The secret to happiness

Just like birds we can be loners, extroverts, vulnerable, boisterous, shy or competitive. We sing because we can and just like the birds we go to great lengths to look our best when we want someone to notice us. We too make a home, defend our young and make sure our loved ones have enough to eat. But unlike us, birds are always in danger. They fly away at the slightest movement, as if they have PTSD. But despite this disadvantage, birds teach us many things about how to deal with struggles in life.  

In the Age of Information where people post on social media their shapely figures, pimple-free skin, career promotions, blissful relationships, and everything else fake that makes for thousands of followers, it is ironically birds who remind us what it is to be true to ourselves. Birds are perfectly content with faded feathers, wrinkly legs or disproportionate beaks. Rather than envying popular feathered influencers such as flamingos, even the ‘plain and boring’ little brown sparrows are happy with who they are. Birds show us that our self-esteem is never dependent on what other’s think. They teach us how to be true to ourselves.

Feathers are everything to a bird. They keep them warm and dry. Without them they couldn’t fly. Birds spend a lot of time preening their feathers, to make sure they are up to the task. When a bird is wounded it can go into a catatonic state. But as soon as the bird comes round, it gives itself a little preen and flys away. Like birds, we too suffer hard knocks. But with a little preening – aka self-care – we can begin to take charge of our lives. Self-care is things like putting away the day-time pyjamas, tidying up, making the bed, eating healthy, and getting some exercise. Taking charge hatches self-respect. Self-respect is the medicine for self-pity. Birds show us how to take charge of our lives. 

Birds spend much of their day ‘talking.’ With chips and squawks they inform their neighbours which territory is theirs and where they intend to build their home. Chicks tell the parents when they are hungry, and the parents let the kids know when dinner is ready. Birds also know how to listen. They keep an ear out for danger for themselves and for each other. When a Caledonian crow dies, they flock to the same tree and sit around for hours without saying a ‘word,’ (which is what we do in Jewish life when someone dies, except we don’t do this in trees). Birds remind us it is important to talk to each other, but sometimes it’s best thing to say nothing at all. Birds show us how to listen.

Every moment birds are in danger. They risk their lives when poking their head out of a tree and put themselves in mortal danger when hunting for food. They are even in danger when they are asleep and their chicks are at risk before they are born. Many birds fly thousands of miles across stormy seas and scorching deserts. With so many dangers, it’s a miracle they survive at all. But survive they do. All this Hollywood stuff of how superheroes fearlessly crush their enemies and survive against all odds is utter nonsense. They are not the superheroes. Birds are the real superheroes because most of the day birds feel afraid, yet they stand firm, stare fear in the face and still do what they need to do.

Birds squabble, fight, hurt and kill. When a bird is attacked, other birds engage in an angry squawking frenzy to scare the predator away. Anger is Nature’s way of telling us that we have been hurt unfairly. Being angry on behalf of someone who has been hurt unfairly, is a form of kindness. Their sense of injustice on our behalf helps us keep control of our own anger because we know we are not alone. Birds show us that when we have been wronged, we need other people to validate our pain, so we can keep our cool.  

It’s a hard life being a bird, especially on the ground where predators can gobble them up. Little wonder they fly. Flying not only gets them from A to B, it also gives them distance from the troubles around. Way up in the air, a bird feels safe. It gains perspective from the threat below. To manage with the hardships in life, we too need perspective. One way is to help someone who is also suffering. Our own troubles shrink when we realise that there are others who have it harder than us. Birds teach us how to step back and gain perspective  

Even though birds do not have a fancy mansion, or millions of dollars, or wear Calvin Klein underpants, they are content. Satisfied with their lot, they can be found chilling on a branch, relaxing beside a pond or taking it easy in a field of flowers. Unlike us big brains, these little brains know how to enjoy the moment. The past with all our disappointments and mistakes can steal our enjoyment of the present. Focusing on the future often stops us from appreciating the now. Keeping the past and future in their proper place, enables us take stock of the present. It helps us feel satisfied with what we have. Birds teach us to enjoy the moment. 

When hard times come and essentials get scarce, birds need to rethink and make changes to survive. When it comes to building nests, they may have to use twigs instead of leaves and change their diet from mosquitos to worms. If there is not enough of any of these things, they will fly to a distant land where there is plenty to be found. Our lives can change due to a broken relationship, an accident, a death, an illness, abuse, moving house, crime, a loss of a job, or in my case – a machete attack. It doesn’t help to spend too much time wishing life would go back to what it was. Birds teach us nothing is permanent, and the sooner we can rethink, the better we will cope with what is ahead. 

Most birds like being with family and friends. They forage together, snuggle together, sing to one another and fly together. Birds take care of each other, and they know what each other needs. The more extroverts among them, make friends with different species. When it’s time to roost, many species share the same tree. Safe in numbers, they can get a good night’s sleep. When it comes to flying thousands of miles in arrow formation, birds even take it in turns to lead the way. Being at the front is hardest because of the head wind. They take it in turns to take up the strain. That’s purposeful and kind! Birds know they are not just out for themselves. Birds show us that kindness to others brings us meaning.  

The life of a bird is fraught with danger and loss. They are attacked by predators, they lose their feathers, their chicks get eaten and they can’t sleep for more than a few minutes at a time. They also never know where the next meal is coming from. But despite all this, birds can’t wait to get up in the morning and sing their hearts out. Even when they don’t sing, they can be found perching on a wire or a branch and looking thoughtfully and thankfully into the distance. With all our problems it’s easy to complain. But complaining doesn’t help. If we can train ourselves to be thankful for the small things in life, we will begin to feel better. Birds teach us the secret of happiness.