Some thoughts on happiness
How are you feeling today? Any aches and pains you wish would go away? Maybe a good night’s sleep will do the job because your health is basically in good shape. Or not. Are you and your partner getting along? Maybe you wish you had a partner or are sad about the one you lost? Is there love and affection in your life?
Are your efforts allowing you to make ends meet and to set a generous table in a place you are happy to be in? Do you have interesting things to do in your life that are making you feel fulfilled? And the kids, if you have any, are they well, and turning out how you had hoped? Are there things happening in the world that are so distressing they are making you unhappy? Is there anything you can do about it?
I am not looking for raging joy and ecstasy. We might look for moments like that sometimes in our lives. But that is unsustainable and we would burn out. It’s not the drug high we are looking for, it’s the quiet sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. It’s a feeling of well-being and comfort in your own skin and “all’s well with my world.”
There are so many things in life that can go wrong; it’s a miracle we ever have a happy moment. Something like the bodies we inhabit, we inhabit such a complex environment. There is the great potential for one of many of the things we face to go wrong. Or, for things to come out very differently from the way we might like things to work out. Fortunately, so many of the important things about our bodies are on automatic and are mostly made to last a lifetime. The lives we get to live are not like that. A lot of it depends on chance but a lot of it also depends on what we make of it.
I am well into my 80s, alive and in relatively good health. Retired, I have time to think about these things while many of you are out there sweating the 9-to-5. Without getting into too much detail, in my life I have worked hard and accomplished satisfying things that have benefited others as well as myself. I can conclude that life has treated me kindly. I have washed up on a friendly beach, and now the living is easy. Because I know I have earned my way, I don’t have to feel guilty about my good fortune, and I am grateful for what help I received along the way. I hope those of you out there at my age and stage feel the same way.
I can contrast that with the life my father lived. His father left the family when he was a child, coming to Canada to make his fortune. (My grandfather made his living in Canada with a horse and cart, collecting junk that he could sell to dealers.) My father’s mother died of typhoid, in Russia, and my father and his brother were shuttled around to relatives. His father, already in Canada, finally sent money for him and his younger brother to join him. My father never received any formal education.
When he arrived from Danzig to England, they found that my father had pink eye and the authorities took him off the boat. They were going to send him back to where he came from. Somehow, though, he evaded them (still a teenager) and he spent two years hiding out in London before he was able to come to Canada. I don’t know what he did when he arrived in this country, but, in the years I was growing up (I was born in 1934), he never seemed to have a steady job.
His big break came when the Second World War started and all the young men were called up as soldiers. My dad was hired to shovel coal into a furnace, the heat being used for drying eggs to be shipped to England. Because the engineers were drafted too, soon he was asked to study for papers that would allow him to replace the engineers. How did they know he could do it?
All my school years, my father was studying his books at the kitchen table. When I tried reading his stuff, it made my head spin. He became a full-fledged stationary engineer by the time the war was over. All three of us kids in my family got secondary educations. My father died at 67, still on that job. He was a happy man, I think. Compared to him, I had it easy.
So, what does it take to be happy? Isn’t it about having the right answers to some of the questions I asked when we got started? It sure helps if your health is good. It sure helps if the kids you had turn out healthy and self-sufficient. It sure helps if you have had someone in your life to love, and if someone has loved you. It sure helps if you have, or have had, fulfilling work. It sure helps if you know that you have done things that have benefited others as well as yourself. It sure helps if you have earned the means to meet your needs.
You don’t have to have them all. Just having some of these things, and the proper attitude, and you get to catch the brass ring. Having a sense of gratitude for the things you do have helps a lot, too. Be happy.
Max Roytenberg is a Vancouver-based poet, writer and blogger. His book Hero in My Own Eyes: Tripping a Life Fantastic is available from Amazon and other online booksellers.