March’s Letter from South America

Dear Bob,

 I don’t know if I’ve told you that when I think of happiness I often think of you. You’re a true professor, a role model for many, an intellectual, an author, a man with a wonderful family, so successful, so admired. And I say and think these things, like Bob must be happysomeone must be happy, or I want to be happy or someone is not happy. It is a fact that everyone wants to be happy (or at least it is a fact that people say that). What do we mean? We look at so many things that are supposed to make us happy: tenure, money, beauty, or skillfulness. My mother used to say that a peasant must be happy: the countryside is so beautiful, so peaceful and so natural. But country life is hard work for little reward; especially in the developing world. And if you belong to a pampered circle you surely find a lot of satisfaction, basic needs fully satisfied and so many perks, but no happiness is guaranteed of course.

 The point here, the thing that I am thinking about, is not the profound question of what happiness is, although perhaps it is unavoidable. My question is how can I be happy? This doesn’t imply that I don’t feel like I am happy at times. You know, every time I go into my classroom and I engage my students in some fun topic I truly feel alive and useful and formidable. And whenever I sit to write to you I truly feel gooood (please don’t correct it. I mean it!). The thing is, is it possible to achieve this ideal: be happy? Not to have moments of glory, or moments of pleasure, or moments of success, but to reach some state of mind, impervious to tragedy, loss, failure, to your own tendency to regret or anything that seems opposed to happiness.

 The definition of being happy eludes me. But I somehow feel that the definition escapes language and I just know what that is. Perhaps I am bullshitting myself here. Maybe I believe it on faith! Who invented this term “happy” anyway! Did she refer just to moments of glory, moments of pleasure or moments of accomplishment? So is there only the temporary mood of feeling happy? Estoy feliz, as opposed to Soy feliz, the first one indicating a mood, the second one an inner characteristic.

 I want to tell you about a practice I have: if I feel lazy or tired or slow at times when I am not supposed to feel that way, first, I have something sweet to eat, and second, I make an inventory of the positive in my life which requires an inventory of the negative that is not part of my life; something like: I don’t have any debts, I don’t have ailments, etc. It works and I feel good. But of course I want more than that. Anyway, Bob, I meant what I said at the beginning of this letter. Being as intellectually active as you are must be happiness, just like Aristotle’s happiness: a philosopher always exercising his reason.

 

Until next time,

Laura.

More on happiness: here and here.

15 thoughts on “March’s Letter from South America

  1. The definition of being happy eludes me. But I somehow feel that the definition escapes language and I just know what that is. Perhaps I am bullshitting myself here. Maybe I believe it on faith! Who invented this term “happy” anyway! Did she refer just to moments of glory, moments of pleasure or moments of accomplishment? So is there only the temporary mood of feeling happy? Estoy feliz, as opposed to Soy feliz, the first one indicating a mood, the second one an inner characteristic.

    I hope we have a discussion of your letter! Let me begin by simply telling of time or two when I experienced a deep feeling of happiness:
    1. when I was a grad student I worked in construction in the summer and on weekends. One time we laborers were preparing a bridge for asphalt. About a dozen of us working to spread the sub-material, clean up the edges, etc. At one moment I suddenly became aware of the operation and not just my shovel. We were all quietly working – no talking, jokes, wise-cracks – just a dozen people working together with one goal. A moment of happiness!
    2. hiking in the California foothills after a forest fire – burned trees and blackened ground cover and then coming over a hill and seeing a multitude of blooming flowers.

    Moments.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I am “happiest” (for lack of a better word?) when I am not floating above myself thinking about what time it is, how much time I have (for my current activity or in the grand scheme), have I used my time wisely – and unless I am absorbed in an activity, I am always thinking about time. Which is a waste of it 😦

    Have you read this book Laura?

    I strive to find and devote myself to activities that put me into this sense of flow so that I lose sense of time! That is my goal. But I think I have too much freedom and not enough will or something, because it’s only once in a blue moon I hit the sweet spot, and it’s usually by accident…

    Liked by 3 people

    • I strive to find and devote myself to activities that put me into this sense of flow so that I lose sense of time!

      Absolutely. Thanks for the recommendation.

      Like

  3. Thanks for the letter, Laura! I shared it with my Grade 11 class and we had a great discussion of happiness and people seeking it. Most of the talk was about whether it is a momentary feeling or a state of being.

    Or, as you put it, So is there only the temporary mood of feeling happy? Estoy feliz, as opposed to Soy feliz, the first one indicating a mood, the second one an inner characteristic.

    Then one student suggested that happiness is both: perhaps the inner characteristic is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for happiness to flourish. (Really! Used the word ‘flourish’)

    What do you think?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sounds interesting. Some inner state necessary to let those moments of joy bloom. I want to share with you an idea I have about that inner state:
      I hear people say that not knowing makes you a happier person. I can understand that ignorance could be bliss, but obviously tha is an experience at a cost ( cost for the person and society). But a different thing could be  a quiet mind. Rumination, judging and interpreting in excess are so against happinness. I want a quiet mind.

      Like

  4. When reading these comments I noticed in the panel on the right this quote from some old dude:

    Grow a Soul
    “One of the attractions of the UU approach to religion and life is caught in the assertion that divinity and spirit are to be found not through blind faith but through finding and sending down roots to the deepest part of one’s unique self. As is true in botany, those roots spread out into the wider community and can nourish us and give us a healthy life. How do we know when we are living in the best place for those roots to grow? In so much as we do indeed “grow a soul” we should consider carefully the garden in which that soul grows.” – Bob Lane

    That pretty much applies to happiness doesn’t it?

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think ‘soul’ talk is important. In the quote above, for example, Bob is (I think) talking about the center of self, the living growing person who is born, grows, dies. But for many ‘soul’ means an immaterial something that escapes the death of the body. But belief in the second is belief.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I really like the review of the book flow. Flow is what we can learn from dance, even marital arts. I worked at flow when I was a bartender and found I flowed when I forgot who I was, when at times I was just watching the dance of my hands. But happiness–I don’t know. In a sense, I’ve never been happy, maybe because happiness has never seemed like much of a permanent way to be. I think I came to this thought some time in my 74th year of life, although Bob Lane seems truly happy, and maybe some other folks I know from a distance. What I look for instead is joy, like the joy I felt when behind glass a pretty nurse held up my first born son and I counted, subliminally, his fingers and toes and found him to be a full being. Now I feel something akin to this when I look at my granddaughter, and I wonder how I can love her so much when we are not related by blood. I feel joy every time I finish a piece of writing, even more when I give a reading of my own work, and have felt it often after a good day of teaching, or even looking back on a class that went well. Now one of my greatest joys is lying beside my true love and finding a good movie on Netflix and the deluxe pizza explodes my taste buds. –Happiness? I guess this is as good as it gets.

    Liked by 2 people

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