Thank you for all your replies to my last post on happiness, and what it is that gives us those fleeting moments of contentment and joy. In the two weeks since I've thought about it a lot more. I happened to write that post at a time when I hadn't been feeling a lot of joy, worn-down by an attention divided too many ways, not enough sleep and anxiety over all the good things that are going on in my life. Worrying about good things? Silly, I know. But in order to make those things happen, we've had to work pretty hard and having one too many projects, plans and jobs to juggle, doesn't leave me with enough mental space to really enjoy it all.
However, as previously established, these things we all juggle, are in fact, the foundations on which future happiness will be built: the right work, the good friends, the things you love, the money you need to live, creativity, self-sufficiency, whatever it is that makes you happy in the long term.
And yet piled altogether and all at once, they can make you wholly unhappy. Not only that, but I have found that it is consistently pretty hard to take the daily steps needed for the feeling of happiness and all too easy to choose a momentary satisfaction that mimics real happiness, say watching TV and eating candy, instead of going for a run, meditating, or engaging in real emotions with real, actual people (that's not to say that watching TV can't sometimes bring you genuine happiness).
Everyone I know that meditates, including teachers and long-time practitioners still says its hard. I've never met anyone who says watching Mad Men is particularly hard. Yet TV almost perfectly mimics the "loosing your self" aspect of joy. You are less within yourself when you watch movies, television, plays, surf-around the internet, or read.
Of course he path of least resistance is always, always easier to take than the high road, but personally I think that a little bit of both is the way to Shangri-La. Choosing that which will increase your happiness to come often, yet sometimes also letting yourself choose that which will unwind your racing mind.
So why talk about happiness? Why is every lifestyle blog full of tips for "staying present in the moment" and why does NY Times keep running articles on transcendental meditation (And why do so many of all articles about meditation have pictures of thin white women?), why is instagram filled with the hashtag #hundreddaysofhappiness (apparently according to a dear blog friend most people don't complete this challenge 'cos they don't have the time! What?)? Why can't we, myself included, just shut up about it already and just be happy?
Because, it is the one thing that we all strive for. If anyone denies their desire to be "happy", they're probably full of "shit". It is the ultimate goal of…well…life. I don't know if all societies, always have spoken of happiness, or if it once was implicit. If the fall from Paradise, is a myth remnant from the moment when happiness stopped being our natural state of being and became something we aspire to? The one universal thing we all want, so much so that pursuing it is written in the constitution of this unhappy nation.
The pursuit itself may be as old as civilization, but it seems to remain a wild goose chase, that many, if not most, of us are going about achieving the wrong way.
In this world, the world of complexity and endless choices, where most people do not do something meaningful for a living, where many people have no spiritual foundation, or no community, where everything is all at once up to our individual choice, and at the same time, we are more or less powerless to affect the larger framework within which we live, happiness can be hard to find.
We often confuse it with lust, love and want, with money, possessions, altered states, security, conforming to societal expectations.
The hardest thing about happiness for me is two-fold. On the one hand being happy with what you have, on the other working hard to achieve that which will create more happiness. Sometimes even identifying the things that make us happy can be a hard, having them obscured by those afore-mentioned, confusing substitutes.
In my last post, I talked about moments of transcendence, trying to each day stop for even a short while to examine our surroundings for the signs of silent bliss. Yesterday, for instance, I watched Charlie lay in the sun-warm grass with our cat, I stopped to look at the new chicks as they ran for the coop door, having never been outside of anything in their lives and intuitively still knowing that it is where they belong, I constructed pictures of myself, of all things, yet forgot myself, framing them, and all this made me happy.
But at the same time, I did this in the midst of completing an epic task list, reserved for this, my sole day off. Yet the expectation of completing all of these things didn't make me anxious, resentful, or depressed, simply because they are the things that make those other moments possible and more abundant.
It may not make me happy to spend my day off weeding clumps of grass from our still completely unfinished garden, even though it is mid-april and I'm still only getting started on the first bed, which is to house potatoes; but it makes me happy that we will have a garden, full of greens, peas, radishes and those potatoes. It makes happy that our busy farmer friend took that time to help us till it. It makes me happy that in a few brief weeks it will be something, a living growing thing we accomplished.
I would love to spend my days writing, kayaking, reading the Tarot, but in the end, building something that will feed us, or making money that will shelter us, buy us time for those pursuits should also fill me with happiness. Not the blissful joy-kind. The steady, sweaty, job-well-done, we'll-be-sleeping-sound-tonight-kind.
Daily happiness may not be just about looking up and recognizing the joy you have, it may also be about identifying the things that bring you joy, contentment, that make you feel like you've accomplished something, and then pursuing them; at times relentlessly in spite your exhaustion, at others, when you have the strength and concentration. At times it really is the experience of flow in even the most humbling, mind-numbing work.
Because even if I'm not writing, or doing the other things I'm passionate about, I'm still doing the "right work".
I've slowly come to accept that even the "wrong work", the day jobs, being tied to the computer, instead of the woods, can be the "right work", so long as it serves our greater purpose.
I'm also learning that sometimes the things we love the most can come second, can stay on the back burner for another little while. Rushing to complete the weeding, the sauerkraut, the etsy photos, the cleaning, I was in my head planning for this morning, how Charlie and I were going to get up early and go kayaking, finally a tranquil time alone in nature. Yet waking up early today to list stuff on my shop, to maybe write this post, though I did not know what it was going to be about yet, I realized that it would stretch the day too thin, that he was too tired, that I had too much to do still. Laundry, gifts, notes for a meeting I have, plans for work. Instead of being sad an disappointed, feeling like I'm failing, I'm writing this. Soon, Charlie will get up and we will drink coffee together and walk to the neighbors and go on with what we need to do today.
I'm perfectly happy about it. I can't make more time, he can't function on less sleep. We'll still have the day, with friends and costumed parades and cold cloudy weather. We will not go kayaking, but I will write a letter to someone who needs it badly, I will do the laundry we so badly need.
Happiness is in the cards.