Sitting beside me, she leaned over and looked at me intently. She then asked me a question that dumbfounded me. The ‘She’ in this situation is an 85-year-old woman who is a cherished friend of long duration. She loves me, loves Wendy and especially loves Max. Dog lovers are invariably good people.
But her question disconcerted me.
“Are you happy?” she asked.
How does one respond to such a query? It seems a simple question, but it’s really an amazingly complicated one. I tried to move away from responding – because I couldn’t think how to, by asking a question of my own.
“Why do you ask?”
“Just because you’re an outgoing and friendly person, as far as people see you. And people really like you because you’re ‘welcoming’ and show you really care about them. And I know you do. But sometimes, in repose, you look terribly serious.”
Not lugubrious, not hostile, but serious. Well, that’s not so bad. Can’t go around being frivolous all the time. There’s a great deal in this world – and arguably even in my life – to be serious about.
Later I began to ponder about the essence of happiness and what makes for happiness. If you want to play along, just ask yourself if you are truly happy. Feel free to share. I think I am – for the most part. But I also know that within certain elements of my life, I’m not.
Consider happiness from the perspective of the Greek philosophers on the subject. Plato’s Ethics demanded that we must live a completely moral life in order to be truly happy. And in embracing a moral path we are liberated from stresses and tensions and can look to dying in our beds at an advanced age. Remember, that’s ‘Plato’ not ‘playdough’, though that can be happiness-inducing, too.
Goodness, therefore, equals happiness.
Drat! No, not really. I think it’s true that if I am racked with guilt I feel much less happy. You know, I might have had fun, but I also fucked-up and maybe made some others unhappy. That doesn’t leave me a contented puppy.
Sixties folksinger, Donovan, once suggested that “happiness runs in a circular motion”, which is kind of a Zen view of how it works, and there’s a validity to it. Happiness indeed comes back on ourselves and for a time we may be buoyant – maybe even for just an orgasmic, concupiscent (for instance) instant, and then it dissipates. And then it circles around and comes back again. At least if you’re doing life right.
So, what things in life do, or have, afforded me what I see as genuine happiness?
– that aforementioned sexual encounter with one I love and who loves me.
– A truly fulfilling conversation of the sort I’d like to have persist for hours or forever.
– Wondrous places I have seen in this beleaguered yet stunning world.
– A walk in the woods or countryside in which the ‘air’ is just right. It has a fragrance and a feel that soothes.
– A lovely young woman in a summertime frock.
– Laughter of children at play.
– A peaceful spot in which to read and/or nap.
– A soft and lingering kiss.
– An unexpected kiss.
– Seeing an island in the deep tropics and realizing that tropical isles are all that I’d fantasized they were.
– Seeing the Battersea Power Station while crossing the Thames in the train after having been away from the UK for a number of years.
– The airplane coming to rest at the airport of any one of the Hawaiian islands.
– My wife, my dog, my friends.
– Having gained an ability – to a degree – to live in the moment.
When am I at my least happy? If I know I’m lying or cheating (especially to myself). Hats off to Plato in this one. I have a built-Jewish mother and I’m not even of Hebraic extraction. Nothing distresses me more if I’m being untrue to another, and especially if I’m untrue to me.
Other things that diminish my contentment?
– health concerns.
– My age. I’m a realist, but I still have certain elements of age denial. None of them really work, since I am the age that I am. But, there is a virtue in thinking young at the same time.
– The state of the world. But, I can do nothing about that except behave as a responsible citizen and realize that I live in one of the most privileged societies on the planet in one of the best times, all other considerations notwithstanding.
– Regrets. There are things I’ve done that I’m not proud of, and there are steps I have not taken and avenues of life I didn’t explore. But that was then and I cannot change them, so the idea is to not repeat past stupidity or negligence and if I do, then I can only blame myself.
OK, so I’m not so serious as my friend perceived and I’m happy to have a friend who has that sort of honest perception.