Sunday, 12 February 2012

Happiness

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.

21 comments:

  1. Ha ha. Hanging up a man's underpants and happiness. Like a horse and carriage, yes? You have made me laugh lady.

    For me at the moment happiness is a warm bed. With me in it of course falling asleep with a book in my hand with no threat of being woken.

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    1. Yes, that is happiness for me too. Or do I mean contentment!

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  2. Ah I know where your coming from with the under pants thing. I totally miss hanging out my partners washing and sneakily breathing in the smell of him before I shoved it in the washing machine. If only we could savour smells and the simple things in life hey. Thoroughly enjoying this blog hop great to meet you all xx

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    1. Well, it was freshly laundered pants I had in mind!

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    2. Makes a nice change from your immortal musky-boxers episode in Desire Be My Destiny

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  3. Well if you loved your daughter enough you know what you could do it make her happy...

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  4. What a beautifully written post. Happiness for me is being alive. I never hang smalls on the washing line.

    CJ x

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    1. That's a wonderful thing to think - happiness in being alive, I mean. And to achieve it without a line of smalls...!

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  5. Oh dear, you put me to shame with these lovely posts. I will quiz my children...

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    1. Shame you? I'm suffused with literary envy! Let me know what your infant advisers tell you.

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  6. Have you read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin? It is a really good real and pretty interesting.

    I love that Real Uggs make your daughter happy. Sweets also make my 5 year old very happy.

    Thinking more about it PJ's make me happy. I am a great believer in the fact that if we want to be happy then we will. it is all about redefining our lives

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    1. You are so right. If we focus on the smaller picture rather than being blinded by the larger one, we could probably be as happy children know how to be (unless we endure very trying, hopeless circumstances)

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  7. So nice. Kids always speak the truth. Adult forget what happiness is unfortunately x

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    1. I think kids are better at enjoying the moment. Adult pleasure tends to get too clouded by worry.

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  8. Replies
    1. It's 'cos I only (reluctantly) funded £5 Ugg-lookalikes in a Shoezone sale.

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  9. Really enjoyed your post and could definitely relate to your ideas of happiness. Great idea to have asked parents at the school gate too!

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  10. Happiness as everyone of a certain age knows, used to be a cigar called hamlet. But I'm the guy who probably put it all on red when it came up black, married the kitten just as she turned into a cat. Happiness was the kitten ;-)

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  11. Oh dear!
    Happiness = more time, all of it!
    But a day when everyone gets on well and gets enough sleep is about the happiest it gets for me :)

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