How would you measure happiness? Is it the size of your smile while working on a job you really love? Is it the number of degrees you have attained and the amount of knowledge you have collected? Is the gauge of happiness allied with gathering a surplus, or loving your family and friends, or collecting the latest gadgets or owning pets, stocks, companies and businesses? How is life’s joy measured?
Listening to friends could tender a convincing reason that happiness could go beyond any human reason. Clichés most of the responses may be, such as the line that goes “happiness is not at all about being paid, or living in luxury, or getting wealthy, or having a blue-collar job and finding a partner,” but there are truths to every line that could somehow point to quantifying happiness.
Carmen, my German friend, went to the Philippines to finish a thesis about garbage management. She visited garbage dumpsites almost every day of her three-month stay. Carmen is a dainty lady and endowed with a life so uncomplicated in her home country in Europe, yet she chose to work in a stinky place called the “real world.”
Dumpsites in my country are a squatter’s haven. The no-permanent-address people build their shanties out of paper bags and plastics and cartoons and eat their meals from food leftovers thrown by major fast-food chains. They make a few cents from selling metal scraps, bottles and plastic containers.
Carmen did not mind the puzzling stares from the residents every time she stepped on the garbage piles. In fact, all the while, she had made friends with the young scavengers and fell in love with them. During her spare time, the huge city malls were not part of her routine. She went to the dumpsite homes and asked parents that she would take the kids to leisure parks. Even on holidays, she was with the children. After three months, Carmen went back to Germany. She promised to be back and become a full-time volunteer.
Carmen was not alone. I met Nico, another German national whose big heart went for the needy. He came to help a private center for child prostitutes who were rescued from the dangerous and exploitive bars in the city. Nico attempted every effort to keep the children as young as 12 away from the job they were forced to do. Then there was the French Tanya who helped gather donations for the center’s daily provisions. Nico and Tanya lifted the broken spirits of the children through openness and realization that there’s more to life than just the short-time shifts they got from the streets.
A gift to see people, that is what Carmen, Nico and Tanya have. They are generous givers whose perspective about the real joy in life is in giving. The driving motivation: not self-concern but love for others.
I was touched by their persistence and desire. Because, honestly, how many wealthy people really care about the homeless and the hungry? Would you help those children hunting food in garbage stacks and those teens making money selling their reputation? I know you will. It may take some time to unlearn what your current motivation is, but I am certain that if given a chance, you will develop the grace to perform the worthy purpose and take steps to start the ball rolling.
We need to experience the joy in sharing. Maybe through it, we can measure life’s happiness by experiencing someone else’s joy.