How important is it to be happy? Everybody has their own ideas of what it is to be happy and most people direct their life-long efforts towards that end. In Australia, our social, economic, cultural, and political institutions are based on the visions of generations of immigrants seeking greater happiness in a new land. Inspired by the tiny kingdom of Bhutan and their measurement of the country’s worth as, ‘gross national happiness’, the importance of happiness in human life was recognized by the United Nations on March 20, 2013 with the declaration of the very first International Day of Happiness.

Happiness and Health: Over the past 40 years, medical science has done some serious research into the healing power of joy. Author, Norman Cousins, in his famous book, The Anatomy of an Illness, gives his own experience of how his severe bone and joint pain was driven from his body by regularly having a belly laugh from watching old Marx brothers comedy movies. Cousins described his theory of the chemistry of laughter in one of the world’s most prestigious medical journals, The New England Journal of Medicine, His article received more positive letters from readers than any other up until that time in the journal’s long history. The famous ‘clown doctor’ Patch Adams started a whole movement in the medical profession encouraging the use of humour in hospital wards in the 1990s after a film on his life starring comedian Robyn Williams was such a huge hit.

One of the best pieces of scientific evidence to support the notion that the body has a chemistry of joy and sorrow, is the chemical analysis of tears which reveals a very different molecular make-up for tears of joy and tears of sorrow. As one researcher comments:

“…Another interesting discovery about the content of tears was made by Dr. William H. Frey II, a biochemist at the St. Paul-Ramsey Medical Center in Minnesota. He and his team analyzed two types of tears: the emotional ones (crying when emotionally upset and stressed) and the ones arising from irritants (such as crying from onions). They found that emotional tears contained more of the protein-based hormones, prolactin, adrenocorticotropic hormone, and leucine enkephalin (natural painkiller), all of which are produced by our body when under stress. It seems as if the body is getting rid of these chemicals through tears. That explains why we usually feel better after a good cry. So, there you go. Cry as much as you want – it is probably good for you. But no cheating by inducing crying with onions. Your tear glands know the difference!” – Skorucak A. “The Science of Tears.” [see also Chip Walter’s article ‘Why do we cry?’ in the Scientific American: Mind 17 (6) page 144 of December 2006].

Happiness and the Soul: If the physical body responds so positively to the healing influence of good humour, how much more important is a feeling for the joy of life to the Inner Man? Our former Leader, Katherine Tingley, tells the story of her meeting with a Master of Wisdom (HP Blavatsky’s teacher) in Darjeeling, India, which has a lot to teach us about coping with the stresses of life through mental balance and good humour. As they spoke together on a hillside overlooking a farmer’s field, one of the Master’s students (in India referred to as a ‘Chela’) was ploughing the field with a team of oxen. The Master used the example of his student to illustrate his ideas about coping with the stresses of life on the Path of understanding – especially for aspirants to spiritual achievement. The Master said that the student/ploughman’s team of unruly oxen were always calm for him because they were immersed in the atmosphere of the student’s concentration and contemplations.

Further, he said one should not live in dread of life’s experiences, but go cheerfully on our way coping with the tasks at hand rather than being overwhelmed by distant goals. He said that a joy in the spiritual life could actually make the very atoms of our body lighter! We should fight the tendency to let the worries and anxieties of our everyday consciousness weigh us down. The Master said that hopelessness and anxiety can bring our body’s atoms…”half way to death; but they can be quickened to a kind of immortality by the fire of the divine life, and attuned to universal harmony. Men everywhere could get rid of all that burden of un-necessities, and carry themselves like that young chela does, if they had the mental balance.” [The story of the Master and his ploughman/chela is recounted in Katherine Tingley’s, The Gods Await.]

Happiness: some perspectives from Theosophy: A sense of humour indicates an understanding of human nature and an ability to draw forth the positive aspects from the difficulties of life.  The world’s great comedians have always played the role of placing ourselves and sometimes our most cherished institutions into humorous and more balanced perspective. Religious teachers throughout history have emphasized the joy awaiting man on his path of inner discovery through the outer sufferings and travails of daily life. They have often demonstrated the practical value of humour and joy with their work in the world. Think of the infectious laughter of the Dalai Lama when he is interviewed on even the most serious subject. Likewise the writings of our theosophical Masters in the, Mahatma Letters, often exhibit a keen sense of humour for the frailties of human nature on its path of learning.

In particular, our former Leader, Katherine Tingley, often spoke of the need to hold sacred a real sense of the joy of living even when besieged by the sorrows which come to everyone in the course of daily life. In her book, The Travail of the Soul, she writes:

“Let us open up our minds to the fact that life is joy: that is, the real spiritual life, and that the disarrangements, the failures, the discouragements, and the heavy, tearing, heart-shadows we must face in life are our own to adjust. We have the opportunity, even in the ordinary lines of daily activity, to think a little more, to let our souls break through to something better, and to find ourselves out under the great blue sky in our aspirations, in touch with nature’s wonderful lessons and its silent and marvellous beauty.” – Andrew Rooke, Melbourne, Australia.

“The pursuit of happiness lies at the core of human endeavours. People around the world aspire to lead happy and fulfilling lives free from fear and want, and in harmony with nature….On this first International Day of Happiness, let us reinforce our commitment to inclusive and sustainable human development and renew our pledge to help others. When we contribute to the common good, we ourselves are enriched. Compassion promotes happiness and will help to build the future we want.” – Ban K. Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, on the occasion of the first International Day of Happiness, March 20th, 2013.