Thursday, June 26, 2008

Happiness is _ _ _

Over the past week, I've been thinking a lot about happiness, prompted by two of my regular cyber-haunts:

On Sunday Scribblings, the writing prompt, happy ending, provoked eighty-seven responses (at last count) -- some very touching and insightful, some questioning whether they even believed in happiness or happy endings.

On a discussion forum, someone posted an open-ended, "The meaning of happiness _______" fill-in-the blank question, giving rise to responses ranging from a simplistic "choose to be happy and you will be happy" to the very specific, "Freedom makes me happy".

This was my response:

Noun: happiness
1. State of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy;
2. Emotions experienced when in a state of well-being
The longer I hang around, the more often I see myself in the above definitions. It's not a constant state – more like fleeting moments that stretch, meld, dissipate, then reappear when I least expect.

I feel the need to explore this a bit further.

In general, I consider myself a happy person. I wake up in a good mood. I go to bed in a good mood (usually). I have my moments of raging anger and deep sadness, but I've learned how to let these moments ebb and wash away – the memories still there, but no longer all-encompassing.

When I was younger, I tended to hold onto these highs and lows like some sort of red badge, proclaiming, "See how angry (sad) I am!" writ large, capitalized and bolded. There was a certain degree of self-indulgence and melodrama involved.

No more. Life, clich├ęd as it sounds, is too damn short.

According to the above definition, joy and contentment are on the same continuum of happiness; different degrees of the same thing. I'm certainly not in a constant state of blissed-out happiness, but I do feel those moments of joy more frequently as I age. By and large, my happiness consists of contentment – a sighing, I'm glad to be here at this time and place, I belong here feeling.

I'm pretty sure these moments were always there. I just didn't pay attention when I was younger. I was too busy and fixated on my problems to notice when they occurred. I took them for granted, letting them slip by, barely acknowledged, as I rushed pell-mell into the next project, crisis or life-altering decision.

One moment I do wish I'd treasured more at the time, but now recall with fond nostalgia, is shortly after I met my future husband. We were attending university and near the end of spring term, we'd slip away (sometimes skipping classes) to a secluded Japanese garden on campus. The cherry trees would be in bloom and we'd find a sunny spot on the sloping grass that overlooked the pond. We'd lay there for hours talking and talking - about what, I can't remember because it didn't matter. We were happy just being together in that setting at that time. That was happiness.

On further thought, perhaps the ability to recall this memory means that my subconscious analyzed and recorded it as "happiness". It just didn't surface as such at the time. Or more correctly, maybe I didn't appreciate it as happiness. I suppose that's the thing about youth – you're too busy with all the clutter and drama to see the fleeting bright spots when they occur.

Why is it that life is appreciated so much more in retrospect? I guess it's the nature of the beast. I'm just glad I'm at this point in my life. I have my memories as well as an appreciation of the present.

Now where was I? Oh yes – happiness. What I don't think you can do is go seeking happiness. -- I tried to make this point elsewhere, but it fell on deaf ears. -- I think happiness is in the moment (see last two paragraphs). If you're in a great quest to find happiness, you'll miss the boat, so to speak.


Joy said...

Absolutely! Happiness is in the moment. Sometimes I pause in those moments and realize how content I am and appreciate it, but often I remember them and feel good again.

Joy said...

Oh, this also reminds me of that Peanuts book by Charles Schultz "Happiness is a Warm Puppy" that had the neatest examples on each page.

kenju said...

I also wonder why life is so much more appreciated in retrospect. I know that some parts of my life felt so painful at the time, but now I can see them for the learning experiences that they were and be grateful for them.

ell said...

When I first saw the phrase, "happiness is . . .", I thought of the Beatles song, Happiness Is A Warm Gun. I almost put it in the title, but had a feeling those who aren't Beatles fans wouldn't get it! :D

kenju, I've often thought the phrase, "no pain, no gain" seems a better descriptor for life than for exercise!

Gem said...

I think we appreciate things more in retrospect partly because we have by then accrued more experiences and therefore have a basis for comparison.
Generally speaking, we tend to rarely be satisfied with our lot, no matter how much we have we always want something more, or something different. This attitude tends to get in the way of appreciating moments as they happen . Later, when we have othe rmoments to compare against, then suddenly everything becomes clear.
I hope I'm making sense.

ell said...

Gem: Yes, you're making sense. Time and experience do change our perception of life events.