Thursday, January 8, 2009

Happiness Defined——and Briefly Explored

Happiness is a lot like pornography.

It was a Supreme Court justice, I think, who famously observed during a high-court hearing that, while he didn't know exactly how to define pornography, he darned well knew it when it saw it.

Happiness strikes me much the same way. We all recognize the quality of happiness when it comes upon us, but pinpointing its definition, or arriving at a rational explanation of its causes, is maddeningly difficult.

But some kind of definition is necessary, and so I'll propose the following:

Happiness is our subjective and personal sense of peace, contentment and well-being.

And with that, we're off to the races.


I was decidedly not happy yesterday morning when I awoke. My immediate mood was one of resentment and irritation. The first memory that came to me was of tearing apart the house the previous night in a vain effort to uncover the vast mouse civilization my wife was sure infested us (she'd seen a mouse scurrying across the basement earlier). And also quickly in my mind were the previous day's battles with several employees who have been stubbornly clinging to very poor work habits. Fully a dozen people had sought me out the previous day, either to complain about something or demand that I accommodate their needs with some action. The upcoming day promised much more of the same.

I very much wanted to be left alone yesterday, and was quite aware that this wasn't in the cards in any way, shape or form. Altogether, I found myself in a mood of pronounced irritability and resentment over the demands that other people were making on my time and attention.

The mood lasted a good part of the morning, and although the unhappiness I felt wasn't of a very pronounced level, it was most certainly there. I was not a happy fellow.

Yet as I looked closely at the mood and the unhappiness I believed was being caused by it, there was quite an obvious truth to be seen. The anger and irritability I was feeling did not inherently create the unhappiness. My unhappiness resulted largely because I felt an intense resistance, fear even, to the mood of irritation. It was resistance that made me unhappy, not the mood itself.

This is a bit of my own karmic legacy, I suppose. When I was a little person, angry people were dangerous and threatening to me, and as a result, to this day I have a very intense distaste for anger within myself. Quite frankly, my own capacity for anger frightens me, and I'll do almost anything to avoid it.

My morning unhappiness seemed to be largely the result of my inner war, my rather panicky need to deny my irritable mood of the morning. Unhappiness was the result of my judgment regarding reality, not so much reality itself.

As an experiment, I opened the gates to an inner pasture and released my irritable bad mood into the expanse of the pasture. I allowed it the freedom to roam. I stopped fighting it, in other words, and simply gave it some space. Gradually, as the morning wore on, I found that my unhappiness diminished greatly, and even the irritability itself began to relax and lay down in the pasture to sleep.

I don't know that I was necessarily happy by noon, but I surely was a great deal happier.

So for myself, anyway, I conclude that unhappiness on this day perhaps had less to do with actual conditions, and more to do with inner disagreement, inner conflict. Unhappiness seems to be largely the result of inner judgment and conflict, while happiness is fostered by self acceptance.