Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Life, and the Pursuit of Happiness

The ironing and mending will soon overflow the laundry room and start creeping up the basement stairs. There are assorted bits of paper and notes about things I have to do creeping out of my office and starting to flow down the basement stairs. And I will shortly be in a position to plough and plant the kitchen floor. Tant pis! JG is enough improved to get himself to the chiropractor and I have an hour and the house to myself. For the first time in a month. And I am going to enjoy it.

We are looking after the YG's dog for the next week or so. At present she is reclined on her bed, ignoring her well-filled food dish and glaring at me as I go by. This is always her first reaction to being left behind but she soon gets over it and by this afternoon will be galloping along beside, ahead of and behind me, with the occasional pause to ostentatiously SIT in front of me, this action being a demand for a dog biscuit. We once had a dog that I named Biscuit because of her colouring; we had her for seventeen years and I do not recall her assuming the SIT position deliberately even once in all those years. She relied on stealth and her big, pleading brown eyes to gain her treats. And on standing on my feet while I cleaned up after a meal, especially one where a roast pan had been employed to make gravy. Mind you, the YG's dog is equally fond of gravy and I have a small portion put away for her. If my dogs were not well trained, at least I am.

I listened to a CBC broadcast last night as I drove home from the YG's place with the dog on the back seat. What I was listening to is a program called Ideas, which airs most evenings, 9:00 to 10:00 pm EST. The documentary that was on was a thing called 'Say No to Happiness' , and I found it fascinating. The premise was that the purpose in life for most of us is 'the pursuit of happiness' (whether or not it is explicitly written down, American friends) and that this is not a good idea. One of the focus points was this: that most people cannot define 'happiness' and therefore do not know what it is that they pursue, leading them to live shallow, facile lives.

It's a point, certainly. I have been thinking, ever since, about what I think 'happiness' is and what it is that I pursue in life. Um. I think that I am happy when I get a new book in the mail, especially one that I have been waiting for. Or when I curl up in my easy chair, late at night, with hot chocolate and the aforesaid book open in my lap. Or when the sky is a deep, vibrant blue and the sun flashing diamonds on the snow as I head off for my morning walk. Or when our daughters or granddaughter visits and we have crafts and laughter and cut-throat games of Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit. These moments, though, are gifts and, like gifts, things that are not part of the regular routine. and they may be moments of joy, not simply happiness.

Am I a happy person?, I ask myself. Certainly I routinely try to seem happy. From the time I was a small girl I realized that my mother needed me to seem happy. I was her candle, burning in the night, and she needed me to do well, to be her sunshine, to bring purpose to her days. I guess this taught me to be outwardly vivacious and warm; it also taught me to need to be needed. And so I am content with myself when I am involved in some helping activity in my community, I feel that I am worthwhile when I do something for a member of my family, I try to be caring. I also enjoy sewing, knitting (if the garment is not too big), painting, photography, graphic design. These are things I do reasonably well and that produce a finished product that is satisfactory, if never as perfect as I intended it to be. But does content or enjoyment equal happiness?

It's not a question I normally ask myself - 'are you happy?' I wonder 'will this be interesting?', 'have I learned anything?', 'Was that helpful?'. Sometimes what I am doing, when I am writing and the words flow and the ideas come together, when I finish the last stitch on a neat little garment, when a meeting I attend goes well and people come together, I feel a mixture of, I think, satisfaction and joy. I live for those moments. And in them, I am alive.


  1. Ahem... Ok, so I admit, maybe 'happier' wasn't quite the right word for me to use... Like you, I don't know that I ask myself regularly if I am happy, but interesting, yes! And satisfaction and joy factor quite highly :)
    Great post!

  2. Some people are so busy pursuing happiness they forget to be happy (trite but true!) Good luck with the fuzzy puppy and thank you ... love!

  3. Good post. Like you, I'm not sure that "happiness" is the right word, but I think it will have to do. You've actually used words/ideas like contentment and worthwhile, which may come close to what life should be about. I think we need to sometimes reflect on the fact that we are sentient beings, the only ones on the planet really, who can be aware. Sometimes it is enough for me to remember that and to take in delightful breaths of life-sustaining air. In other words, I can revel in being sensate alive for the moment. And sometimes I worry and fret and get a little depressed. :)

  4. I am feeling decidedly unhappy this morning. Everything seems deeply frustrating. Does that mean I am happy when things are going my way? Maybe if I get some food in ma belly and clean something things will feel better.

    I think it is key to pursue happiness (whatever that is) rather than to wait around for it to show up, or to give up on finding it altogether.

  5. What a thought-provoking and thoughtFUL post! Your reflection about your childhood role is insightful, and I suspect many readers had similar experiences. "Happiness" is such a basic but loaded word. It seems facile--almost juvenile--to say one is happy. Like you, characterizing myself as content, satisfied, etc. seems more precise. For those of us of a Certain Age, we know that Life can take a sudden turn and Happiness can become Tragedy all too quickly.

    De's final sentence is very germane, and one I used to impress upon my students so often. Life (or happiness) isn't something that just happens to you; you have to go out and steer toward it yourself. Certainly, for younger and less mature individuals, The Pursuit Of Happiness might mean the relentless acquiring of material possessions or prestige, but to me, it means that I have to find my own source of joy within me, not look to others to supply it.

  6. "From the time I was a small girl I realized that my mother needed me to seem happy. I was her candle..."

    This is so familiar.


  7. A black squirrel! I love it. We have squirrels here but ours are either brown or gray.

    I think the key is the word "pursue" -- knowing that happiness is fleeting, ephemeral, we pursue it... Skiing makes my husband happy, but of course a person can't ski every moment of the day so his pursuit, I'd say, has been to set up his life so he can ski as often as possible, w/o compromising the other things that make him happy.

  8. I think contentment is better than happiness because it can really go on & on, whereas happiness is often fleeting.
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May

  9. I think one can only see their happiness when they step back and reflect and count their blessings. Often the mundane everyday experiences of life fool us into thinking we are not happy. I don't think one can pursue happiness, I think one must choose to be happy. It is a state of being, or a state of mind.

    I know--so profound :D