I’ve copied the text below on happiness from a comment attached to yesterdays posting, which needs to be read for the authors introductory paragraph to this text. Thank you so much Nic for taking the time to type this out for us all. It definitely deserves to be elevated to a post on it’s own.
I used to think that happiness was a random event that happened to people at moments when everything was going well for them, like falling in love, visiting a beautiful place, a healthy baby or coming home after a long absence. Happiness I thought, was not only random but fairly rare and certainly not be counted on. When a friend asked me “Are you happy” I thought it (privately) a foolish question. I was even a bit annoyed by it. My annoyance I realised, was due to the implication that I ought to be happy, and if I wasn’t there must be something wrong with me. But what, after all, was there to feel happy about in a world full of terror, poverty and uncertainty – except in those unusual moments when personal delight overcame the gloom that was, possibly, more appropriate?
Are happy people simply blocking out the world’s misery. Are they deluding themselves about the precariousness of their own reasons for happiness?
In the end I discovered a different way of thinking about happiness. It took a long time of gradually learning to allow myself to be open to reality as a whole: neither the good nor the bad alone but the inevitable interwoven nature of them both. The joy of a child’s laugh and the terrible vulnerability of children; the horror of war and the height of heroism in it; the pain of illness and the courage and compassion it evokes; the delight of love and the precariousness of it. There is grief hurting in every joy, humiliation behind every achievement and, above all, endings waiting for every beginning. Never-the-less there is hope surging beyond every failure, compassion and imagination to tackle every disaster. When a trees fall, insects and fungi flourish and new seedlings grow to take up the space. In the ruins of bombed cities, the rubble turns purple with blazing fire-weed.
Nothing lasts, neither evil nor good, but to realise this is not settle for a resigned detachment. On the contrary, it means that what is good and strong and beautiful must be passionately cherished, loved and praised, wondered at, just because it is fragile and passing. It will pass, whether it be a wild flower or a great temple or a mountain of a human life, but that makes it all the more wonderful. A plastic rose, however red, does not give the message of love as does the rose that will fade and die – the ephemeral quality is partly what moves us. The tiny grief implicit in the beauty makes it more precious.
Conversely, the knowledge that what is evil has an end gives the courage to fight against it, to try to give goodness and beauty a little longer, to create more space for joy to grow. And if death is the end, at least of the kind of life we know, then we want to cherish and protect that life and give it every chance to discover yet more unexpected loveliness.
So I’ve discovered that happiness is not the absence of the pain of the grief, ones own of other people’s. It is not even, or not only, that flooding in of delight at something wonderful. Happiness is about knowing that this delight is part of reality, but that beyond and en-wrapping the delight is compassion, which is the essential nature of reality. Happiness is being able to touch, at least a little, that reality at the heart of the world where nothing is everlasting but everything is precious. Only saints are in touch with that reality on a permanent basis – indeed I wonder if even saints manage it all the time. But anyone can chose to know that it is so.