The documentary A Small Good Thing is named after an award winning short story written by Raymond Carver. At the center of the story is a message of the healing power of community. In the same vein, the documentary centers around 6 people who have chosen to find happiness by focusing on family and community.
The problem with today’s world is that it’s so convenient and we have everything at our fingertips, but that doesn’t equate to happiness. You can’t be truly fulfilled if you don’t have to work for anything. And what are we doing with all that time freed up by so much convenience? Browsing social media and watching Netflix, mostly.
Collectively, we also believe that happiness = success = money. We have a lot of material wealth but we also have the highest rates of mental illness and depression ever recorded. We aren’t happy and we aren’t connected with one another. We feel alienated and alone. Studies show that once a person reaches the $75,000 mark in terms of yearly salary, anything above that makes zero difference in happiness.
The material growth we’ve been pursuing is not reliable and it’s destroying our planet, literally and figuratively. So how can we live in a better way? A Small Good Thing follows 6 people in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts who are trying to live according to this philosophy. There’s a yoga instructor, dance teacher, college student, produce farmers, and a livestock farmer. What did they discover by simplifying their lives and taking a more holistic approach to happiness? You’ll have to watch it yourself to hear their answers. But here are some interesting and important ideas that I took away from the film…
- Indra’s Net is a Buddhist metaphor used to demonstrate the ripple effect and interconnectedness of the universe. “In the Heaven of Indra, there is said to be a network of pearls, so arranged that if you look at one you see all the others reflected in it. In the same way each object in the world is not merely itself but involves every other object and in fact IS everything else. In every particle of dust, there are present Buddhas without number.” Each pearl’s job is to be itself and by doing so, it holds the entire net together.
- In Sanskrit, the word dharma has multiple meanings, one being the “calling or sacred duty” and it’s relation to fulfillment and being the best version of yourself. We have a responsibility to our calling.
- Small farms are on the rise in the U.S. There are currently around 2 million, and they are between 200% and 1000% more productive than large-scale farms. This is due largely in part to the fact that small farms depend upon actual humans whereas large farms depend upon technology and fossil fuels. This relates back to the unreliable growth we’ve been pursuing that is destroying the planet. Also, it means that corporations are in control of our food supply instead of actual people.
- “True success in life is finding your passion and living it out.”
- There’s this cool thing called BerkShares, it’s a local currency that is circulated throughout the entire Berkshire region of Massachusetts. It’s approved by the government and people can exchange federal currency for BerkShares. It keeps the spending local and supports small businesses.
- The only sort of out of place subject of the film was the livestock farmer. Everyone else featured chose very peaceful occupations – yoga, education, dance, growing vegetables – but this man chose to raise animals for slaughter. If we’re talking about community, then he contributes locally raised food to people that consume meat, but I don’t think true peace and happiness can reside in a person that kills for a living. Livestock farmers somehow invoke this image of living a “simple” lifestyle but I find it’s actually very complicated. In the film, the farmer even states that he doesn’t like taking the pigs to slaughter, and the first time he ever did it he couldn’t sleep. His conscience is telling him one thing, but he’s choosing to do another. A person can’t be truly happy if they are going against their conscience. In contrast, one of the produce farmers in the film is a vegetarian. She watches the livestock farmer slit the throats of his chickens, which for her reaffirms her decision to be vegetarian, with the idea that if she can’t kill something herself then she shouldn’t be eating it. I hear a lot of vegetarians/vegans use this logic and I agree to a certain extent. But so many people have become desensitized to animal slaughter, so just because they can kill it means they should eat it?
- We consider compassion as a weakness, but actually, it’s something naturally wired into our brains. I think children exemplify this best, we see it in their inherent love for animals and their ability to look past appearances and make friends with anyone. As adults we sometimes have to retrain ourselves to be compassionate.
- “When you don’t share, internally you’re destroying yourself.” Taking an interest in other people’s welfare is essential to our own. We are not meant to be self-interested and competitive.
Money is just a piece of the puzzle, but it’s not the entire puzzle. We believe that material possessions and property are what make us free when really it’s our internal qualities and our willingness to be open and inclusive with one another that makes us free. A community with a purpose is important because you give your life to something bigger than you are. Increasing the greatness of your community instead of increasing the greatness of yourself impacts everyone, including yourself. So in helping others, you are also helping you. That is the most basic concept of compassion to me.
The ultra-convenient, material world we live in can cause us to do negative things because we’ve lost our sense of purpose and community. The good thing is, it’s never too late to change or try to make yourself better. As one subject in the film relates, every negative act you do adds a layer around your heart until you build a fortress, but every kind act you do peels away one of those layers.
Check out A Small Good Thing and see if you agree.