I listened to Martin Seligman, the “father of positive pyschology,” speak at the Aspen Ideas Festival about improving happiness through practice.
Studies show that the single-most important barometer of personal happiness is whether a person is grateful. Check out your level of gratitude by taking the Gratitude Survey. I thought I would score high, but didn’t. What an eye opener!
I also took the VIA Survey of Character Strengths. To each statement in the survey, you are to indicate if it represents you or not. Here are two of the 240 questions:
“The goodness of other people almost brings tears to my eyes.”
“I get chills when I hear about acts of great generosity.”
On The Aspen Institute site, I stumbled upon a talk about abuse of women by the authors of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.
Kristof said, “In any decade, more women are discriminated to death than all the genocide in the 20th century. The scale is truly astonishing.” He means, literally, discriminated to death.
More girls die in ten years by families selectively choosing boys over girls than all the people killed in all the wars in one hundred years!
Kristof went on to say that the central moral challenge in the 19th century was Slavery; the 20th century Totalitarianism; and the 21st century Gender Inequality around the globe. He says his statement isn’t hyperbole.
Tears came to my eyes.
And they really started to flow later driving home from Meena’s fourth birthday party as I approached the left-hand turn onto my road.
My next-door neighbors (five acres away) raise cows. They purchase young calves, keep them for a while—anywhere from a few months to more than a year—then sell them to the slaughterhouse. It’s how they supplement their income. I’ve never had the nerve to tell them how their side business is supplementing their cycle of personal suffering.
There have been pure-white cows that me and Meena have talked with or chanted to for almost two years. Meena was fascinated with the unique white cows, who would meander up to the fence to be near us.
For the past week, throughout the day, cows have been crying loudly in my neighbor’s pasture. I’ve been ignoring their pleas, and haven’t gone outside to see what’s going on. I pretend I don’t hear them.
But as I turned the corner in my car, I saw only black cows. Oh, it’s been new cows crying, I thought. They’ve just been separated from their mothers and they cry in fear. I’ve heard the piteous cries before. Over the past twenty years, all the cows who have been transported to and from my neighbors field cry in fear when they first arrive. I looked passively at the black cows, then the thought seized me, The white cows are gone. As soon as I noted it, I shivered and cried. Pent up tears released as I conjured up what the white cows had faced.
I get chills and tears from great generosity and great horrors, too.
Perhaps the VIA Survey of Character Strengths should test our response to other’s pain and suffering to establish a compassion barometer. Compassion is a coveted character strength, after all. Gratitude is an indicator of happiness; compassion inclines us to helpful action. Action—giving happiness to others—makes us happier than even gratitude. There are lots of studies that prove that.
And at least in posing questions about our empathic nature, we’d be momentarily encouraged to consider how much value we place on compassion and where we might like to extend our empathy into positive action.
From my perspective, girls and cows need us to feel a whole lot more sorrow for their suffering if there is any hope for stopping the violence.
Here’s two questions from my Compassion Survey.
Think for a moment about the millions of missing/murdered little girls. Think for a moment about the millions of animals tortured and murdered in the slaughterhouse.
Do tears well in your eyes?
Do you feel any shivers?
The best to you as we find our genuine sentiment, as opposed to weak sentimentality,