A woman I know climbed on the bathroom scale after two weeks of butterless toast and chilly jogs around the park. The needle was still stuck on the number where shed started. This struck her as typical of how things had been going lately. She was destined never to be happy.
As she dressed, scowling at her tight jeans, she found $20 in her pocket. Then her sister called with a funny story. When she hurried out to the carangry that she had to get gasshe discovered her roommate had already filled the tank for her. And this was a woman who thought shed never be happy.
Every day, it seems, were flooded with pop-psych advice about happiness. The relentless message is that theres something were supposed to do to be happymake the right choices, or have the right set of beliefs about ourselves. Our Founding Fathers even wrote the pursuit of happiness into the Declaration of Independence.
Coupled with this is the notion that happiness is a permanent condition. If were not joyful all the time, we conclude theres a problem.
Yet what most people experience is not a permanent state of happiness. It is something more ordinary, a mixture of what essayist Hugh Prather once called “unsolved problems, ambiguous victories and vague defeatswith few moments of clear peace.”
Maybe you wouldnt say yesterday was a happy day, because you had a misunderstanding with your boss. But werent there moments of happiness, moments of clear peace? Now that you think about it, wasnt there a letter from an old friend, or a stranger who asked where you got such a great haircut? You remember having a bad day, yet those good moments occurred.
Happiness is like a visitor, a genial, exotic Aunt Tilly who turns up when you least expect her, orders an extravagant round of drinks and then disappears, trailing a lingering scent of gardenias. You cant command her appearance; you can only appreciate her when she does show up. And you cant force happiness to happenbut you can make sure you are aware of it when it does.
While youre walking home with a head full of problems, try to notice the sun set the windows of the city on fire. Listen to the shouts of kids playing basketball in the fading light, and feel your spirits rise, just from having paid attention.
Happiness is an attitude, not a condition. Its cleaning the Venetian blinds while listening to an aria, or spending a pleasant hour organizing your closet. Happiness is your family assembled at dinner. Its in the present, not in the distant promise of a “someday when...” How much luckier we areand how much more happiness we experienceif we can fall in love with the life were living.
Happiness is a choice. Reach out for it at the moment it appears, like a balloon drifting seaward in a bright blue sky.