Happiness, I once thought, as I peered from my spinster flat at my neighbour's washing line, must be hanging a man's Y-fronts alongside your undies. The visible confirmation of romance.
Now my washing line sags with undies large and small. Family intimacy exhibited in the vicarage garden, and it still gives me satisfaction to behold the array. But happiness? I distrust happiness. It is a fleeting, unsustainable thing that eludes those who clutch at it too closely. I am content with contentment. A sense of fulfilling and fulfilment. The comfortable consciousness of worth and good fortune.
An absorbing book and my sofa rug is a nightly contentment. A newly-scrubbed sitting room a rarer one. An adequate income, good health and banana bread. The knowledge that my children are sleeping under nearly-clean duvets upstairs while the Vicar cooks me Thai green curry. That is contentment.
The trouble with contentment is that it can drift into smugness and then into apathy. Occasional wild swoops of happiness are required to keep it in healthy repair. And it's happiness that Katetakes5 wants us to consider. Having fruitlessly tried to pin it down, she has sought definitions from her children and suggests that we all do the same. Before I consult my small oracles, however, I am inspired to ask myself the question. What causes me happiness?
My children is the answer that I know that I should start with. And when they stagger in soft pyjamas into our bed in the mornings, or jive with me to The Bee Gees round the supper table, they do. But equally, they cause me frustration, irritation and exhaustion. And, more often than all of these, contentment. My herbaceous border in late June. That is a taste of happiness. A hand-written letter. A swim in wild sea. A comment on my blog. What might make me happier? Regained sight for my father. A utility room. Resumed life one day in the town that came to feel like home.
I ask the parents at the school gate. 'My family,' says one. 'A pamper weekend,' says another. 'I don't do emotion,' replies a third, causing me to ponder. Is happiness an emotion? Or is it a condition towards which we are pre-programmed to strive ? I consult the Vicar. What makes him happy? 'Do you,' he asks, 'mean eudaimonia or beatitudo?'
And so I turn to my children. I have hopes of wisdom from my nine-year-old. Recently, when asked how they would deploy imperial powers, her brother replied that he would ban school and make chocolate free for all. My daughter decided that she would liberate the persecuted people of Syria.
'What,' I ask my son, 'makes you happy?' and I can see in the rear-view mirror processions of sugared fancies pirouetting through his mind. 'Sweets,' he instantly replies.
Then I repeat the question to my daughter and sit back in expectation of transformative childish insight. There is a pause as she grapples philosophical truths. And then she pronounces. 'Real Uggs,' she says. 'And Ralph Lauren shirts. And this may be asking a bit much because you are a bit old..' she eyes me hopefully: 'A baby sister, please.'
What is happiness? If you don't know, ask your children and share their wisdom here, or else take part in the blog hop to crack the mystery.