Health

What is Happiness?

It’s definitely an attitude.

By Lorna Foreman | March/April 2019

I was sitting on my front porch on a beautiful day in fall, probably one of the last warm ones, before the colder weather would descend upon us. It was a beautiful spot to start drafting my column on ‘What is Happiness.’ I love being able to sit outside, in the sun, feeling very happy. Ah bliss, I thought.

A car’s engine drew my attention away from my writing pad. I watched a car drive by; a bright, yellow Mustang convertible driven by a senior gentleman. It made me laugh. What a contrast to my simple joy. I can only hope that he was feeling happy owning that car — that it provided him with great happiness…until he saw someone driving a bright red Porsche perhaps.

What is happiness? No doubt, everyone has their own idea of how to achieve it. It seems everyone wants to be happy and it is the right of everyone to pursue happiness. In fact, the U.S. has it written into their Declaration of Independence. Ah yes, the pursuit of happiness. It puts quite a burden on one’s shoulders, doesn’t it? You can feel doubly awful if you aren’t happy — you’ve failed in some way. Quite an undertaking, which may be why much of our advertising is geared towards trying to make you happy. Sometimes it is subtle, sometimes quite blatant. Wow! And I thought just sitting in the sun was it—guess I am a failure in this area, because I don’t want a fancy car, no precious jewellery for me, no fancy clothes…well maybe some fancy shoes but hey, I’m not perfect. Generally, I am a happy person.

When I was about twenty-three years old — many, many moons ago, I thought that to make myself happy I was going to buy a fur coat. My rationale was that I lived in Montreal where the winters were very cold. So, I did, and it was lovely. After the first week though, I found myself taking it off and flinging it on my bed where my cat decided that it was a great place to knead and sleep. I realized quite early on, that those material things were OK, but were not really what made me happy.

Finding happiness is probably one of the most written about pursuits. The Dalai Lama in his book The Art of Happiness said that to make someone else happy, practice compassion and to make yourself happy, practice compassion.

Personally, I am happiest when I am with animals — I could not imagine living without a pet. They cut through the phoniness that we come up against in our society. Same with working with plants — and yes, I talk to mine but that, and giving them what they need, they reward me a thousand-fold. Also, when I am in my creative groove, both visual arts and writing, I am very happy. I know my musician friends say the same thing. Perhaps, as Joseph Campbell says,“Follow your bliss and even if you are not rich, you have your bliss.”

Seeking happiness can often put you on a destructive path — greed, experimentation with drugs and alcohol, wanting, wanting, wanting….

In the 1960s, I read a great book The Importance of Living, by Lin Yutang. He stressed the simple joys in life. That is not as easy as it may sound when we are inundated with ‘things’ to make us happy — a new Smart Phone, more apps for it and more and more new technology. Speaking of apps, I heard that there is now an app for cannabis users for dating. Groan.

Perhaps happiness is the absence of negativity — not starving, not at war, not having a job you hate.

In my research, I found many interpretations of what happiness is. I guess there are as many ideas, as there are people. One research piece said that it was settling down to watch your favourite programme. Is it because I am older? My happiness is enjoying simple things, interacting with my pets, nature, my close friends…a feeling of contentment more than elation. I get into the dumps on occasion, but it doesn’t take long to pull myself out of that mood, especially when my cat decides I am the most wonderful person in the world. Of course, it means she is hungry, but that’s OK. I am happy being able to take care of her.

Life is not always wonderful, but I try to see what lesson I can find in some set back and see what good can come of it. It definitely is an attitude.

While writing this, the song made famous by Bobby Mcferrin Be Happy was playing in my mind. Maybe it is just that — simply be happy. I hope you are.

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Lorna Foreman is a self-described 50-plus writer, author and artist who lives in Cornwall.