Sunday, August 30, 2009

Measuring Happiness

by Zinta Aistars

You can't, of course. Measure happiness, that is, anymore than one can measure the sunshine that has spilled into this Sunday afternoon. Or the warmth contained in the embrace of a loved one. Or the depth of any emotion, certainly not sadness, which I think is the twin of happiness, and not its enemy.

Yet here it is. In the midst of all my many errands these past couple days, rushed into the too-short space of a weekend, I find myself stopping in my tracks at an unexpected moment in full realization: I'm happy.

Say what?

There is suddenly a wave of cautionary fear. Careful, don't say that out loud. The gods may be listening, and we all know how jealous they can be, as if happiness was a limited commodity, and should some mere mortal take hold of a piece, their portion might be lessened. But it is not. Happiness shared, oh silly gods, is happiness expanded.

So I say it aloud. Relishing the risk. Not in a shout, mind you, but in more of a reverential whisper, full of wonder: I am happy. At this moment in time, frozen in mid-step, here in my own humble living room, for no apparent reason (no lottery won, no love letter received, no last minute reprieve from my too many errands, no extraordinary anything), I stand in awe of this thing. And it feels daring, deliciously risky, to say the words out loud. I try it again, one decibel more:

I am happy.

I take a deep breath. The roof of the house remains unlifted. There is no shaking of the window panes. No lightning from these blue skies. No one batters down my door to take it away from me.

I sigh, grin, and go on to my next errand.

I realize that may be the very reason that I trust this so-long-unfelt-now-renewed emotion, that there really is no extraordinary, blatant, golden reason behind it. It just is. A thing, a whisper, a feather that has floated down on me, like a soft and silken blessing. Am I deserving? No idea. Not sure it happens that way. And I have never quite grasped that new-agey idea that happiness is a choice, a decision to make. That seems downright silly to me, because I can't imagine that anyone would choose or decide otherwise. Oh, perhaps some evil soul somewhere, corrupted deep to the core, who relishes the darker emotions... but in that case, his dark side is perhaps his happiness, however warped?

I have chosen and decided upon happiness always, tending toward optimism from birth, even as I was a serious child (my family called me "the little professor" for my thoughtful and ponderous if somewhat scatterbrained ways), but it has not always chosen me back. We have relationships with our emotions, I think. We do not hunt them down and capture them, making them our prisoner. Instead, we pursue, and coax, and court our happiness, sometimes circling it in cautious invitation, like the most tremulous and skittish butterfly, landing for a moment on our proffered pretty blossom, then flitting off again. In that pursuit, we often stumble, or have to leave our chosen path as another demands our attention. And none of these side paths are wasted ones, not even the wrong ones chosen. Some, I think, take us into dark places to teach us to appreciate more the light once we see it again. There is no light without the dark, we all know that... even as we resist knowing it.

Bad choices, stupid decisions, and we veer from our path to happiness in long and twisted ways. True, some never find their way back. Perhaps that is where the moment of decision enters in. Do we keep up our pursuit? Or do we become seduced by the dark that lives to some measure in all our souls and forever lose ourselves in it?

I chose happiness with every cell of my being, every fiber of my bruised and battered spirit, but for a long time, it would not have me. I could court happiness, but one cannot force a relationship if the other is not interested. Happiness had other plans. The skittish pretty thing flitted away to a flower just out of my reach. I sank into such shadows others thrust upon me that I can only, at long last, start to peel some of that inky blackness from my shoulders, from my heart.

And our happiness does not depend on others? Balderdash. If there ever was a social creature, it is the human being. How do we learn to smile? but by looking at our mother's glowing smile hovering over us as an infant, reaching pink little fists up to be held, reflecting and mirroring it. The isolated child grows warped and mentally deranged, sickened in body and heart, babbling sounds rather than language, mistrusting everyone. Oh, we do depend on each other, in so many ways. We are all interdependent, a constant parade of passing mirrors, a reverberating of echoes in the abyss that is life. We learn from each other. Good, bad, we learn from our interactions.

I have learned so much. So much good, so much bad. With age comes wisdom, with experience comes the knowledge of how to recognize happiness when it comes courting us. For this reason, I count among my greatest blessings my years, no longing for youth and its stumbling if on occasion blissful ignorance.

I have known love that is deep and true, that seared my soul with enough power that I no longer long for repetition. Been there, done that, loved such loving, yet now am free to explore what else remains... even as I know I would not be who I am if I had not been so well-loved. Thank you, oh thanks to these good if flawed men, who loved me in spite of (if not indeed in part because of) my own flaws. You remain in my heart and are now a part of my being.

I have known abusiveness, too, a battering of profound selfishness, a disconnect that led to grief and suffering as I had never known. This, too, taught me about happiness. We can learn as much, or more, about what we need and want in life by its absence as we do by its possession. I am, if not quite grateful of such an experience, respectful of its lessons.

I stand and count my blessings, lining them up before me. Good, beautiful faces, beautiful souls that have enriched my life in countless ways. Work that I enjoy immensely, finding in it my role as a productive member of this global community. A home where I can put down roots, whether for a short time or longer. This day, should it or one soon following be my last, or whether that last one is still distant. The bread on my table, rich, dark, of life-giving grain, so that I never go hungry. My good health, with ever growing appreciation of the mechanics of this aging woman's body. The change of seasons, the night, the day, the sky, the earth in all its shapings and colorings and wonder. All such wealth, such wealth. Even when we forget to appreciate it.

Now, I can choose this solitude, only and because I have known the most intimate connection. I have absorbed and soaked up all those lessons, the sweet and the sour, and now I stand in the center of my house and smile. Smile with my entire being. I stand here a survivor, no victim. Have taken steps beyond mere survival, to fully grasp what happiness means - and it is a balance of time together and time alone. I love deeply, loving my two children beyond what words can describe. They are my greatest treasure. In a different kind of love, I hold close to my heart my family, core and extended; my many, very diverse friends and the countless lessons they bring; and the strangers, too, that cross my path on our daily excursions.

I deeply appreciate all those different souls on all those different paths, so different from mine. Now and then, ours cross. I hope when that happens, I shed an instant of light and warmth before I am gone again.

No comments:

Post a Comment