Happiness, is there such a thing

It has been one amazing week after the other in terms of weather here in Southern Ontario (this week aside) and people on the streets, in the shops and at work are quicker to smile.  A general sense of happiness appears to have washed over everyone. On the surface we see this as happiness, and in some cases it is, but maybe that’s all it is; surface happiness.  I’m curious about a deeper happiness, one that cannot be erased by the absence of good weather.  Is there even such a thing? There is the notion, brought up in German author Erich Maria Remarque’s Heaven Has No Favorites, that happiness is a relatively new concept, only practiced for the past 200 years or so.  Before that people didn’t expect unending joy, they knew life was hard and one could only expect a bit of reprieve from time to time – maybe in a loved one’s arms, the feeling of a cool breeze on a hot day, the ability to earn a living.  American author Ernest Hemingway explored this idea as well in his classic For Whom the Bell Tolls.  The main character Robert Jordan, who works with Spanish Republic guerrilla fighters during the Spanish civil war of the 1930s, is Hemingway’s vehicle for poetically questioning at times the moments we share with ourselves and each other and if those moments amount to the only happiness we will ever find. Getting too philosophical on you?  If you want to look at it simply, consider happiness as the general well being of our state of mind.  The spaces we inhabit, cities and towns, the structures that we surround ourselves with, they all have an effect on our minds (ever wonder why you’re not inspired when hanging around the vinyl-sided box stores and warehouses of the Canadian suburbs but are thrown in to the passions and dreams of a bohemian when you travel overseas and walk through elegant places like Jardin du Luxembourg of Paris or Piazza San Marco of Venice?). A surface happiness comes when we hear good news, as in the case of our economy.  Take for example the recent news that Canadian firms are in the strongest position they have been in for years.  Such a thing perks up the spirits of many economists and business types. And there is little time when fashion doesn’t leave its mark in our society, so it is worth mentioning that even what styles and colours we wear are indicators of how we’re feeling and if we’re “happy”.  Anecdotal evidence suggests during times of economic prosperity the mini skirt makes an appearance and the current upturn in Canada’s economy (I say this cautiously) brighter and more vibrant colours have been seen on mannequins in shop windows.  Is that just the 1980-90s style making its inevitable return or are the fluorescents deliberately placed to encourage spending? No amount of money though will give you true solace.  It has been said that people who put a monetary value on their time are reportedly less happy.  Keep it in mind, because happiness is not something you can strive for through possessions or projections.  It is a feeling like any other that comes and goes like a passing storm.  And to ever experience it, one cannot try to obtain it. “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” – Mohandas ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS | The Ontarian, Writer, Editor

North Korea Making Concessions for Food Aid

According to reports, the International Atomic Energy Agency has received a letter from the capitol of North Korea inviting them to visit the country.  Details of when or where the IAEA would make their visit are reportedly still being discussed following the invitation that comes three months after 28-year-old (or 27 as his birth year is apparently not entirely clear) Kim Jong-un became North Korea’s “Supreme Commander”, succeeding his unpredictable father Kim Jong-il. The move appears to be a compromise with the west as the United States is currently working out a deal that will see 240,000 metric tonnes of food given as aid to the politically isolated section of the Korean peninsula.  A small contribution considering what seems to be needed in the reportedly highly rationed country that could easily be going through another famine similar to the one in the 1990’s.  That may be the reason for all the “happy” faces in the photo above? Former United States president Jimmy Carter reported in 2011 following a visit that children were malnourished while the daily caloric intake was reduced from 1400 to 700 (a healthy intake is around 2000 per day).

Though it looks as if this concession will be as ineffectual as every other scrap North Korea has given the west in past years as the country is supposedly planning to launch a rocket-mounted satellite in April to celebrate Korea’s late “Great Leader and Eternal President” (talk about egotism) Kim Il-sung’s 100th birthday.  Wouldn’t a big parade prove celebration enough? Later this month President Barack Obama is headed to South Korea for a summit on nuclear security but unfortunately the North won’t be taking part.  The aggressive, paranoid and childish behaviour of the North continues to dominate and the IAEA, which by the way has one of its two Regional Safeguards Offices in Toronto, will have its hands full sifting through the bologna in the coming weeks, months and presumably years ahead. | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS | The Ontarian, Writer, Editor

Breaking the Rules

Politicians do it, teachers do it, mathematicians do it, kids do it, parents do it and writers do it too.  I’m talking about breaking the rules.   It comes naturally to some; it’s a struggle for others.   It’s associated with guilt, bad behaviour, innovative thinkers and trailblazers.   When we break the rules, depending on the outcome, we either feel good or bad.  Sometimes we get caught, sometimes not. When my youngest daughter was a child she would leave school property without permission, despite knowing there was a school rule against this.  Meanwhile my older daughter would not dare leave the recess playground if she was not in possession of the necessary signed note.  I am curious to this day why both girls, who were raised the same way, had such different views on rules and the desire to follow or break them. There are a couple of categories of rule breakers to acknowledge.  There are the people who go against the tide because they believe a rule to be wrong or unwarranted and there are the people who shun regulations because they simply have no regard for them.   I’d argue that the former rule breaker is making an educated decision so deserves a fair portion of our consideration, whether we agree with them or not. According to a study published in a 2011 Social Psychological and Personality Science article (as noted by Psychology Today http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/neuronarrative/201112/ten-impressive-psychology-studies-2011) people who break minor rules and act rudely are more readily seen as authority figures. It would be easiest to say that all people who break rules are psychopaths; people who lack empathy and disregard the rights and feelings of others.  The defined selfish, insensitive, arrogant, aggressive, irresponsible nature of a psychopath appears to be the exact nature of a person who breaks the rules. However it would be careless for us to presume that rules were only broken for malicious purposes by malicious people.  If it were not for Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s continued desire to challenge the rule of her 21-year-long on-off house arrest she would not be free today.  It is interesting to note that Suu Kyi, having long followed Ghandi’s philosophy of non-violence as a means of resistance and change, got her way by not breaking the rules but by working tirelessly to change them. What are rules anyway and who makes them?  They are our society’s system of order (murder is wrong, pay your taxes, wear your seatbelt), they are nature’s way of continually moving forward (the sun rises in the morning and sets at night, animals are born and animals die) and they are human truths (we need food, sleep, shelter and love to survive).  Our parents make them, governments make them, the natural order of the universe makes them.  And apart from nature’s rules they are all made by people so it stands to reason that they can all be challenged by people. To quote Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States, “rules are not necessarily sacred, principals are”.  Now that’s a good rule to follow. | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS | The Ontarian, Writer, Editor

Canadians Back in the Space Game

In the grand scheme of international space exploration where Canada stands today may be attributed to a choice made by Canada’s 13th Prime Minister John Diefenbaker more than 50 years ago.  In February of 1959 Diefenbaker’s government cancelled the Avro Arrow project.  The Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow was an interceptor aircraft, designed and manufactured in Malton, Ontario over a period of five years and at the time was said to have been the destination of the country’s aerospace industry. Where would Canadian scientists and designers be today if a project as challenging as the Arrow had continued to be supported?  Would more interest in aerospace technology have been bred into our collective psyche?  Or is Canada’s current standing in space exploration and technology design healthy?  Quite possibly it is. It was recently announced that Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield will take over command of the International Space Station starting November 2012, granting Canadians bragging rights for a good six months while Hadfield floats in zero gravity performing experiments that we could only dream of understanding. The geology instrument that will enable NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover to determine the chemical composition of the rocks and soil on Mars is Canada’s contribution to the mission.  The Curiosity rover is set to land on the red planet this August and it is exciting to know that because of Canadian innovation, in part, it is going to make learning more about Mars a possibility. Perhaps the most ambitious of all current Canadian space oriented projects, if not the most curious, has to do with the nation possibly prepping to enter the space race as potential miners of the moon. Canada is enhancing its space program by actively utilizing its resources which is maintaining its position on the space stage.  The most important thing that can come out of all of this will be to engage a new generation of scientists and designers who will continue the research currently being done. A Huffington Post article recently wrote, “When it comes to the future of Canada’s space program [Chris] Hadfield said this country will continue to co-operate and fly with other nations, trading on the expertise of our astronauts.” “We are doing, especially in the Canadian Space Agency, we are doing our absolute best with every dollar that we’re given to try and get the most return from it. We work hard at it.” Hadfield was quoted as saying in the article. Maybe during the time of Diefenbaker international efforts weren’t being collectively pooled (Cold War anyone?) so understandably funding such ambitious projects as the Arrow were hard to rationalize.  But now it seems we know more about sharing and the importance of collaboration.  Today our country proudly works with international partners to create, test, experiment and launch new and exciting projects that will only further our understanding of the final frontier! | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS | The Ontarian, Writer, Editor

Subscribe to: Posts (RSS2)