Happiness Defined: When Was I Happy?
October 21, 2012
What makes us happy? What puts a sparkle in our eyes? What makes our step lively and our heart quicken? Do we know? Where do we find happiness?
Some look for it in a special someone; others in the fulfillment of a life ambition. Unfortunately, for too many, it has everything to do with the bottom line of their bank statement.
We live in a world obsessed with wanting to be happy. We go to extremes and do things that are sometimes ridiculous and often harmful and we invest all our time and treasure in its passionate pursuit.
Someone e-mailed me a story and I will share it, just to make a point. Please, don’t charge me with plagiarism. It isn’t mine and I don’t know who wrote it.
“One day, a young lion asks his mom: “Mom, where is happiness?”
Mom replies: “It’s on your tail.” So the young lion keeps chasing his tail. But after a whole day of trying, he fails to find happiness.
When he tells his mom about this, she smiles and says: “Son, you don’t really need to chase after happiness. As long as you keep going and moving forward, happiness will always follow.”
Are you chasing your tail?
If you ask a person my age to describe our best time, it will probably be whatever we remember made us very happy. And because we have lived long and experienced life from different vantage points, we also know that our happy moments, like the sad ones, were not meant to last forever.
These were snippets of time, that had they lasted longer, would today not be half as precious as they are.
Instead, they are now suspended somewhere in space and time, just as they happened then, and we can bring them back by simply remembering.
I believe being happy is not a state of life, but merely a moment, or string of moments when all our “happiness gauges” hit an all-time high. Like the poet Robert Frost says: “Happiness makes up in height for what it lacks in length.”
Sad but true, we don’t know what we have until it is gone. Happiness flees like an elusive butterfly, leaving behind just a glimpse of the flutter of its gossamer wings, and a subtle taste of honey.
One must, therefore, learn to live in that precise moment, to grasp it with both hands and with all our hearts etch it upon our souls.
I remember practically jumping out of my skin with excitement every time my older children came to visit. I lived in Hawaii and they came in the summer and during the holidays. This was my happy time. I couldn’t wait to see them and hold them in my arms; but as soon as I did, I could taste the bitter tears of having to say goodbye.
Summers are not forever and holidays are over too soon.
I asked my cousin what makes her happy. “It is when I give to someone in need.” There is no return expected. Not even gratitude. “Giving is its own reward.” Because I know her well, I also know she must be very happy indeed.
My daughter believes happiness is a place she can go to when the sad times come. She draws from it as she would from a bank. A little bit like Peter Pan, she feels that all one needs is a little fairy dust.
Is life a state of happiness interrupted by moments of sadness or is it the other way around? Can anyoneanswer that?
Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish who is happy and who is not. Like the proverb says, “that same girl who laughs and talks a lot and seems very happy is also the girl who may cry herself to sleep.”
Studies claim that people are happier in a small town, as opposed to a big metropolis where it is crowded and congested. So pray tell, how is it that I was so happy those many months in Manhattan?
My heart was in ribbons when I packed my bags and flew to New York, there to assist and lend moral support to a friend in legal trouble. It was a high-profile case and we were at once celebrity and pariah.
But in that nerve-wracking atmosphere I learned to set my woes aside. The tension over someone else’s troubles helped me keep my sanity. It was not exactly the happiest place on earth to be. But we had our moments: cheering when my friend was acquitted; sharing memories with an old writing buddy; gushing over the Christmas sights on 5th Avenue; weeping proudly watching Lea Salonga do “Miss Saigon.”
Polls show that 70 percent of people gainfully employed are happy. In studies of different age groups, the happiest are between 16 and 19. In the 65-79 bracket there is satisfaction. Lowest in the polls are those between 55 and 59.
The measure of being happy is too often based on appearance, wealth or success. But one finds out soon enough that none of these give long-term happiness. It is not surprising to learn that the same study reveals being successful offers no guarantee.
What makes me happy? Being with family tops my list; knowing that I am loved. What gives me the greatest satisfaction? When I recognize my parents’ values in my children and grandchildren and realize that I may have been the bridge that caused those values to cross over to the newer generations. At least I would like to think I had something to do with it.
When was I happiest? I cannot give you a specific place, date or time. But today a whiff of cologne, a song, the sound of waves crashing on the beach, or the sight of a rainbow across a blue sky can bring it all back. In a few seconds, I am transported to that time and place and, yes, I am happy.
But this is by no means the end of the line. I believe that no matter how happy I may have been at any moment in my life, I can expect to be much happier still in the future. Am I dreaming?