“Happiness is when you give the love…” — Philadelphia cab driver
Elevation results, when the right kind of tone and the right kind of emotions, with the right kind of rhythm and respect, become integrated with the right kind of themes to form a vibrant life-philosophical line of thought. — Finnish practical philosopher Esa Saarinen
“Don’t get out; it’s too cold,” I told the cabbie. “Just pop the trunk.”
He did. I put my bags in the back and slid into the cab. “38th and Walnut, please.”
“How are you, sir?” he offered.
“Very good. A good day, yes? I hear we are going to get some snow,” I replied.
“I hope so, good for business,” he smiled, glancing into his rearview mirror to catch a glimpse of me — then added, “Why are you so happy?”
The question caught me off-guard. I hadn’t thought of myself as particularly happy, I was just being what has become my new normal over the past few years.
“You give the love,” he said, not waiting for my answer.
As he drove, he spoke to the rearview mirror that had become our portal for communication.
“The moment I saw you — you were concerned about me. You gave me love and you give me happiness. You share your happiness with me and now I have it to give to others,” he told me.
“Thank you,” I said, somewhat mystified.
“I have traveled 42 countries; I speak five languages. I am an Indian man,” he began. “Wherever I have been I see people trying to be happy by taking the money, taking the drugs, taking the drink. They never get the happiness. But it is the people who give the happiness — they have that are the richest people in the world. They are truly happy. They love what they do and who they are — and they share their happiness with other people. I have learned to spot these people. They can teach me, they can help me spread happiness to my wife, to my son, to my business. You are very rich in this because you can give it away and I see there is always more. Do you teach there?”
“I’m working with the positive psychology program,” I replied, trying to take it all in.
“Ah, yes, psychology. I am starting an NGO to help young people with ADD find themselves — find what they are good at. I am no psychologist, but I know what I know. Too many times people look at you and see what is wrong: You can’t do this, you can’t do that. My son had blue hair and baggy pants. No one paid attention to him because he was ADD. He was too enthusiastic about what he liked to do. I teach him to be happy with himself, inside. I teach him to give his happiness away and this let people love him too. He is now very successful. I want to do the same for others like him. Share the happiness — and you are rich,” he said as he smiled.
“You are doing it. You are sharing the happiness you found with your son,” I said.
“To be humble when you are giving the happiness is most important. In my country the saffron color is about being humble. God says “I am me, who are you?” And this must be remembered,” he replied.
“Yes,” I agreed.
We reached my destination and he put the car in park, and turned back to look at me. “Your ride is free; you have paid me with your happiness.”
We reached through the divider window between the seats and shook hands. I have ready a $20 bill in my palm, more than three times the fare. He sees the bill and we both smile and nod at the reciprocal gestures of appreciation: Our shared moment: Shared happiness.
He popped the trunk and got out of the cab and I got out the other side. As we met in the back of the car we spontaneously hugged and held each other. All this before 9 a.m. Here it is: At the corner of 38th and Walnut at the University of Pennsylvania, two men who didn’t know each other seven minutes ago are hugging. How is this possible?
Barbara Fredrickson would say we had just had a micro-moment. According to her latest book, Love 2.0, the two of us had just shared a moment she had dubbed “positivity resonance.” It is a confluence of shared positive emotions between people that is brief, intense and, according to her research, activates three elements of love that are biochemically “virtually identical” whether they occur.
It is the same no matter if it is between parent and child, friends, lovers, or total strangers. To learn more about what happens during these moments see here.
But there is another lens through which this micro-moment can be seen. It is understanding our shared moment as a series of micro-changes. When I told the cabbie not to get out and I put the bag in the trunk; when he asked what made me happy; his offer not to charge me; putting a $20 bill in his hand. These are micro-changes: Small transformations in our behavior which accumulated to create the shift in our attitude toward one another.
Esa Saarinen, the Finnish practical philosopher, is the champion of micro-changes. He proposes something called “elevated reflection,” which may provide the key to what will be “life-improving processes of individual flourishing.” His lectures and writings are aimed at elevated thinking for the purpose of a better life. Curiously enough, Saarinen uses the same idea of resonance, but it is one that resonates between “the thinking of a theme and the feeling of emotions” within the individual. A micro-change is a small gesture that results from this elevated reflection. When this happens between people the result, as he so eloquently puts it, is a “majestic moment of shared experience.”
Are the majestic shared experiences for Saarinen the same as positivity resonance for Fredrickson? I will leave it for the philosophers and researchers to sort that out, but the idea that micro-moments and micro-changes overlap seems ferociously important. The micro-changes extend our goodwill and well-being and ripple out to positively affect the moments of our day. Perhaps no one knew this better than Mother Teresa. She realized what micro-changes were all about when she explained: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”