Towards a happier future
On Transfiguration Sunday – February 19, this year – we had our monthly ‘Souper Sunday’ gathering, since it was also the third Sunday of the month. We shared in a simple meal, with a program that followed, as is our format for these evening gatherings.
We watched a film called The Economics of Happiness. It’s a film that re-frames the trend towards globalization, which has sometimes been seen as a good or inevitable thing, as one where trade agreements have a corrosive effect on social connections and economy, and favour business interests. It features a number of intellectuals and politicians who speak for localized food, economy, and culture (but not to the exclusion of cross-cultural relations), and who see the decline in environment as a problem with a solution if we were to, collectively, change our systems so we were not producing and consuming at the rate we have in recent decades. Among the contributors to the program were Helena Norberg-Hodge, Vandana Shiva, and David Korten.
It seems to me that there are a couple of directions that people could go after viewing such a film. It’s possible to miss the opportunities for growth that are suggested – like living with less, living on less, and seeking out good relationship with neighbours near and far. So one might see such a film and say, “we’re sunk – our social and economic climate, along with the environmental crises everywhere, mean that there is no turning back”; alternatively, we might say, “we don’t need to feed into consumer-culture in the way we have for the past fifty years; let’s change how we live so all might have life!”
If we feel that there is no turning back, I think we might do well to ask ourselves how much of our living – and therefore our perceived happiness – is wrapped up in a culture and society where we’re told how to feel. That is, we’re told we need to look a certain way, own certain things, consume certain products – and if we don’t, we can’t possibly be happy. On the other hand, can we see ourselves embracing a way of life where we don’t need to “keep up with the Joneses,” so to speak?
To live differently will mean making choices about where one buys their groceries and daily needs; it means making choices when it comes to participating in the electoral process; it means making a conscious effort to support the living of others – people and planet. So it’s not as simple as saying, “I’ll only stop shopping at that particular big-box store.” It means looking at the labels and finding out where and how products are produced, and then choosing ones that are made in decent conditions, and not too far away. It means researching the platforms of candidates and political parties to find out what their agendas really mean – and how those agendas affect others, near and far.
In the church-year, when we hear the story of Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-9), we hear of Jesus and his disciples going to a place away from the public-eye. As they are away, Jesus is ‘transfigured’ – his disciples see him in a new way, and his divine nature is revealed to them (even to the point of God’s voice coming to them in a cloud, “This is my son, the Beloved – listen to him!”). Jesus’ life and words were about living in good relationship, and not accumulating things so that those with more were ‘rich’ and those with less were ‘poor.’ This continues to be a challenging word for us, today – living in such a way that all have enough, so that all might have a full life.