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Happiness: Life’s Pay

April 26, 2011

If this life pays anything, it is happiness.  The thing we call happiness is a nebulous thing.  It is part this and part that and can be made to suit different tastes, but only in single-serving sizes.  Above all, it is a matter of preference, of taste.  It is variable.  One’s own definition of happiness changes throughout life.  The child is made happy differently than the adolescent is.  An adult measures happiness in completely disparate terms than its younger self and often casts former happiness must-haves as naive, silly, and, at worst, foolish.

The fruits of happiness do not hang ripely from weak stems under low-hanging branches in this world. It does not wash up unblemished onto soft beaches as abundant treasure.  Happiness does not hang in our closets like a fine suit to put on each morning.  Or does it and is it?

Many categorical distinctions have been made between events and processes, but happiness is certainly the latter and not the former.  Too often, and in most of us, happiness is viewed as out on the horizon;  a fixed state, once achieved sustainable, but, most importantly, not now.  It is, for many, the Missing Thing.  The Missing Thing is what we want but don’t have.  It is what we have but don’t want.  It is the thing we are about to lose but want to keep.  It is the thing that we are about to have happen to us that we don’t want to happen.

You all know people who have all the ingredients for a happy life but are miserable creatures.  They incorrectly identify, mismeasure, or perversely apply that raw material.  There are some that choose not to live for all they have and cause us to ask the perfect question: Why?  Conversely, you surely have been in the company of one with no sensible reason to be happy from your perspective but, confusingly, seems happier than you.

There are plenty of reasons for unhappiness to be sure.  The mother of a childhood friend of an acquaintance once said, “The happiest people I know, I don’t know very well.”  What economy of words!

This thing happiness is no such thing.  How can it be when its apparent makings can be present but its fulfillment absent?  How can it be when it is so evident in places where it ought not be?

My guess is that happiness is the proverbial journey and not the destination.  It is quantum mechanics; it is the observation of conditions that defines its reality.  It is relative and absolute.  Mark it and measure it as you will.  It is noun and it is verb.  A balance of coarse and fine.  All that is past, all that is now, and all that’s to come.  Knowable but not teachable.  But if life pays a wage, it is it.

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