Happy is the man who finds a true friend, and far happier is he who finds that true friend in his wife. —Franz Schubert
I knew the moment I stepped out the back door this morning that today was going to be a struggle: I stumbled over the threshold as the dog pulled on his leash. This was one of those mornings where nothing felt quite right. The skies were cloudy and a brisk breeze was blowing. Our neighborhood is normally fairly well lit with a majority of people leaving their front porch lights on all night. Not this morning, though. Several lights that are normally on were off. Instead of keeping his nose to the ground, as he normally does on our morning walks, the dog was sniffing the air. He pulled at his leash more than usual and occasionally would stop dead to smell. He wasn’t happy. Something felt off.
The problem is, I keep having days like this. Granted, they don’t all start out quite as creepy as this morning’s walk, but finding the happy has been a struggle. Trying to be positive and reaffirming has been much more of a challenge than it should be. I’m having more negative experiences than I am positive. I know I’m not alone, either. I see your posts on Facebook and Twitter. You’re trying. You want to be happy, but when you think you’ve found a smile someone comes along and slaps it off your face.
Let’s try something different
I recently started reading the book Mindfulness: a Practical Guide To Awakening by Joseph Goldstein. Don’t let the ethnic sound of the author’s name fool you. This book is 100% unapologetically Buddhist. However, there is a fair amount of crossover between Buddhism and Dudeism, so I’m guessing there might be some things I can apply. Any help is appreciated.
I’ve not gotten too far into the book, though, because I have this habit of not necessarily taking people at their word. The Internet has reinforced that habit and this political season isn’t helping at all. So, just getting through the preface and introduction of the book took some time as I felt compelled to check the references. After four days, I’m just starting the second chapter. I’m not gleaning a lot just yet.
One thing that has struck a chord, though, is the concept of impermanence. Goldstein goes into some detail and even quotes an absolutely beautiful poem that drives the concept home. Ultimately, though, the whole thing can be summed up in a simple statement: none of us are getting out of this alive. There’s no point is getting all worked up about things when, in the end, every last bit of it is temporary. The beauty, the occupation, the money, the glamor, the reputation, and prestige all die. They gain us nothing that actually impacts our long term happiness.
Creating a starting point
If everything is temporal, then is there anything that actually can make us happy? There is a sign on the wall of our living room that reads: Happiness is not a destination, it is a way of life. I’m not sure who originated that thought, but it seems to fit in with where I think Goldstein is taking his readers. And if happiness is a way of life, then perhaps we might start by meditating on the elements of life that make us happy and consider why we have attached happiness to those pieces of our lives.
For example, the first cup of coffee in the morning makes me happy, not in the smile-on-my-face sort of way but more of an internal feeling that I’m now ready to handle the day. Why does that make me happy? Perhaps the answer is partly because that is the moment where all my senses begin to feel awake. Prior to that point, half of me is still asleep. I’m not fully aware until I’ve had that first cup of coffee.
There’s a problem with coffee being a happy point, though, according to Goldstein and the whole Buddhist mindset: coffee is a thing. True happiness is not found in things, they say.
Let’s try this again
Another thing that makes me happy is snuggling with Kat. We don’t get to do this as often as we’d like. We’re both busy and, quite honestly, we’re both the type of people who frequently prefer to be left alone. We are sitting here this morning enjoying each other’s company, but neither of us speaking or even sitting close together. So, when we do actually have time to connect on any physical level, even if it’s just leaning on each other before we drag our weary bodies to bed, I feel happy.
Again, the question has to be asked: why? What is it about sitting next to, touching another person, that generates feelings of happiness? Is it just Kat that generates that feeling? No, connecting with the kids in a gentle manner, sitting next to one of my boys, or even nuzzling with the dog generates a very similar, though not identical emotion.
I’m guessing it’s more the act of connecting with someone, or something, outside myself that generates the positive feelings we recognize as happiness. I’m fairly sure there’s psychological research to back up that premise as well, though I’m not going to take up the time to go looking at this exact moment. Reaching outside ourselves is a positive thing. Maybe that’s what makes us happy.
Or maybe it’s something else
Happiness can come from more than once source, though, and many of those don’t involve actually connecting with another person. For example, this young lady’s performance did a very good job of putting a smile on my face. Take a look:
Why does that little girl’s stand up comedy make me happy? Skipping the analysis, I’m going to guess the answer is because it reaffirms, or is at least sympathetic to my own sense of values and opinions. Like any good comedy, she leaves me feeling good about the fact that not everything going on in our lives makes a lick of sense.
In the end, however …
I’m still not there. I’m not finding that happy place this morning. Knowing that I’m going to have to deal with issues and attitudes I’d just as soon avoid negates the meditation. I’m sure Goldstein addresses that issue later in the book, but I’m likely several pages away from that revelation. Instead, I have Schubert’s Erlkönig running through my mind. Even if I didn’t know the translation of the lyrics, which are gruesome enough on their own, the music fits the sense of maddening futility I feel for the day. Running, constantly running, only to fail in the end.
I think I really need to be taking more pictures, don’t you? Maybe you should pose for them. Maybe one of us could find our happy place.