WHAT IS HAPPINESS?
“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’” – Kurt Vonnegut
What makes a person happy? Is it when they first wake to a brand new day and after brewing that first cup of coffee, they retire to the front room and just sit there waiting patiently for the sun to rise and become enthralled with yet the beginning of another day?
Or is it the clock striking five PM on a Friday afternoon and the anticipation of spending the entire weekend on a beach sipping margaritas while wiggling one’s toes in the sand on a beach as they sit there listening to the waves beat gently upon the shore.
Truth be told, I would venture to say that most people do not think of such moments near as often as they think of moments that make them sad. Ever wonder why that is? Think about it for a moment. When a person is happy, what are they doing – they are engaged in doing something and as a result do not even know they are happy.
For the most part, I would have to say that looking back over my days/weeks I have quite a few happy moments. Moments such as now while sitting at my computer trying to compose an article to post; or first thing in the morning when I am walking alone with my thoughts; or during our daily line dance practice.
I must admit that I tend to notice the not-so-happy moments far more than I do the happy ones. This is probably because when I am not happy, I tend to become frustrated with myself or with whatever is bothering me and as such, the very thing that is making me unhappy or frustrated comes to the forefront of my mind and does not allow me to think of anything else.
Think about that for a moment! When we are happy, chances are that we are usually lost in whatever it is we are doing (like when I am dancing – one cannot concentrate on anything else because if you do, you lose count of the steps and mess up). And if you are the one doing the teaching, last thing you want to be doing is messing up. When I’m happy, I’m usually lost in doing whatever it is that made me happy and dancing makes me happy. As does walking (because I know it is healthy for me) and writing (putting words on pages is so therapeutic to me).
Back to the quote mentioned in the beginning of this article – it would appear that what Vonnegut is trying to say to us is that we should take work at noticing when we are happy and make note of the times during the day when we feel good about things. In doing so, only then can we commit those particular times to memory so that we get in the habit of performing those things daily thus assisting with the goal of determining what makes us happy.
I mentioned my daily walks and also my line dancing and writing. Even though at times I find it difficult to actually begin some of these activities, fact is that I am usually happy after my daily walk, both during and after our line dance class and definitely after I have sat down and composed any piece of writing that I hope to share with others. In each of these activities, while I may feel somewhat exhausted or exerted, in neither case do I feel overwhelmed or that I won’t be doing that again. I feel the same way when engrossed in a book that I am reading or in playing a game of cards with my wife, or even when we spend two hours on a Wednesday evening playing a domino game called Mexican Train.
It is at times such as these that one truly gets to realize how rich our lives are. The happiness that surrounds us and envelops our mind when doing something that we truly enjoy doing makes one realize just how miniscule those few times that sadness creeps into our lives really is. Those few times of sadness are truly minor in the overall scheme of the big picture. And looking at life in this manner tends to make one feel much better about a lot of things in our life.
When I was an online instructor (in a prior life) I used to mention to students that – in life – nothing is as consistent as change which is true. However, happiness is derived from two particular things: (1) How satisfied you are with your life and (2) How good you feel on a day-to-day basis.
It is the combination of these two things that define how happy an individual is with his or her life. At one time, I would have considered myself to be a true pessimist but over the last decade I have decided to look on the more optimistic side of life. In doing so, I found that being optimistic also tends to help me be happier. And to be quite frank with you, being happier is a lot more fun than being sad.
What about you? Which way do you lean – happy or sad?