Saturday, April 01, 2006

Where Happiness Lives

What makes us happy? Is achieving happiness the point of our lives? Or is the pursuit of happiness strictly an American virtue that is not a necessary part of life? This general topic has been the subject of a poignant, fascinating book I am reading right now (don't you dare buy the paperback version), recent discussion by Tribune columnist Charles M. Madigan, as well as conversation with a dear, faraway friend. When you put away the computer and shut off the TV and turn off the iPod and put away the BlackBerry and cellphone, why is it so difficult to come up with what it is that makes us happy? Is what makes us happy the same as what brings us pleasure? Are happiness and contentment the same thing? (no).

Sometimes, sometimes you just have to do things that bring you a sense of temporary happiness and pleasure. And there is certainly nothing "wrong" with that, as long as you do not intentionally or with reckless disregard hurt others in the process. I have been wondering lately about the delicate balance between letting myself go to enjoy things that bring me that happiness -- consequences be damned -- and reining myself in an effort to control and tiptoe through my life and the pain it can bring. Truly, I believe that life is not just about pleasure, but life without pleasure is not a life worth living. And far better to experience great joys and great sorrow, than to live a life of comfortable, stable mediocrity.

These simple platitudes do not answer the question, I realize. I think my answers to my own questions are too private for the "Internets," but I know that seeing people I love happy with their lives makes me happy. Experiencing life's pleasures makes me happy. Shit, things as simple as warm, sunny weather and ducks on Lake Michigan and a generous tax return and good sushi and New York City and spontaneous first-class tickets and running with my lovely friends and sharing in all of their joys and accomplishments make me happy, and I don't think there is anything wrong with that. My health and my job and my home and my youth bring me contentment, and that I am blessed to have all these things is not something that easily escapes me. Some believe that life is an amalgamation of all of these simple pleasures. Perhaps that is enough. But I believe there is a greater, deeper, more lasting happiness that does not involve blind (or should I say blinding) faith in some mystical religion or a dependence on that special someone. I'm just not quite sure how to get there.

And to my dear, faraway friend, I do hope you find your happiness, and I am glad it seems you are on your way.


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