Happiness

We don’t seem to have as many words for happiness as we do for, for example, love; yet it’s every bit as varied. There are types of happiness that can be accessed (almost) as simply as pushing a button: one of these, for me, is that to be had with the headphones on loud early in the morning in an anonymous corner of an anonymous chain coffee shop in an anoymous street with the laptop primed for writing action. Or (at another extreme) sitting in a family-nest watching Dr Who, with kids on laps. These are cheap and easy; they pass as quickly as the next deadline or the next fall-out between kids; yet that doesn’t neccesarily make them superficial. When – as it has been twice in the last three days – I am in the middle of several miles of high and wandering earthen pathways, the chalkland dry and fast beneath the wheels of my bicycle, the scarps spreading out before me as I fall through the landscape – only to return to  swift shower and to drying off in the sun – this is a real connection with much of what I value most in my experience of being human. The same thing, deeper still – simultaneously intellectual, aesthetic, spiritual – occurs every time I open the door of an as-yet-unvisited church. But there are other happinesse – are they deeper? They are certainly rarer – to be had a few times in a lifetime. The rapturous tearful joy of a new born baby, leaving one’s heart for a few days raw, open, elated, is one extreme. Yet I look back and can only identify two times when something deeper still occured. A feeling that every potential source of conflict, contradiction, anxiety was resolved; of a deep calm wellspring of beneficient being, strong and unyielding. I have glimpsed this for an hour or two in certain spiritual situations; but to feel it as a state of being, to live in day-to-day, to inhabit: well, there were 10 days in Yangshuo, Gaunxi province in January 1985; and a week in Femes, Lanzarote in what must have been the mid 1990s. Both came after difficult times; and these I think of as true happiness. It was certainly both deep and extraordinary; but perhaps there is another happiness, equally significant if less easily identified as remarkable: the busy, confusing bustle of a family/work day, of ‘settled’ life, not without anxiety or conflict, but somehow running forwards on rails from which it should not divert. Perhaps this deserves a different name; perhaps we need more words for this elusive quality.

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