Hard Run
Having A Day

Read This! What is Happiness?

Lately I am in love with the NY Times. Not so much the front-page news, because most of that, in any paper, is more than I can deal with, so I read it only in snips. No, what I'm loving about the NY Times is the articles about books, reading, philosophy, art, thought, ideas. It's something I've discovered at work; every so often someone will forward a link to an article we all must read right now, and after a few of those emails I've taken to perusing all by myself.

But ever since I started writing book notes on my blog, it's harder for me to read something, even a newspaper, without also writing about it. And wishing I could just hang out and talk about what I've read with a big group of like-minded people. The columns I like most in the Times are the ones I'd discuss with that imaginary group, but since it doesn't exist I decided I'm just going to write about them here. Sort of like my own little letter-to-the-editor, except I hope that you'll read the article too, and join in on the dialogue.

So! That said, here's my first Read This! entry:

Happy Like God by Simon Crichtley


The process of finding happiness is, I think, one of our fundamental processes as human beings. Once our basic food-and-shelter needs are met, happiness might even be the thing we live for. I mean, why else falling love? having children? taking vacations? painting your bedroom the perfect shade of green? When you trace it back to its source, each thing we do in life is for happiness, either our own or someone else's. Yet it's also hard to pin down. "What makes you happy?" we might ask each other, but maybe the "what" isn't the point. Maybe nothing makes us happy. Maybe happiness just exists, and sometimes we manage to discover it. Critchley suggests that happiness is discovered in moments of contemplation, times when we are surrounded by a beloved landscape and can simply just exist, experiencing that exact moment. When we're in that moment, time loses meaning. Maybe yesterday you were unhappy, or tomorrow will be the happiest day of your life, but it doesn't matter because in that moment you are experiencing happiness. This, he suggests, is the happiness God feels, independent of time.

I don't necessarily agree that this is the only happiness, but I do think it is a kind. A valuable kind. I can remember feeling that type of happiness as a child. Behind our house was an enormous cornfield, and my greatest pleasure was wandering up and down the rows of corn, watching the sunlight and shadow move around each other, or watching the progress of the purple morning glories as they changed from tight, spiral twists to open, exotic blossoms. I didn't know (and wouldn't have cared, I think) that they were weeds that probably drove Farmer Nelson crazy, nor that I drove him crazy, wandering around his cornfield. I felt it, still as a child, at Lake Powell, where entire hours could be spent scratching my name in the wet sandstone, the water a lulling presence all around me. And the possibility of feeling it is why I love hiking. I don't often achieve it anymore, though; it's hard to let worry vanish enough to manage the "state where the soul can find a resting-place secure enough to establish itself and concentrate its entire being there" when you're hiking with your kids or even, sometimes, with your husband. But I know it could be found in the mountains, and that is what brings me back to them, over and over.

So, tell me (or blog about it too!): what do you think? Is that how God is happy? Are there other ways to experience happiness? Have you ever experienced the happiness he writes about? Where?

Comments

becky

I know the kind of feeling that you are describing. I think it can only come when you are away from your element, in the mountains or otherwise separate from your day to day worries. And I think it is closely related to peace. It is similar to those few moments in a run when you feel like you do in your dreams: weightless.

Margot/NZ

You know it when you meet them - those 'centred' people; the ones who have a calm core no matter what's happening around them. In my experience, of the two I know well enough to ask, they have been those who meditate. One is a carmelite nun, the other a buddhist. The experience Rousseau writes about - and your cornfield memories - are forms of meditation, I think. Where time doesn't matter.
It's a while since I can say I was 'happy' like this - but it's something too good not to want to experience again. Thanks for this post and the inspiration to spend some time 'centred' each day.

I do think there are other 'happinesses' - especially when we are conscious, awake, aware, intentional. I like this quote from Aristotle: Happiness is a state of activity. I take this to mean that we have to actively work at happiness - it's not a passive state.

So here's to being awake, but meditative!

Mary

I think it was Krishnamurti who said, "When you ask yourself if you're happy, that's when you stop being so." For much of my life I thought happiness was the ultimate to seek. But I found out that truth comes ahead of that. I love your writing about it and causing us to ponder. Thanks.

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