What is happiness?

I was reading a short essay about happiness by author Helen Garner last night that got me thinking.

It started like this: “What is happiness, anyway? Does anybody know? It’s taken me 80 years to figure out that it’s not a tranquil, sunlit realm at the top of the ladder you’ve spent your whole life hauling yourself up, rung by rung. It’s more like the thing that Christians call grace: you can’t earn it, you can’t strive for it, it’s not a reward for virtue. It exists all right, it will be given to you, but it’s fluid, it’s evasive, it’s out of reach. It’s something you glimpse in the corner of your eye until one day you’re up to your neck in it. And before you’ve had time to take a big gasp and name it, it’s gone.

“So I’m not going to spend what’s left of my life hanging round waiting for it. I’m going to settle for small, random stabs of extreme interestingness – moments of intense awareness of the things I’m about to lose, and of gladness that they exist.”

I understood what she was saying about the intense awareness of things I’m about to lose and of gladness that they existed … but I also didn’t entirely agree with settling for small, random stabs of extreme interestingness.

But I suppose that’s the thing about thoughts and opinions and the beauty in everyone having different ones.

I have moments of being up to my neck in happiness most weeks. Sitting at the Westpac Open Air Cinema on Saturday night watching the ever-changing colours of the sunset was one of them. Actually, the whole day was one big explosion of happiness.

However, I also have moments of deep sadness, such as when I think about people I have loved and lost or when I walk past my local synagogue and see the bulletproof fencing and bollards around it and wonder why there is so much hate in the world.

Then it occurred to me that what I was feeling on Saturday wasn’t just happiness, it was joy. I wasn’t entirely sure the two were different, so I consulted with Dr Google, who confirmed that they are.

According to Psychologies: “Joy is more consistent and is cultivated internally. It comes when you make peace with who you are, why you are and how you are, whereas happiness tends to be externally triggered and is based on other people, things, places, thoughts and events.”.

The author of the article said one of the keys to cultivating more joy in your life was to practise gratitude and embrace the simple experiences and pleasures.

“When we’re moving at 100mph, we take the simple things for granted. These are often the things that top up our feelings of joy. When you’re more present, the simpler things become joyful; the food you eat, the air you breathe, the sounds of nature.”

Admittedly, I usually move at a pretty fast pace, but I find so much pleasure in the simple things these days.

On Saturday those things included the clear water, the soft sand between my toes, laughter with friends and sipping bubbles with my sister during a beautiful sunset.

I went for a walk with my friend Mel last night. We hadn’t seen each other for a few months and told her how unhappy I was to lose my third Christmas to COVID-19. But also how content I felt when I was recovering and still quarantined in my house. I loved the peace and stillness and gazing at the trees outside my windows gave me so much pleasure. They still do each day.

While I enjoy the fun freebies in fancy places that Drinks Digest often brings into my life, one of my happiest places is sitting on DD’s front deck, sipping a glass of wine in the late afternoon, chatting lazily in our cossies after a swim at the beach.

Or is that one of my most joyful places?

Helen was right, happiness is an elusive thing to chase.

Joy is an easier thing to find … if you know where to look.

Song of the day: Pharrell Williams “Happy”

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