Monthly Archives: August 2010

Happiness Is Viral

A friend of mine said the other day how fortunate she was that her small company had recently been acquired by a larger company. The new relationships were harmonious, she said, and she and her colleagues were able to continue doing what they had been doing all along, only now with the resources and support they needed.


It was especially gratifying because the bigger company had sifted through hundreds of applications before settling on her, and she is 64 years old. 


I congratulated her and added, “You’re making the world a better place.”


“Whoa,” she replied. “Now, that point — I don’t get that. I’m so not saving the world or contributing.”


The point I was making is that people who are happy in their work and happy in their lives make a huge contribution in everyday life, because happiness is “viral.” It doesn’t matter what you do for a living; it’s who you are as a human being. Or as Jesus put it, concerning the Pharisees’ hundreds of idiotic rules, “It isn’t what goes into a man’s mouth that defiles him, but what comes out of it.”


A Swami Comes to Town


The joy my friend feels affects not just her clients, but anyone she comes into contact with — family members, shop owners, the clerks where she does business. Even walking down the street, she can have an experience that uplifts both parties.


It has happened to me a number of times, but never quite as memorably as when I was living in Honolulu. (I may have written about this before, but I think it’s worth re-telling in this context.)


A woman came to the newspaper office where I worked hoping to get someone one to write a story about her guru, Swami Muktananda. Muktananda was in Hawaii for an extended stay and holding public gatherings.


As a meditator and longtime “seeker of wisdom and truth,” to quote the lyric from the musical How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, I was curious and more than willing. But my editor wasn’t interested.


A Walk on the Beach


So the following Sunday, I was walking on the beach in Kahala with my girlfriend. Kahala is a handsome part of town on the other side of Diamond Head from garish and touristy Waikiki. And it was handsomer still in those days, before new money started tearing down the fine old island-style homes and erecting overwrought monuments to vanity.


As we walked the beach, we happened upon a group of perhaps 15 people sitting on a lawn not far from where the sand began. They were clustered around a small, Indian man wearing a maroon knit cap and saffron robe. No one was speaking, and while everyone else’s eyes were on him, he seemed oblivious to their presence.


I knew instantly it must be Muktananda, and I gazed at him curiously. And Muktananda, for his part, gazed right back at me. There was a merry twinkle in his eye and his smile filled me with warmth and a quiet joy. Infused by his benevolence, I returned his smile and felt as I walked away that in those few moments I had experienced unconditional love.


A Collateral Benefit


In later years a scandal arose around Muktananda, but there was a purity in our experience that I’m talking about here, and I don’t think what happened was exceptional. In fact, it brings to mind another wonderful saying attributed to Jesus: “These things I have done, ye shall do and greater things also.”


The point is this: we all have the ability to share our joy with others, and often we transmit that light and love without even realizing it. I went through a very difficult period when I was still working at that newspaper over the end of my relationship with that woman, and when I finally pulled out of it, the corner of the newsroom where I worked brightened up demonstrably.


The collateral benefit of these viral transactions is that in our unwitting charity to others, as we are grateful at being so happy and the expansiveness of our generosity, we also refill with joy. 

Thus the saying that it is more blessed to give than to receive.The buzz of feeling joyful is multiplied by the happiness one gets from sharing it.


And that, despite my friend’s protest to the contrary, is how she is, indeed, making the world a better place.