On my desk, I have two small Acacia plants growing in one pot. I grew them from seedlings to where they are today. They are on my desk to remind me how precious life is. How life can grow from nothing but a small seed of potential. How life really needs very little to grow and flourish.
Someone very close to me is going through a really tough time. Her body is under pain most of the day, her work environment is stressful and sometimes even hostile and personally she is struggling with things from the past that is not going away.
I desperately want to help her, but her focus is too much on the painful things in her life. Just like water running away before it can penetrate the ground, she is not accepting help that is coming her way. She is really struggling to grow and flourish at the moment.
This made me think: For our life to flourish, do we need the presence of certain things in our life or the absence of certain things? Would my friend become happy when all her pain disappears, when she gets a new job or sort out her personal matters? Or do we need special things in our life to be happy – a great job, lots of money, great friends?
Let’s start with material things. Would having more make one happy? Let’s see what some of the richest and most influential people have to say about this:
“And it was only as the wealth got large enough and Melinda and I had talked about the view that wealth wasn't something that would be good to just pass to the children." Bill Gates
For many years Bill Gates was the richest man on earth. At one point he had so much money that he could spend $3 million every day for 100 years. Yet, he knew that should his children learn to base their lives on money, they would not be happy. Benjamin Franklin said: “Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. There is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of filling a vacuum, it makes one”.
Many psychological studies have scientifically proven what Gates, Franklin and many others have learned through experience: Wealth may offer us more options and opportunities, but at the same time it spoils our capacity to enjoy those things. A study by an international team of researchers showed that the wealthier people are, the less likely they were to display a strong capacity to savour positive experiences in their lives.
In another study, researchers have found that ‘lottery winners were less impressed by life’s simple pleasures than people who experienced no such windfall’.
So, if our ability to flourish and be happy does not depend on having things maybe it is dependent on the absence of certain things. Is happiness the absence of pain and suffering?
A comprehensive social study by Gallup discovered that people from poorer countries are generally happier than people living in more affluent countries. The survey covered a whopping 148 countries around the world (a massive study indeed) and found that people in poorer countries were more likely to experience positive emotions. There is one comment mentioned in the study that summarizes their findings beautifully: “Life is too short, and there is no place for sadness.”
This reminded me of one of the quotations I found in Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations: “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” Pain and suffering, just like wealth and affluence, do not have the power to make you happy or unhappy. It is your opinion of the situation that determines your emotions. It is not your circumstances that determine whether you will flourish or not, but your internal strength.
Abraham Lincoln understood this capacity of human kind determine our own happiness when he said: “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”
I believe that growth and happiness are not dependent on our surroundings. Just like plants can grow under virtually any condition – we find plants in deserts and rainforests – so can human beings flourish under in any environment. Happiness is not grown from the outside, but from the inside. Happiness grows from what you sow.
If you sow content, you will grow happiness. If you sow love, you will grow loving relationships. If you sow your talents, you will grow a meaningful life. Happiness is grown from what you give, not from what you receive.
My two little plants are flourishing where they are. Human beings are a million times stronger and more resilient than these fragile little plants and can flourish under any circumstances. We can make the best with what we have and grow. May you flourish this week.