On happiness

If happiness were a thing, an actual item, everybody would be buying it, and everyone would be happy. Very few ever choose to be unhappy on purpose. I suspect, however, that happiness is more a state of being than actual commodity. Yet, it is also nearly impossible to explain happiness in any concrete way. Sometimes I wonder if it is really the absence of sadness, strife, conflict, and melancholy, or is it more than that as well? The writers of the Declaration of Independence felt that happiness was something that all men might pursue as if it were some sort of esoteric goal—a cauldron of gold at the end of the rainbow. Perhaps for some, happiness is exactly that, an impossible pursuit. I would suggest, however, that happiness is best described as a series of moments, perhaps characterized by success in which some plan comes to fruition. Plans may take any shape or form—a trip, a museum visit, a well-cooked meal, a date, a well-written paper or essay, a cold gin tonic on a warm summer afternoon, a nap, reading a good book, sleeping all night, a clean, well-pressed shirt, a conversation with an old friend. These are examples only, and I would not limit happiness to any of them or their analogues. Happiness, outside of childhood, however, is made up of moments, is discontinuous, fragmentary. We are too worldly and cynical to understand the world in any other way. Our day-to-day experience is too broken up to maintain happiness, and we all experience, loss, conflict, violence, hate, discrimination, isolation, loneliness and disappointment on a regular basis. Happiness just drifts in from time to time to make everything else worthwhile. I would love to say that I am happy all the time, but I am also sure that this sensation would devaluate my truly happy moments. When I am not happy per se, I do not see myself as necessarily unhappy—this is a false dichotomy. When I am not happy, I hope that I have found a neutral ground upon which I might live while I get everything else together again. So I look for my moments, pursue those situations that give me pleasure, create a new piece of art. There is no doubt that there are those would sell their souls to recover their lost happiness, a nostalgia for a time that neither existed in the past, nor will it ever exist in the future. To be totally honest, happiness is probably about the moment, yet we fool ourselves into believing that some golden time in the past was better. Waiting for happiness to happen is a fool’s errand. We must always work on our happiness in the here and now with the people around us now and skip the hypothetical what if’s and mythical maybe’s, which are the dead ends of the eternally unhappy.