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Happiness, Part 4: Seeing beauty

April 6, 2010

Looks like I’m on a roll here! Previous posts in this series have been: Happiness, Part 1: What are we talking about, anyway?, Happiness, Part 2: In which reality is twisted, and Happiness, Part 3: The personal is, indeed, political.

In the last post, we looked at some approaches that obviously aren’t working to make people happier, even when they’re applied out of good motives rather than overtly to plaster over systemic problems.

To finish up, I want to talk about some other ways of looking at happiness, which work much better IME. These are necessarily compatible with my own views of How The World Works, and may not suit everyone. (Though it’s hard to see how not, in a lot of cases.) After too many run-ins with One True Wayers, I am still wary of coming across as preachy, but I hope it soon becomes obvious that this is not what I am trying to do, at all.

The best I can do is try to talk around some of these philosophical and ethical concepts, so this is liable to turn into a long post, with a lot of quotes from people who have described things better than I could. 🙂

First, I will say–in case it hasn’t been obvious all along–that I am far more content and satisfied with my life these days than I had been since starting school. I feel like I have more hope and purpose. A lot of this has come from combing out some snakes (i.e., twisted thoughts), as described well in elmindreda’s You’ve really changed. This hasn’t come just from learning more about my own neurological setup, and that I don’t somehow deserve bad treatment because of it, though that has helped quite a bit.

A lot of it comes from relearning that I deserve respect, and can respect myself.

In the last post, I quoted John F. Schumaker’s The Happiness Conspiracy, in part because it included this:

A society’s dominant value system dictates how happiness is measured. The native Navajos in the southwest of the US saw happiness as the attainment of universal beauty, or what they called Hózhó. Their counterpart of ‘Have a nice day’ was ‘May you walk in beauty’.

There are still Diné people around, and they still have hózhó. A lot of people are working hard to make sure of this.

What’s that? I found a pretty good overview in Walk in Beauty: Hózhó and Navajo Basketry:

Encompassing beauty, balance, order and harmony is the essence of the Navajo philosophy and thesis of this exhibition. Given there is no word in the Navajo language for religion or art, “hózhó” describes both and is considered the essence of the Navajo philosophy. The word embodies the idea of striving for balance and harmony together with beauty and order. Every aspect of Navajo life, whether secular or spiritual in nature, is connected to hózhó. As humans we straddle the border between health and sickness, good and evil, happiness and sadness. According to the Navajo worldview, the purpose of life is to achieve balance, in a continual cycle of gaining and retaining harmony.

Yeah, it may be coming from most of a continent away from the Ani-Tsalagi, but it covers a lot of the same ground as duyukta/duyukdv, which I have wrapped rather a lot of words around here. Both are just as difficult to describe as Tao or some senses of Dharma, which they resemble. I would not describe any of these as totally equivalent concepts, however, rooted as they are in culture; I’m keeping this in mind, and not lumping nearly as seriously as it may look. 😉

An aside, before I go any further with this train of thought: a lot of the concepts involved map poorly onto the English words used to describe them, as well as onto a very different social substrate (half the problem with the U.S. Constitution as applied, but I digress).

As John Mohawk pointed out, in a Northern Iroquoian context:

Righteousness is a very dangerous word in English and in European history. But here’s how it was used by the Haudenosaunee. Righteousness means that almost all of us agree that some things are right, correct, and positive. The list that we all agree on might not be long, but those are the things to build on.

A lot of other concepts, in rough English translation, should be treated similarly. The cultures in question are very different indeed from the dominant U.S. one. One of the most important points to keep in mind: there is no One True Way, period.

One excellent take on this, from a Taoist perspective, is Define ‘Best’ Please. It’s all about pragmatism (though that description is only an approximate match, AFAICT!). Much like John Mohawk observed in regard to peacemaking:

The focus is on a desirable outcome that benefits everyone. One of the most famous quotations from Indians is from Sitting Bull: “Now let us put our minds together to see what kind of world we can leave for our children.” And another is out of the Haudenosaunee tradition now known as The Great Law of Peace: “Now we put our minds together to see what kind of world we can create for the seventh generation yet unborn.” Both of these are pragmatic constructions; both are about envisioning a desirable outcome and then negotiating the steps to go from here to the outcome that you want…
Progressive pragmatism seeks ends that are universal and that have the quality of win-win negotiations. Both idealism–the idea that God is on someone’s side–and vilification–the idea that one side is evil or fundamentally in the wrong–are barred from this process. Instead, this process lays out desirable outcomes that all sides can agree upon, and these must be adhered to through a set of protocols, because it is not possible to create peace by force and because peace requires rules that both sides embrace and honor.

What is “good” is what works. If it harms other people or you, it is, by definition, not good. This is outlined pretty simply in Religion, ethics, and critical thinking.

Peace between parties can be seen as part of hózhó or duyukta; a Haudenosaunee equivalent is Skennen’kowa:

“Skennen” means much more than simply peace. Any fluent Kanien’keha speaker will give a more thorough explanation, especially a speaker with a Traditional background and/or real knowledge of the language. “Skennen” refers to peace of mind, peace in body, and peace in spirit…

When we greet each other, “She:kon skennenkowa ken?” we are asking something like this: “Do you still have the Great Peace? Are you still following in the ways that the Peacemaker gave to us long ago? Are the principles of Peace, Power/strength, and the Good mind still within you and in your everyday life? Do you still strive every day to live in a good way? Are you still Onkwehonwe are are we still friends living under these good ways?”…

It still works today that we heal and have good lives through talking with each other and looking outside of ourselves for help by following the example of a healthier human being.

Another way of putting it:

The hardest part of the Great Law is to understand the meaning of the concept of peace. Peace is not simply the absence of war. In the Iroquoian mind, peace is a state of mind…Each individual has a base spiritual power. As you go through life as Haudenosaunee, experience different things, learn more, comprehend more and tap into other forms of spiritual power, your own spirit grows as well. The old timers called it orenda. Everyone is thought to have it to some degree. It effects how we do things. Good minds have strong orenda. So the ultimate power of the Great Law rests in how well the individual person develops their sense of self…in regard to the well-being of the others in the clan, in the village, in the nation and in the Confederacy of the Six Nations.

The spirit bit can be taken as totally metaphorical, or not, as you like; this works on multiple levels. In other words, peace between parties and peace within one’s self cannot be separated. Individual happiness, and the happiness of the people around you, are interconnected. Much like the duyukta cluster I pointed out in “Honor crimes”, honor, duyukta, culture, and more linguistic musings:

Besides the “balance, harmony, right living” senses, duyukta also covers a number of other qualities seen to develop out of them. We have the “honesty, honestly, truth” complex (rendered as duyu(yo)dv here, but there is quite a lot of pronunciation and transcription variation).

We also have the “dignity” sense, as expressed in the Tsalagi translation of Article 1 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights**:

“Nigada aniyvwi nigeguda’lvna ale unihloyi unadehna duyukdv gesv’i.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

The “right living and conduct” sense of the English “honor” must also be encompassed. That is to say, you can’t have honor without also having all the other senses of the word duyukta; they do not exist independently…

One quote caught my eye, as very relevant: “Being in harmony means being ‘in step with the universe’; being in disharmony means being ‘out of step with the universe’.”*** That gives us duyukta as a base state, in mindboggling contrast to some of the pessimistic views of human nature and our relationship to the rest of the world with which we’re all too familiar. We each have the responsibility to maintain this state.

The idea of happiness ties in here, too. You can’t strike a good balance in your life and stay unhappy, nor can you be happy when other things are out of balance. Without respect and dignity (for yourself, and for other people), none of the rest of it works. You take out one piece, and none of it works properly. It’s taken an awful lot of words to explain something so simple. 🙂

Also, all of these kinds of peacemaking/happiness/etc. are processes that never end. To quote the Mohawk article again:

In this story, there is a relentless conversation going on about righteousness, about what does and doesn’t work and what might work if we tried it. It’s a long conversation, but the point is the process, not the end of the process, because it is assumed that there will never be an end.

As bobritzema put it, looking at Creek (Muscogee) and Navajo (Diné) examples:

Dr. Ritzema’s operating definition of happiness is “Subjectivewell-being based on a positiveevaluation of how one’s life seems to be going.” I thought I might take this definition withme into some Native American literature, to see if it is useful cross-culturally. Turns out, it isn’t. The isolation of ideas one from another – the good from the happy – doesn’t work if you think the good person is the happy person is the person who is best connected to the world around her…

The word generally translated as “beauty” is “hozho,” which might be better translated as “blessed” or “harmonious” or “balanced” or “complete” or “peace.” It is a complicated word, especially in our context, for it suggests that virtue and awareness are not isolated from happiness, and that one who is disconnected from the world – the whole world, present, past, spiritual, material, human, nonhuman— will attain none of these qualities…

Yet I must confess it is this alternative I find myself most drawn to, personally and philosophically, and I must conclude that, if we can’t seek happiness, we ought to maintain hozho, balancing our rights and responsibilities to all our relations, and walk in beauty.

You work on all the rest, and the happiness part more or less takes care of itself. Trying to grab at happiness, alone, pretty well guarantees misery.

It does not matter where you’re starting out; every one of us is different, with different things to contribute. We can make the best of what we’ve got (again, where the “best” is what works!) As I have written about before, disability burden and shame–for you, or the people around you–is not inevitable. Abuse, whether by other people or self-inflicted, is not inevitable. Perfectionism is a form of self-abuse.

In the previous posts, I talked about some of the ways in which other people can discount and sabotage our happiness. This is not going to stop, just because you’ve managed to claw back some self respect. That’s another place the ongoing peacemaking process comes in.

The thing is, it’s rarely about you; it’s projection coming out of their own lack of balance. If they were in a proper state of mind, they wouldn’t want to go around hurting other people. Realizing that has made compassion easier for me. I may be able to see where they’re coming from with it, but I don’t have to buy into it; in extreme cases, I do have the right just not to deal with them until they learn to treat other people with respect. No matter who they are. Taking any sort of inspiration from someone that unbalanced is not going to help either of us.

You don’t have to let cluelessness and/or hatefulness throw you for a loop; if you do get thrown anyway, there is no shame in it–and you can recover from it! Recognizing that other people simply do not have the right to interfere with other people (even me! *shakes head) like that has also helped me a lot.

I continue to take inspiration from one of Tecumseh‘s statements:

So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life.

Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none.

When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.

When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way.

Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.

That is one of the best pieces of advice I have ever seen.

Getting back around to the Cures and happiness post which inspired this series, when you look at things this way, the very idea of some perfect Cure is ludicrous. You are who you are, and there is no curing that even if you wanted to. Nobody else has a right to insist that you be someone else, much less that this hypothetical person would necessarily be happier. It makes no sense. The very urge–and the perceived need on which it’s based–reflect a lack of hózhó, duyukta, skennen’kowa, and so on. I wish so many people had not been led to believe that this is a reasonable way to chase after some elusive happiness.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. May 25, 2010 10:08 am

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    • urocyon permalink
      May 25, 2010 5:41 pm

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