On the Dene law of being happy

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Editor’s note: Catherine Lafferty is writing a series of columns on the Dene laws. This week’s installment is on the ninth of the nine laws, which is: “Be Happy At All Times.” 

Some days I forget to be happy. On the days that I’m less cheerful, my mind starts to think of the many different things that I should be unhappy about. Small things that don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. And I go down that road of negative thinking. When this happens, I try to keep myself in check. I have to remind myself to try not to dwell on things that I can’t fix, things that are out of my control. I try to direct my thoughts to be thankful and grateful for the things that I do have and I do this with the help of prayer.

I try to remember to give thanks to the Creator every morning when I wake up but I have never been good at keeping a regular schedule and sometimes forget but even a quick prayer is enough to lift my spirits. I feel instantly better when I take a moment to pray. I feel like a weight is instantly lifted, and I feel surrounded by a bright light and am able to go about my day being happy again, letting go of things I can’t control.

Prayer is often underestimated and some of us (I’m very guilty of this) only pray when we are in trouble. But prayer works wonders and miracles happen.

When our hearts are genuine, prayers are answered.

Being happy often starts with being grateful, being thankful for all things. Grateful even for the hard lessons in life. Still, it is so difficult to be happy at ALL times. I think it was easier to be happy before news flooded our lives. Now we know about all the devastation that is happening all around the world and it is very troubling. That’s why it’s important to be silent. This is where the land comes in. Nature gives us the opportunity to reflect on the simplistic beauty of the world and all that the Creator has provided and this Dene Law indicates this. The Creator has given us everything we need which is why this law stressed the importance of taking care of the land and water.

I ran into Paul Andrew, a respected Dene elder in the coffee shop the morning I sat writing this article.

I asked him about this law. Right away, without having to think about it, he said “Accept people as they are. Once you accept that the world is the way it is then you will be content. Of course you can still do your part to make it better, but acceptance of the way things are is important.”

He also said that one of the things that the elders believe is that laughter is healing and helping to cheer someone up and getting them to laugh, especially someone that is straying away from their connection and relationship to themselves and others. People are easier to be around when in the company of someone happy, but the true test of love is loving someone when they are not at their best. When someone is unhappy it’s hard to be in their company, but it’s important to discuss things and find out what the problem is. It’s also important to be able to laugh at yourself sometimes, and not be too serious or sensitive. Consider it a compliment if you are made fun of as a visitor in an Indigenous community. And get used to it, too, because if you are easy to make fun of, the laughter doesn’t stop.

I want my children to always be happy and when they are not, I try to find out what it is that is making them anything less. Usually there is a reason behind why they are not happy but sometimes there are reasons that lie beyond our control. Depression and anxiety can severely affect a person’s happiness and that is when there is the need for supports to ensure that people experiencing those symptoms can overcome them as it is very hard to go through these feelings alone.

All of the Dene Laws focus on the most important aspects of ourselves of strengthening our identities, respecting each other and ourselves, being loving, grateful, responsible and of service. The Dene Laws are basic principles with spiritual qualities that truly help us to become better people for each other and for ourselves. The Dene Laws are not imposing, they are not difficult to practice and they are not selective.

They are essential guidelines that everyone can live by daily.