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GREENINGS: May you find your xingfu in 2021 (Jan. 2021)

January 27th, 2021 · No Comments

You won’t find true happiness inside a box

By Terri Chu

As we leave behind one of the most collectively awful years in living memory, let’s hope we find some happiness in 2021. During my own, personal review of 2020, one life lost in particular stood out to me. Tony Hsieh’s death hit me in a way celebrity deaths usually don’t. Hsieh was the former CEO of American online shoe giant Zappos, a billionaire. I heard him speak at a conference about a decade ago, and I was so impressed that I stood in line to buy his book and get it signed just so I could ask him one question: What is your plan to lower the environmental impact of your company?

Disappointingly, he gave me a canned response about how important the environment was to Zappos but said nothing of value. I managed to flip through his book, but I can’t say I ever bothered to read it. The title never sat well with me, “Delivering Happiness.” 

I just don’t buy the premise: happiness, delivered in a box? The rush that comes with the delivery of some new good is only followed by boredom and then by the insatiable desire for more “stuff.” What’s the average lag time between the joy brought on by the arrival of a new pair of shoes, and the time those same shoes are lost in the abyss of an evermore overcrowded closet? 

When snippets started to come out about Hsieh’s death, I felt incredible sadness that his own quest for happiness ended the way it did. He seemed like a genuine guy who truly cared about people. I got the impression that he cared about the well-being of those who worked for him and really wanted to make customers happy by delivering it. Hsieh was well respected for building a company that empowered people to “do the right thing.” 

However, his company was still built on the belief that happiness could be found in material goods. 

Unfortunately the contents in the boxes delivered by Zappos, and so many other consumer goods, are created through the systemic exploitation of the living world. 

The Chinese have a term that can be loosely translated into “a lifetime of happiness,”: Xingfu. 

Weddings and births are the usual times to wish someone “Xingfu.” The term has a temporal significance that “happy” alone fails to capture. If someone says they feel “Xingfu,” it means they feel happy, cared for, loved, and fortunate about their life. It usually implies a culmination of life events. 

Xingfu could never be delivered in a box. It could never come from the shopping mall or an online retailer. 

Xingfu comes from the family and friends who surround you. In a popular 2000s era drama set in ancient China, the protagonist orphan is happily singing with her sworn sister and adopted father in a horse drawn carriage. As the music travels out, another character asks “do you hear that? That is the sound of Xingfu.” 

Every single one of us knows that delivery-box “happiness” is fleeting. In 2020, when the world briefly stopped and the malls along with it, we faced a void. 

Those of us with families suddenly had to focus our attention on their well-being. Those of us without families were suddenly cut-off from the webs of social support that sustain us on a day to day basis. 

Most of us missed our friends and family. We missed making music, we missed having drinks with friends, hugs, kisses and chance encounters with people who we otherwise took for granted. 

Xingfu is that happiness many of us didn’t know we had until it got taken away. While so many of us kept clicking for online delivery, we knew all too well that the feeling we sought would not emerge from the boxes that landed on our doorsteps.

In 2021, may we all find true happiness and realize that planetary destruction is not required in order to conjure it. May we find pleasure in spending time with loved ones. May we reach out to our neighbours, lend a helping hand, and immerse ourselves in the beauty of the living world we are a part of. May we find Xingfu now that we know it can be found right in front us.

Terri Chu is an engineer committed to practical environmentalism. This column is dedicated to helping the community reduce energy use, and help distinguish environmental truths from myths. Send questions, comments, and ideas for future columns to Terri at terri.chu@whyshouldicare.ca.

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Tags: Annex · Life · Opinion