Being Happy

Scott was born in Scotland but immigrated to Australia when he was 5.  He never imagined that he would amount to much coming from a working class family.  In fact, he dropped out of high school and got a job running the projector in drive-in theaters.

From his beginning as a projectionist, he eventually became the President of 20th Century Fox International.  During his 10 years at Fox, the studio released such films as Titanic, Star Wars, and X-Men.  Scott was due to start a new position at Sony Pictures when his life changed.

Scott took a trip to Asia.  While in Phnom Penh Cambodia, he visited a garbage dump.  Children were all over the dump scavenging for food.  Returning to Los Angeles, Scott reflected on his success:  “I thought there was something wrong with me, because the more I got, the less happy I became.”

Scott sold everything he owned and moved to Cambodia and set up the Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF).  Since its beginning in 2004, CCF has educated young people.  Many of them have graduated from college.  CCF has also provided housing and food.  But above all, Scott Neeson is happy.  When Scott describes what gives him joy, he often reflects on stories of children:  “Even just yesterday, the first girl I took off the dump when she was 10, she posted a picture of her first paycheck on Facebook.  She’s studying at university and working during the day.”

Happiness is one of those traits of our being that we often think about but rarely act upon.  Think about how difficult it must have been for Scott Neeson to make such an abrupt change in his life.  Happiness is often something that requires a lot of deep reflection.

To understand our happiness, we have to separate the surface issues from those that are systemic.  All of us will have things we are not happy about.  Most of these are frustrations that are not that consequential.  The systemic issues are the ones that are at the real core of our happiness.  As Scott Neeson reflected on the change in his life, he summarized his thinking:  “If we can get back to those values – family, love, compassion, and tolerance – then we will find ourselves again.”

It’s interesting how happiness is most often portrayed in the media:  possessions, glamorous parties, exciting vacations, and other trappings of our society.  Rarely do we see genuine acts of kindness associated with happiness.  But as each of us thinks about times we were really happy, it’s often when we were able to help someone else.

As the world is confronted with a whole new reality with the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing that each of us can do is to reflect on what really makes us happy.

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“One of the sanest, surest, and most generous joys of life comes from being happy over the good fortune of others.”  – Robert Heinlein (Science fiction writer)

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