Happiness, Defined

“I remember one morning getting up at dawn, there was such a sense of possibility. You know, that feeling? And I remember thinking to myself: So, this is the beginning of happiness. This is where it starts. And of course there will always be more. It never occurred to me it wasn’t the beginning. It was happiness. “*

Many years ago, I had a pretty wise religious instructor warn me to “never confuse happiness with joy.”  Happiness, he said, was a transitory state — it could be affected by circumstances in life, the people you met, the weather that day.  Joy, on the other hand, was the deep-seated peace that came from your relationship with God.  Knowing that you had a holy father who loved you and wanted you to experience the best life possible would give you the underlying strength and confidence to go boldly through life and weather the periods of sadness and trouble that came your way.  To use Mel’s analogy, joy is the underlying color in the painting while happiness, sadness, anger, and grief are the fleeting colors that mark specific memories.

Although I’ve shed a lot of my religious upbringing, this lesson has always stuck with me.  When I think of my life as a whole, I visualize it as the water in the ocean.  The deep, still waters that make up the majority of the sea represent the joy that underpins my life experience.  The waves crashing on the shore are the emotions that come and go with the wind — they can be the beautiful whitecaps that accompany happiness or the turbulent waves created by a storm of anger or sadness.  And in-between there are the moving currents, the twisting forces that bridge the gap between the still water underneath and the waves above.  The currents change over time: excitement when I was planning my wedding, determination when I was starting my career, bitterness now as I deal with infertility.  They are the background to how I see my day-to-day life, but they change over time as my priorities my life shift and progress.

So what is happiness to me?  Happiness is the fleeting sense of contentment in a moment that brings a smile to my face and makes look forward to the rest of the day.  Happiness is sitting on the porch with a cup of coffee reading a magazine.  It’s curling up with my husband to watch a movie.  It’s driving downtown with the windows open, feeling the evening breeze.  It’s getting an email from a friend just saying hi, a kitten asleep in my lap, or hearing a memory-laden song on the radio.  No single moment of happiness is enough to change the current, but many of them together can overwhelm the power of tide. 

*Game Day: 15 points – Title of movie and the name of the character who said the lines.  You must have both to get the points.


7 thoughts on “Happiness, Defined

  1. I know the answer. But I cheated by googling it. So I’m not going to write them here because I’m a cheater 🙂 But the initials of the character are C.V. and the film is T.H.

    Damn, I’m a terrible person.

    I think this is beautiful. I love the image of the ocean.

  2. The movie is the hours. Not sure if the words are that of Virginia’s or holly wood but beautiful none the less. Oh and the character was Clarisa.

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