I wanted to think about happiness a little bit. What it means to me, meant to me, and perhaps generally what happiness could be all about.
Yesterday I encountered the idea that if you suffer a lot, experience a great deal of deprivation, the more you begin to value the so-called simple things. The fact that you can breathe normally, have a roof over your head, functioning eyes and limbs, and something to eat.
At the same time, this presumes that you’ve also either lost all else or never had it, so you must draw your joy from very primitive sources. Hasn’t life dealt one a pretty cruel hand if the greatest source of joy is something others have long ceased caring about? For example, Soviet people going all giddy over bananas or shampoos, when for those in the West they were a standard shopping basket item. No one cared. But in these parts, I’ve heard it said, people were over the moon when they washed their hair with a proper shampoo. To me, that particular joy is lost already. I’d be over the moon if I washed my hair with a shampoo that actually made my hair look nice without drying it, causing it to fall out or whatever other pesky things modern shampoos can do. I’ve moved on from the primitive “any shampoo is a treasure incomparable”.
There is also health. If you suffer severe illness, only then will you learn to value health. Even life. I find that the people who are casual about death often lack personal experience with it. How could they value life if they never almost lost it? Never saw someone close to them die? I feel like an old lady pensioner for actually valuing my good health.
So, a great many sources of potential happiness do only seem to come through suffering and lack? Is that really so? Is it like that for my own person?
We lost our family home when I was nine and ever since I’ve wanted to recreate elements of that. It’s been a strange discovery to see how my current dream home copies so many aspects of that first home. I’ve never consciously set out to copy anything. We had a huge wild garden and veranda. Even when planning the interior of my flat, I noticed I was copying that veranda. Insisting upon a swing and the green walls. The question is, though, would I still worship nature as I do now if I had had ready access to it? If I could lie under the lilac tree and read Romantic poetry at will? Have as many dream-filled picnics as I like? Garden to my hearts content. I cannot answer it. We lost our garden when I was nine.
I also feel in myself a desire to have more of those simple joys, to almost artificially create myself a state of deprivation so I would have more things to find joy in. When I was writing down that example of Soviet economy, a part of me felt a sense of loss. Shampoos and bananas are no longer able to bring delight. I’d like them to be. I suppose I wish I could take less things for granted. And maybe stopping to take things for granted is happiness? Provided you have things to value and treasure, of course. Then if you noticed those things, you might find happiness.
A lot of this “noticing” happens through loss and suffering, however, but not all things. Definitely not all.
And maybe some people have a better developed ability to value everything they have. I might sometimes be too ambitious and competitive to repose like that, but I have my moments of gratitude. For having the best friends in the world and a happy childhood and good health and decent level of intelligence. But then, ambition, the killjoy….forces me to chase after worldly acclaim and status, forgetting all that. Yet the fulfilment of my ambitions has never brought me permanent joy. I feel no sincere gratitude. I feel no emotion. I can simply recount, like reading someone else’s CV, that I have good education, qualifications and exactly the job I wanted. But I don’t FEEL grateful. Maybe only for my job and the freedom it gives me.
I contemplate more and more lately whether I’m the sort who could find happiness in “big successes”, or am I more of the sort who finds taming a cat and building a gazebo to be truly satisfying instead. Ambition and the world’s opinion pull me one way, but maybe Poe is right and happiness is to be found in giving up ambition. Particularly since I don’t seem to care much for my achievements. I feel more sincerely proud for the lace stockings I knitted than for my MA thesis. But try saying that at a job interview when asked about your greatest achievements…