At last week’s book club meeting, we discussed our monthly selection, Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder. Everyone there was amazed by Deo, the young man who escaped genocide in Burundi and Rwanda and came to America.
Surviving homelessness and hunger, Deo is befriended by a number of people who have faith in him, and he becomes a doctor. Yes, a doctor, a medical one. He doesn’t do it for fame or fortune, however, and Deo uses his education, experience, and expertise to return to Burundi to set up clinics.
As we discussed this outstanding person and his many attributes, we began talking about one of my favorite topics of late, happiness. I jumped on Gretchen Rubin’s bandwagon a couple of weeks ago when I first began reading The Happiness Project. While I agree with Rubin and all of the psychologists and philosophers she quotes about the importance of happiness, my book club and I wondered if people who are in survival mode also ponder its importance.
While Deo and his countrymen were literally running for their lives, did they wish for happiness, or did they simply want to survive the day, the week, or the month? When Mormon pioneers were crossing the Rocky Mountains in freezing weather, often having to bury their dead children along the way, were they thinking of how to be happy or how to make it to Salt Lake (a destination they weren’t really sure of yet)? Did the prisoners of concentration camps in Germany and Poland dream about “oh happy day,” or were they wishing for an extra crust of bread?
I don’t know the answers to the above questions. It does, however, make sense to me that when a person’s physical and material needs are supplied, then she begins to think more about wants, personal fulfillment, and yes, happiness. What do you think? Is happiness something everyone thinks about and desires, or is it something that people are more likely to consider after their survival needs are satisfied?