By Gerald “Strib” Stribling
My granddaughter Oona Pearl and I have a tradition of watching Despicable Me II whenever we’re alone together.
For one thing, my two oldest granddaughters and my step-granddaughter are the spitting images of Margo, Edith and Agnes (Oona is Edith), and I closely resemble El Macho. I howl with laughter every time Edith and Agnes use automatic weapons to blast the bad minions with blobs of jelly. And who can forget the minion poetry reading that preceded Lucy and Gru’s wedding—the best sendup of the artsy-fartsy world yet.
And then there’s that song: Happy. We love that song. I recently ran across a great YouTube video of a 10-piece band called Walk Off The Earth in a tiny little room playing Happy. It’s on my book page if you want to see it and it’s delightful. I play it a lot, and I’ve been listening to the lyrics. They’re very Buddhist.
Buddhist happiness isn’t like after-sex happy, or I-just-won-a-new-car happy. It’s not even like I-just-had-twins happy. Buddhist happiness comes from mental and emotional health. Equanimity. Strength of mind. Character. Only you can make yourself happy.
I might seem crazy what I’m about to say
Sunshine she’s here, you can take a break
If by “break” you interpret the lyric as meditation, absolutely. You relieve your stress through meditation. You breathe new life into your happiness every time you meditate. Five minutes during my lunch hour was all I ever needed to keep plowing through the day, back when I worked.
I’m a hot air balloon that could go to space
With the air, like I don’t care, baby, by the way
The first Jhana reached in deep meditation is bliss. If your mental capacities are strong enough to achieve bliss, the concerns that drive many people crazy mean nothing to you.
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
In the Buddhist jungles of south and southeast Asia the structures have significant gaps between walls and roofs to allow air to circulate. I found this to be a source of entertainment and contemplation at night, when the bare bulb light in my cubicle attracted bugs, and then before you know it I had four or five little geckos scampering around my wall eating moths, and a fist-sized spider or two who just sit there. You can look right into their eyes, and see their fangs (I know a British girl who peed her pants when she saw one on the inside of her toilet stall door). What does it say about a culture that doesn’t molest these animals? They call spiders makaluas in Sri Lanka.
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
The Four Noble Truths lead people to happiness. Knowledge of the nature of human suffering, as found in the Dharma, clinging to what is temporary and craving for what you don’t have makes people unhappy. Warm relationships and compassion are what make people happy, but relationships are temporary, too. Compassion leads to abiding happiness. You can sit around in the retirement home and brag about how you’ve always been a nice guy…just ask my third wife, she’ll tell you.
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do
The notion of Right Effort in the Noble Eightfold Path refers specifically to the effort people put into their meditation practice. You can’t be truly happy if you have demons to emasculate. Insight meditation allows you to confront your delusions and cut off their nuts when you have the strength of mind to realize that they are only thoughts, and thoughts can’t hurt you.
Here come bad news talking this and that, yeah,
Well, give me all you got, and don’t hold it back, yeah
Well, I should probably warn you I’ll be just fine, yeah
No offense to you, don’t waste your time
You cannot possibly be happy with hate in your heart. And since Donald Trump entered presidential politics, most of my friends are just eaten up inside with hate. I care about what’s happening in and to our country, but I don’t care enough to hate anybody for it. When I catch myself, I go to my happy place and meditate. Trump is a buffoon and I find myself laughing at him more than anything else. People can be stone-cold humorless—it’s why I left the left. I don’t like people preaching to me about how I should think because I really hate to be told how to think. Don’t waste your time.
Because I’m happy…
Because there are too many problems I can’t do anything about, I’m not going to squander my caring over them. Bugger off. Yes there is global, catastrophic climate change, and no, there is not much we can do to stop it.
Bring me down, can’t nothing
Bring me down, my level’s too high
Again, if you’ve developed the kind of equanimity Buddhist wisdom points the way to, then you can “withstand” whatever comes along, and even find happiness through helping others when the shit hits the fan. If you’re “Buddhist enough,” that is, committed to your practice, at some point in life your contentment will run roughshod over your worries. People in their fifties and sixties are the happiest ages to be, says some nerd who conducted a study of people self-reporting how happy they were. It’s not because they’re Buddhist, of course, but because they have thought things through, and there is distance from their more tumultuous—and stressful—younger years. What was pleasure has turned into what is pleasurable. That should be natural to attain when you’ve been meditating for years. You learn how to savor your leisure. It’s hard not to be a grownup when you’re 55 (remember when Scotch used to taste yucky?).
Just in time, too. The Baby-Boomer Generation is, among other things, the arthritis generation. Old age hurts. So does getting sick and dying.
Can you die happy? I don’t know. I’m still alive.
Editor: Dana Gornall