Thursday, November 24, 2011

What Does Happiness Look Like?

If you want to see what a happy man looks like, see the documentary "Bill Cunningham New York" (2010), which we watched with great delight last night (courtesy of Netflix).

Bill, a fashion photographer for the New York Times, has bicycled around the streets of Manhattan for 40 years taking pictures of interestingly-dressed people, mainly women. His work is seen in the weekend editions of the Times. He also catches celebrities at the charity events covered by the Times.

He does all this, at age 80, with Franciscan simplicity. "Money," he says, "is cheap." He wants and has found something more importrant and hard to find: freedom. Freedom to search for beauty. He does this every day with great passion.

He has always found beauty and pleasure in the way people dress themselves. And although he hobnobs with the rich and famous, he lives in a tiny studio apartment, alone, with bath down the hall, without a TV and with files everywhere around him stuffed with pictures he has made recording New Yorkers on the streets in their finery. Bill himself dresses in a patched poncho and simple blue jacket. He eats sparingly and doesn't want honors. He says he is embarrassed by displays of wealth.

To live simply and honestly in such a world is a heroic endeavor, but Bill Cunningham, with his disarming charm, is the last person to see himself as special, much less heroic.

He laughs and talks a lot but when asked why he attends church weekly, and what his Catholic faith means to him, he is stymied. He is not one to explore the inner life. If anyone can be said to lack a private life, Bill is that person.

He has lived for his work, and in this--and the people he encounters--he has found life-long happiness.

I am reminded of what the Dalai Lama said: "In order to be happy, one must first possess inner contentment; and inner contentment cannot come from having all we want; rather it comes from having and appreciating all we have."

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