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Happiness Is…

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 she’d 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 car—angry that she had to get gas—she discovered her roommate had already filled the tank for her. And this was a woman who thought she’d never be happy.

Every day, it seems, we’re flooded with pop-psych advice about happiness. The relentless message is that there’s something we’re supposed to do to be happy—make 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 we’re not joyful all the time, we conclude there’s 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 defeats—with few moments of clear peace.”

Maybe you wouldn’t say yesterday was a happy day, because you had a misunderstanding with your boss. But weren’t there moments of happiness, moments of clear peace? Now that you think about it, wasn’t 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 can’t command her appearance; you can only appreciate her when she does show up. And you can’t force happiness to happen—but you can make sure you are aware of it when it does.

While you’re 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. It’s cleaning the Venetian blinds while listening to an aria, or spending a pleasant hour organizing your closet. Happiness is your family assembled at dinner. It’s in the present, not in the distant promise of a “someday when...” How much luckier we are—and how much more happiness we experience—if we can fall in love with the life we’re living.

Happiness is a choice. Reach out for it at the moment it appears, like a balloon drifting seaward in a bright blue sky.

Condensed from Glamour, Adair Lara, Reader’s Digest