The post in which I write about happiness: A life sentence with mortal punctuation, part 10

I’d wanted to wrap things up this week, but the happiness post seems to have a mind of its own 😉  So next week will be my finale for this series in which I will talk about how my life and experiences have influenced my writing.

For now, though:

What I’ve learned about happiness

supreme happiness

supreme happiness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First, it’s an amorphous thing.  It’s hard to pin down.  Sometimes you only realize in retrospect that you were happy because of its sudden absence.  Sometimes you know that you’re happy because your friends and family clearly aren’t and by comparison, you’re feeling pretty good.  Sometimes, you just need to find a still moment and let the happy come.

Here is the definition (linked for your convenience):

hap·pi·ness [hap-ee-nis] noun

1. the quality or state of being happy.

2. good fortune; pleasure; contentment; joy.

Origin: 1520–30; happy + -ness

Related forms o·ver·hap·pi·ness, noun

1, 2. pleasure, joy, exhilaration, bliss, contentedness, delight, enjoyment, satisfaction. Happiness, bliss, contentment, felicity imply an active or passive state of pleasure or pleasurable satisfaction. Happiness results from the possession or attainment of what one considers good: the happiness of visiting one’s family. Bliss is unalloyed happiness or supreme delight: the bliss of perfect companionship. Contentment is a peaceful kind of happiness in which one rests without desires, even though every wish may not have been gratified: contentment in one’s surroundings. Felicity is a formal word for happiness of an especially fortunate or intense kind: to wish a young couple felicity in life.

You can look at as many definitions as you like, but you won’t find one that actually conveys what happiness feels like.  It’s all just wordage, and one time when post-modernist or semiotic analysis might tell you more about what happiness actually means than reading a bunch of words on a page or website.

Last year, I finally got around to reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.  It came highly recommended by a colleague from work and a few online friends, but I have to say that I was less than impressed.

I appreciate Gretchin’s candid style and some of the insights she gains in her year-long happiness project (which has subsequently been renewed in ensuing years), but I couldn’t relate to a lot of what she wrote about.

She was honest about it, indicating that her life was pretty darned happy already.  She didn’t have many crises or tragedies to make her personal search for happiness compelling, and she admitted that this might make her happiness project ring hollow to some readers.

I didn’t really find this, but what I saw was someone who really didn’t have to dig deep to find the happy in her life.

I did agree to a certain extent with her philosophy of “act the way you want to feel,” but I found it to be disingenuous.  I’m not a gloomy Gus, generally speaking.  I smile and say hello.  I chat with people, but I don’t go out of my way to pretend that things are peachy when they are so definitely not (for me).

Still, I have to admit: I’m happy most of the time.  The key is to recognize your happiness and observe it.  Happiness is kind of a sacred moment that has to be respected and cherished.


Happiness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Retrospective happiness, A.K.A. Big Yellow Taxi happiness
The first kind of happiness I noticed in my life was retrospective happiness.  This is the kind of happiness you realize after the fact because you’ve suddenly been faced with a sad or difficult situation and the change in your mood helps you to understand that you were, in fact, happy, before the situation arose.
It’s important to take some time, even a few moments, to think about that happiness.  What did it feel like?  How relatively easy was it to be productive, proactive, and socialized with friends and family?  This way, you can more readily recognize happiness the next time it enters your life.
Happiness is like a child.  It likes attention and will hang around if you show it that you appreciate it 🙂
I characterize this happiness with the lyrics to the song Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell: “Don’t it always seem to go/that you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone?”

Comparative happiness, relatively speaking
I often noticed when I was happy because Phil was not.  Often it seemed that when he was having a rough go of it at work, things were going swimmingly for me.  I like it when things turn out well and this makes me happy.  Currently, we’re both having a bit of a bad time at work, but interestingly, we’re both fairly happy at home.
Again, notice how this kind of happiness feels.  Is it based on accomplishment, recognition, or something else?  Is there a way that you can foster these happy-making elements in your life?  Happiness is an opportunity.  Learn how to invite it to come knocking 🙂

Happiness-in-the-moment, A.K.A. Zen happiness
Sometimes, you just have to take a moment to realize, regardless how you think you feel, or should feel, that you are happy.  It’s a weird phenomenon, owing in no small part to the inexact and un-pin-down-able nature of happiness.
Also, in the Buddhist tradition, there’s this idea of non-attachment.  In order to experience something, you have to stop wanting it, let it go, become disinterested in it.  Happiness can sneak up on you at the strangest times.  If you’ve been careful in your observation of your happiness in the past, you might be “surprised by joy” at an unexpected moment.
I also think of this as serendipity, or, as I like to say, surrend-ipity.  It’s only when you surrender to the moment that you can find your greatest happiness.

So that’s it.  Three ways to find happiness.


happiness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you have other techniques you use to find the happy moments in your life?  I’d love to hear about them.

Tonight’s TV line-up: Once Upon a Time, Game of Thrones, and Vikings.

Have a great evening!