On Happiness and All That

By David Snyder

It’s a funny thing, happiness. If one was to ask any new parent what they’d like for their freshly made little Sapien, their answer will be something like “Gee, I just want them to be happy.” Happy, eh? All right, let’s take a look at the thing.

I ought to come clean about something I’ve been holding tighter to my vest than a Flush: I’m not the happiest bloke there’s ever been. I’m simply not a naturally gay or giddy person. One time a teacher of mine who I had quite the hero crush on gave a dear friend and me heaps of praise in response to a presentation we delivered to the class. I blushed like mad and was downright elated, skipping down the halls and whistling a joyous tune, no doubt. I can’t recall another event of such singular joy or happiness before or after that brief moment. But that brief flicker in my abdomen left as suddenly as it set up shop. There was nothing lasting about any of it, except for the story. My nature isn’t one of easy excitement or great depressions. There are no Kilimanjaros or Marianas Trenches. I’m a content buffoon, you see, going through the days not as a matter of course but with a quiet equilibrium, humming along until something manages a rise out of me, a rickety Cessna then forced into a nosedive.

Is such seeming vanilla a crime? Should I be less content, more hard-charging, devoting ever more effort to the attainment of joys? I think many things about myself, some good and numerous bad, but surely I’m not alone in my contentment. It seems to me to be one of the great myths of life that happiness is the most treasured goal of them all. During the busier times of the year, such as the beginning of a new school year or a time of returning friends and foes, I can easily go days without feeling whatever the hell happiness is, but that doesn’t ensure my being depressed or even bitter. All right, I’m bitter. I know that, but the point stands. At the heart of the matter is the dopey idea that happiness and sadness are a binary thing: either one or the other. Enough of all that.

If I may, I’d like to take a crack at coming up with a new grand ideal, if there is indeed such a thing. Now, I’m no great pursuer of wealth. I enjoy a cozy bottom line in the savings account as much as the next Joe or Jane, but is a fat purse the whole ball game? Surely not. It seems to me that the idea here is fulfillment. Happiness comes in moments, like quanta of light whizzing away from the sun. Money is just the green stuff I use to buy grub and knickknacks with. That’s not what it’s all about, handy is it may be. But fulfillment, now, that’s the cream in the coffee, the mustard on the Fenway Frank. The most beautiful thing of it all being the utter ambiguity of a word like fulfillment. Does owning several dozen felines fill you up to the brim? Good on you! Charity work? Tops marks. Raising a whole gaggle of kids and maintaining a domestic haven? Fabulous. Whatever it is that really gets one’s mind buzzing and that tickle in the abdomen going should be the prize here. If one goes down that alley then one is bound to stumble upon some happiness here and there, anyway.

And what of my fulfillment? Well, it’s writing these little ditties, scratching some ink on a blank page. It’s the brotherhood of waiting in a line of excited moviegoers. It’s the hymn of the city during business hours, and the calling out of my number when lunch is up. Fulfillment is a squadron of ducklings, goose-stepping their way through the park sidewalks. It’s French Roast on tap and a dear friend sitting adjacent. It’s the knowing that the libraries will always open tomorrow and the school seats will always be filled. There’s little money in all that, but sod to all that. Happiness, eh? I’ll take my eggs scrambled and my chats deep into the night.

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