apt to gulp down diversions wherever they are offered. –Alice Hegan Rice, 1917

My mother wanted me to become a priest; not just any priest but a Jesuit (they are the smartest and best educated my mother would tell me).  My mother introduced me to my first Jesuit when I was ten.  As we settled in, the Priest (I forget his name) smiled warmly.  He then asked me the question I was not prepared for.  His question: Are you happy?  I did not know how to reply.  I had never really thought what happiness was – as an experience.  I have been thinking about happiness ever since.

This morning, Gentle Reader, I am going to write a bit about ‘Happiness.’  I am not sure how many entries I will make, more than one for sure.  And, because I am a random-intuitive thinker I will probably touch a number of topics – their common theme will be ‘Happiness.’

Recently, what stimulated my thinking about ‘Happiness’ was not the Priest’s question it was Thomas Jefferson.  I was re-reading our ‘Declaration of Independence’ (I am continually amazed at the number of us in our country who have not read and studied this seminal document).  After I read the following I stopped.  I paused.  I re-read it again.  ‘WHAT THE…!’  Here is what Jefferson wrote:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Did you know, Gentle Reader, that Jefferson borrowed this idea from John Locke (read Locke’s ‘Two Treatises’ – 1690).  In this treatise, Locke wrote that we are all created equal and have inalienable rights, including those of life and liberty.  Locke did add a third ‘right’ – the right to ‘property.’  Capitalism, our version, has replaced Jefferson’s meaning of ‘happiness’ with Locke’s ‘property.’  The result: Our Consumer Society (but I digress).

I sat there.  What does Jefferson mean?  Won’t each of us ‘pursue happiness’ no matter what our condition?  How can this be a right – it seems part of our nature is to pursue happiness.  Is not the pursuit of happiness a law of nature just as water running downhill is a law of nature?

This question emerged into my consciousness: What can we pursue that would, for us, be preconditions that supports our pursuit of happiness?

For example, in our country we can pursue freedom of speech.  This pursuit enables us – all of us – to speak our truth(s), to listen receptively to others’ truth(s), to learn from one another via searching conversations.  We can pursue a good education – no matter how old we are (from 6-96+).  We can pursue how we choose to worship (the implications of this are beyond the pale and we have lost how powerful this ‘right’ is).

Consider that Jefferson’s ‘right to the pursuit of happiness’ is an extension of and an elaboration of the ‘right to liberty.’  ‘Liberty’ involves ‘freedom to…’ and ‘freedom from…’

Gentle Reader, did you know that ‘Happiness’ is rooted in the word ‘happy’ and ‘happy,’ in English, originally meant: ‘lucky.’  Now isn’t that interesting?  Are you lucky?

Do you feel lucky, punk? –Dirty Harry [aka Clint Eastwood]

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The unexamined life is not worth living. –Socrates

One of the essential life questions each of us humans is asked to hold and live into and out of is: Who am I?  All of the great religious and philosophical traditions hold this as an essential life question; it was captured in another way by the ‘Oracle’: Know thy self.

What complicates this question and our response is that we are powerfully socialized by our culture – our parents, our schools, our religious and philosophical institutions, our friends, our life experiences [this list could go on].  In order to cope and survive we take on a number of affirmations offered to us by these entities.  Be humble. Be proud.  Be anxious.  Be angry.  Be doubtful. Be loyal.  Be honest.  Be fearful.  [What, gentle reader, were some of the affirmations offered to you? Which ones did you take on?  Which ones are, now, part of your identity?]

Some of these we choose to integrate into our very being and we look for confirmations; eventually we do not pay attention to the disconfirmations.  A trap for us is that we come to believe that the affirmation is who I am.  We become the affirmation.  Many of us also take on a role and we then become the role.  I am an engineer.  I am a wife.  I am a teacher.  I am a loser.  I am a worrier.  I am a. . . [What identities, gentle reader, have you taken on?  To what extent does one of these roles define who you are? What need is being met by making this role part of your identity?]

One affirmation I took on was: I am not quite good enough.  I am not a failure; I am just not quite good enough.  I know the root of this in my life.  I know the many ways I have taken in judgments and experiences to confirm this affirmation.  I know the power of it – here I sit so it has helped me cope and survive (part of the power of ‘affirmations’ is that they do help us ‘survive’).  I wanted to give it up – yet I hung on to it.

I learned two lessons from this.  One is that knowledge does not change anything.  The other is that a need is more powerful than a want; all wants will be compromised in the face of a need.  I learned that only a greater need will ‘trump’ a current need.

Once we become our affirmations they are difficult to let go of for we have made them part of who we are AND we need them [remember the original need was one of coping and survival], at least this is our story.  If we let go of them; if we replace them, we are, in a real sense, changing our identity…     WHAT?  Yes, we are changing our identity; the very one that enabled us to cope and survive.

Today we might not like a certain affirmation – say, I am a ruminator; what we find it difficult to grasp is that we need the affirmation.  WHY?  Ah, this is a key question.  Even then we have to take it one step further and discern what NEED is being met.  Then we must choose to integrate a need that is greater than the current need – no small task, but it can be done.  This is long term, if not generational work.

I will offer one more complication to all of this.  Consider that those who know us and love us do not want us to change.  WHAT!  If they accept us changing then they, too, will have to change.  WHY?  Because we are all deeply interconnected and because they have the same challenge I do – the challenge of IDENTITY. 

I am my message. –Gandhi

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Today is ‘Father’s Day.’  Once again, I stop, step-back, think about and honor my father.

My father celebrated his 90th birthday on 10 December, 1999.  He died on 25 January 2000.  His funeral service and life celebration was on 28 January 2000.  As I sit here this morning/mourning, Tears are washing my face as I look at a photo of my father — and I remember.

On this ‘Father’s Day’ I once again celebrate my father’s life.  As part of my celebration I want to share with you, once again the eulogy I offered during our celebration of his life.  As you read my words I invite you, Gentle Reader, to remember a person in your life who was a role model for you; a person who gifted you, challenged you, supported you and cared for you.

My father, Ernest Vernon Smith, Jr. was, like his father, ‘an old-time country doctor’ who practiced his art until he was 82.  He served three generations of families.  Here are the words I shared with those in attendance on 28 January, 2000:

Eulogy for My Father

The Poet Markova writes:

I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days, to allow my living to open me.
To make me less afraid, more accessible.
To loosen my heart
Until it becomes a wing, a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance.
To live
So that which came to me as seed goes on as blossom
And that which came to me as blossom
Goes on as fruit.

My father lived this poem and carried the torch and promise to many others in many subtle yet powerful ways.   

Yesterday I was reading through one of my journals looking for a context for these comments.  I came upon the following that I had written: ‘The eyes, the face, the hands are areas in space where the spiritual reality of the person becomes present to others.  From here, the inmost being of the individual pours forth.’

My Father’s Eyes.  Bright, soft, penetrating, caring, admonishing, compassionate, intelligent, impish, and oh, so very blue!  I last looked deeply into those soft, blue eyes on Sunday night as I was leaving his hospital room; I did not know that this would be the last time our eyes would meet.  Our eyes held one another and we held each other’s hands as we look deeply into each other’s heart; we said to one another, ‘I love you.’

Those wondrous eyes!

How they must have looked to the thousands of people he served for more than 55 years.  Those eyes, blue and sparkling, meeting my mother’s own bright blue eyes in 1934 – he had, as my mother reminded me yesterday, already taken out all of the other nurses (300 is the number I recall) and then he asked her out.  The mutual eye-sparkle was fanned into flames of love that have endured more than 64 years and also produced 6 children who have carried this sparkle into their lives.

I remember watching my parents exchange those sparkling, impish looks with one another as I was growing up – I was fascinated by their exchanges, and I was a bit envious – I still am.

I remember, as a child, my father’s eyes holding me when I was ill; and I think of all of those souls he held with those healing eyes.  I wonder, as I look out over this room filled with those he loved, how did Ernie’s Eyes affect you?

REFRAIN ‘The eyes, the face, the hands are areas in space where the spiritual reality of the person becomes present to others.  From here the inmost being of the individual pours forth.’

My Father’s Face.  What are the words that come to your mind my friends when you reflect upon my father’s face?

For me the adjectives flow like a powerful river, bringing life and energy to all who drank his face in.  Beauty, strength, humor, intelligence, inquiry, competence, jokester, healer, competitor, surgeon, colleague, friend, father, husband, dedicated physician, servant. 

Sit a moment with me and remember his face and the words that come to mind for you as you image him standing before you. . . .

Over the years I have thought of how his face affected those who were waiting for him to come and serve them.  I thought about the response in themselves and in their family as my father walked into their homes and into their lives carrying his little black bag of hope with him; a hope that would sustain them in their hour of need.

REFRAIN ‘The eyes, the face, the hands are areas in space where the spiritual reality of the person becomes present to others.  From here the inmost being of the individual pours forth.’

My Father’s Hands.  Magnificent.  Steady.  Ambidextrous.  Deft.  Confident.  Vise-like (for those of you, like me, that tried to out-vise him and lost; you know what I mean).

The hands that held a scalpel, a clamp, a needle, a new-born.  Hands that were guided by the eyes, held in place by the calm, professional face that brought his skill and energy and dedication to the service of ALL who needed him; whenever they needed him.

Through his eyes, his face, his hands, my father, in spirit, truly became present to us: his colleagues, his patients, his friends, his children and his wife. 

My father’s presence will truly live on in each of us, will live on in our relationships, and in the fruit of our relationships and will live on in this community that he was dedicated to and served for a life-time.  We have all been blessed by my father and we are now asked to continue to bless all of those that we encounter, every day, for the rest of our lives.  I pray, each day, that I can in some small way live into the dedication and service that my father lived out for a life-time.   

Here is a photo of my father and mother standing outside of their home in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.  The date was 20 July, 1995 and it was their 60th wedding anniversary.

Mom & Dad 60th Wedding Anniversary - Copy

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