Thinking about various kinds of happiness for tonight’s event with Theresa Wong at Montalvo in celebration of International Happiness Day. I’ve enjoyed how this event has shaped my attention over these last few months.
We often think of happiness as a conditional state: When X happens I will be happy, or As long as X is happening, I cannot be happy. But what if happiness can co-exist with otherwise unsatisfactory conditions? That actually feels like a new thought (for me), or at least to think of it clearly feels new. It actually seems like this is a primary key to happiness, to inhabit the feeling in a way that is not contingent.
A therapist once asked me to write these words on a piece of paper:
Clearly she thought I needed such a remedial measure. And she was right. It felt like saying, I can be a giraffe. I was very much in the sway of some idea that I could not be happy if other people were not happy. In order to help me write this sentence, she had me draw a pie chart to show where my attention was going. Most of it was going toward worrying about people in my family; some had bigger slices than others. Then she had me lift each slice out and entertain the possibility of not carrying that worry for them. And in its place, I could just say this sentence. It felt a little silly of course, but mainly it felt entirely new. But my family is from another world, where we don’t say sentences like this! Happiness is for other people!
Just to say that simple sentence felt like it took some degree of suspension of disbelief, just to try to say it. It felt like claiming some lost luggage or finding an extra room in a dream. There’s an idea that there’s only so much happiness that complicates things too. But what if it’s not so exceptional, that it’s not something that even needs pursuit, but it’s always there and it’s a function of how available we are to it? This happens on a gross and subtle level.
It seems like a useful diagnostic: to say this sentence and notice where it snags. And that wherever that snag is, maybe that’s where the most necessary work is, as it is in some way impeding an availability to experience.
I’ve been thinking of some inflections of happiness, so I thought I’d name some here.
of a kindred curiosity:
of hearing your name
of your sister giving you the exact book you wanted
of being able to describe something and then see it come into being
of the problem becoming the solution
of a french fold