A wild hair pricked the backside of my curiosity lobe causing me to ask a few people what happiness meant to them. As DOM (dear old mom) said (one of those I asked), philosophers have been trying to define happiness for eons. Being that I h’aint no philosopher, I sure don’t want to compete with smart guys trying to define something beyond my comprehension. Still, the wild hair was annoying me for opinions.
I thought it best to start with a smart guy, Albert Einstein. I couldn’t ask him, but he did have a few things to say on the topic. One was, “if you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not people or things.” Another was, “…a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happiness would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.”… And yet another was, “…happiness never appeared to me as an absolute aim. I am even inclined to compare such moral aims to the ambitions of a pig.” (Clearly Albert was talking about free-ranging pigs prior to them becoming chicharrón).
As I set off on this short-term opinion-finding mission for this state-of-being that, in this country, our Declaration of Independence affirms we each have the right to pursue, I was met with a tad bit of resistance. In other words, not everyone was comfortable answering the question, “what does happiness mean to you?”
It’s a harmless question, yet it seemed to put some on the spot. Very few could answer without hesitation. Some chose not to answer. One even answered slightly testy (not so happy?) when I asked the second time.
Apparently John Locke was no dummy either. He wrote that humans “are drawn by the forces of pleasure and repulsed by pain.” (Inferring happiness is associated with pleasure.) He wrote in 1690 that, “the necessity of pursuing happiness is the foundation of liberty.” It may be where TJ borrowed the concept for inclusion in our independence document.
The reason I had asked anyone, besides the prickly hair, was that I’ve been trying to remind myself through anxious moments that I’m happy (wasn’t I?). But before convincing myself that I may be happier than I realize, I had to answer the question first. What is happiness to me? It’s a subjective concept with lots of degrees, levels, intensities, durations, and perception values. Smelling the roses may make one person happy while the next might not be happy without dominating multitudes.
My pithy answer is that happiness is a period of elevated, sustained contentment. Not just the I’m-content-in-this-muck-patch contentment. More like, I’m-reveling-in-this-muck-patch contentment.
But muck patches come and go, even though some people seem eternally happy. Brother D said he could be in a state of happiness but if in that moment someone smashed his hand with a ball peen hammer he would most likely stop being happy. At some point, happiness may and does stop. It doesn’t mean that the opposite is true, that if we are not happy we are unhappy. It doesn’t’ mean that we exist in a state of either happiness or sadness. Or does it? Could it mean that if we are not unhappy we could in fact be happy?
Some of the responses I received to What Happiness Means To Me are:
- the trillions of dazzling but fleeting “moments” that glue a lifetime together
- unconditional acceptance
- seeing the smile on my kids faces when I tuck them in at night
- waking up and not getting hit by a frying pan
- bliss…and being with the one I love
- being able to walk without being tethered to an oxygen tank
- catching blow fish, and later setting them free
- blowing my wad, and knowing I can do it again
- eating pecan pie guilt-free
- when I have peace in my heart and in my mind
- peace of mind, even if it’s just a minute or two. Being able to pause and enjoy the moment in this fast-paced and sometimes crazy world
- being true to myself
- when I’m able to control the impulse to give the dog a good swift kick
- accomplishments,…and this feeling is constantly changing
- enjoying or loving a process or a means to an end
having a healthy and loving family,…a challenging job,…laughing with good friends and family,…enjoying what you love to do,…achieving goals you set for yourself.
The point of this happiness post was not to get philosophical. It’s way too deep a subject for this pea brain. But happiness is a feeling, a state of mind. And we control our minds and our feelings. That’s kind of the great thing about being human. We control whether we are sad or happy or somewhere in between. It’s as easy as the song Don’t Worry Be Happy says. Right.
Maybe the trick is to simply stay out of the unhappy state. If so, we end up somewhere on a (not so) slippery slope between inertness and euphoria.
If I ever have any doubts about what happiness is, maybe I’ll get out the hammer and smash my hand for a point of reference. On second thought, maybe I’ll be happy for the endless possibilities that are still within my power to create.