The Happiness Test

How we treat others is a strong indicator of how we feel about ourselves

A student stormed into class this week, his own personal hurricane. 

“You okay?” I asked.

He shook his head, his eyes filled with a mixture of hurt and anger. “These kids said I looked like a 3rdgrader. They were making fun of my height.”

Despite our masks, I could hear a snort-like laugh emerge from a girl in our classroom. 

Ah, middle school: the realm where cruelty is often the dish du jour. And at that moment, the girl’s laugh caused the boy’s eyes to tear up.

“You want to know a secret?” I asked. The room fell silent. “When someone is mean, it’s about them. They aren’t happy with themselves.”

The girl who had, just seconds before, snorted a laugh said, “I like making fun of people.”

“Maybe it makes you feel good for a little while, but it doesn’t make you feel so good in the long run. Besides, if you were happy, really happy with yourself, you wouldn’t feel a need to make someone else feel bad.”

The girl nodded slowly. While the mask made it hard to “read” her face, my gut says she “got” the lesson.

Despite most of our readers experiencing life post 6th grade, the Middle School Mentality persists: the colleague who passive-aggressively puts you down at a meeting, the ex who continues to threaten court, the driver who tailgates.

The pandemic has caused an incomprehensible domino effect of loss and change around the world; it is not, however, an excuse to be cruel to others, ever.

If you are choosing to read my work, chances are you can relate more to the boy in my classroom than the snort-laughing girl. You are kind, compassionate and proactively trying to live your best life. 

We are spiritual Russian dolls in this life, living with the layers of who we were at each stage and carrying those perceptions with us along the way. We are the 6th grade boy, horrified and angry by other kids’ cruel words; we may also be the girl who laughs at the pain of others because deep down, we aren’t happy with ourselves.

So, the next time someone snaps at you or cuts you off in traffic, consider the “Happiness Test.” When someone is acting out in an aggressive or cruel way, it’s a reflection of THEM, not YOU. The aggressor or bully isn’t happy with themselves. 

The good news? You don’t have to join them. 

“Who’s Watching What You Dish?”

Poem Inspired by Our Humanity

I like to think of us as a bunch of Russian dolls scurrying around our planet Earth: We have our many different versions of us. As a colleague recently noted in response to a compliment I gave her LinkedIn profile, “Everyone looks great on LinkedIn. No one sees what goes on when you go off the LinkedIn grid.”

Many of us who are fortunate enough to still have employment during COVID-19 have grown quite comfortable emerging the pajama-clad Russian doll. And when we have ventured out into our new world, we can often be observed sporting a facemask, our eyes now doing a great deal of talking for us. Draping our face with a mask is, according to both the CDC and WHO, recommended to reduce the spread of COVID-19. So the mask wearing is displaying our Russian doll of respecting others and ourselves.

Our world is filled with our respective Russian dolls. After all, the way we might talk to our best friend is not necessarily the way we would speak to our doctor or bank teller. But there’s one group of people that are watching all of the Russian dolls each of us inhabit in a day: children. 

Each new generation comes into our world as a spiritual clean slate. They digest the messages we serve—whether directly or indirectly. Our planet is clearly on the cusp of significant transformation. Now, more than ever, it is up to each of us to consider what we are dishing out to the world around us—especially children. They are watching us in all of our Russian doll manifestations, ingesting the words we might throw down without a second thought like a frozen pizza. 

Remember when you had to look up to see the kitchen counter, an adult’s seemingly huge arm reaching up effortlessly for a plate on the top shelf? The world was fresh, exciting and memorable then. Just as we were listening to understand that world and drawing conclusions based on what we heard from the “grown ups,” so too are the children today. Only now, social media and technology make information arrive at lightning speed, causing a potential tsunami of indigestion if we don’t take the time to both process and consider what Russian doll of ourselves is showing up in the world to our young people.

There’s an African proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child.” Here’s the truth: at the center of each of those Russian dolls, we are all children. When we remember this, we work together—the best dish for the planet.