With my Indiana home frozen and snowed in lately, I’ve been watching some old movies.
What struck me about one movie, “The Inn of the Sixth Happiness,” was the Chinese believe each person must find what the sixth happiness is in his own heart. It seems, in their culture, there are five known happinesses — wealth, longevity, good health, virtue and a peaceful death in old age.
But, we each must seek and find the sixth, or final one, for completeness.
As the snow and cold continued, and I kept up my movie watching, I came to wonder if, universally, the sixth happiness is actually a divine sense of love. And, if it is, could it be this love that enhances happiness and that studies show contributes to better health and longevity?
For example, in the “Sixth Happiness,” based on the true story of Gladys Alward, a British maid (Ingrid Bergman) who became a missionary in China, the elderly missionary woman told Bible stories to the inn guests about Jesus’ life.
She did this, it seems, purely out of love for the guests and the joy she felt from sharing these stories. Might she have thought Jesus’ commandment to love one another to be the sixth happiness?
This movie took place before World War II and long before research began to indicate people with stronger social relationships had a
50 percent increased likelihood of survival than those with weaker social relationships — and that altruism and loving relationships promote health and longevity.
Gladys didn’t have statistics telling her that by helping others, she would live happier and longer. She loved because she loved. And, she lived two decades past the life expectancy for women of her era.
Another woman I know of did the same.
I met her on a Florida beach when regularly visiting my 90-something dad. She always greeted us with a smile and some chit-chat while she was wheeling her husband to the water. She would lift him gently from the wheelchair and walk him to the Gulf, then help him to float on his back in the water.
Saturday after Saturday, while we had our breakfast on the beach, I would watch her tenderly care for her husband, and it was inescapable not to see how the two of them looked at each other with a sincere soul-felt love.
Then, one year he wasn’t with her. She indicated he had passed on. Still, she, quite up in years herself, came to swim several laps every day. She radiated vigor and good health. From this I could see how love extends life and promotes health.
The Chinese teacher Confucius, who lived about
500 years before the modern Christian era began, said: “To be able to practice five things everywhere under heaven constitutes perfect virtue. They are gravity, generosity of soul, sincerity, earnestness and kindness.” These seem to me the same qualities that radiate from divine love, and what I was witness to was how they were practiced by the woman at the beach.
I’ve read several biographies of another woman, Mary Baker Eddy, who expressed the same loving virtues and lived to be 89 in 1910 when the life expectancy for women was only 51. In her seminal book “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” she wrote, “I love mankind.” When asked by a reporter at age 85, “Are you in perfect bodily health?” she answered, “Indeed I am.”
Eddy, my beach friend, and Gladys are three women who loved and devoted their lives to helping others, and who thus experienced the happiness, health and longevity that divine love had to offer.
Katie S. Brown, a Christian Science practitioner and teacher, writes about spirituality and health. She is the media, legislative, and public contact for Christian Science in Indiana, including the church in Nashville.