Happiness Lies in the Bootstraps of Those Around Us

“A pendulum could lift anything into the air but it could not lift itself.”

-Gabriel García Márquez in One Hundred Years of Solitude

This quote seems to be rather meaningless but when I read it I was profoundly struck with a pretty interesting metaphor. I thought to myself about the meaning behind this phrase and how similar it is to the old idea that it’s impossible to lift one’s self up by one’s own bootstraps. Earlier in the day I had been reading His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Art of Happiness in which he talks a lot about the importance of compassion. He says that by being compassionate, a person will find true happiness. Putting these ideas together my metaphor began to form.

I, Faolan, cannot pick myself up by own bootstraps, just as a pendulum can power anything else but itself (there is some artistic licence at work here, both by myself and by Márquez but go along with it). However, I am perfectly able to pick someone else up by their bootstraps, even though that would be rather awkward and I would likely just end up tripping someone. Oops! The point still stands: I cannot lift myself up but I can easily lift someone else up.

While this all seems pretty basic, the interesting piece came along because I had been reading about the Dalai Lama’s ideas on compassion as an avenue to deep happiness. I suddenly imagined a situation in which I could put my energy not into trying and failing to pick up myself by my own bootstraps but in which I would use my energy to help pick up other people. If I pick other people up, when they are unable to pick themselves up, then I would hope someone would do the same for me. If this happens, then everyone ends up being elevated to a plane that was impossible to reach with only one’s own individual efforts. This is pretty neat and applicable, I think!

In a more concrete and scientific sense, it has been proven that people who are compassionate beyond the societally accepted baseline are happier than most others. When a person is happier, they are more resilient, more energized, and more passionate, not to mention they are more compassionate! Next time you have the opportunity to do something nice for a person, however small, go ahead and do it, and then keep doing these small things and I guarantee you that in the long run you will feel more fulfilled as person!

There are few methods that I have found work for me to become a more compassionate person and to make more small acts of kindness on a daily basis and these methods are as follows:

  1. I go into every day with the intention of brightening the days of the people around me
  2. I write down a list of small acts of happiness that I want to try and then I add checkmarks next to them when I complete one
  3. I stop focusing on myself and start focusing on the needs of others
  4. I take the time to go over the times I made someone else smile at the end of the day and adjust my goals for the next day to try and inspire more of these moments

Good Luck!

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