Monday, March 14, 2005


I will be happy when I get the job. When I pass the test. When I find my wallet. When I eat that pizza. When _____ loves me. When I go on vacation to Club Med this summer. When I buy that new couch, the blue one, the one for the living room. When I lose the twenty pounds. When Kirstie Alley loses forty pounds. When peace comes to the Middle East. When we follow Rodney King's advice and all get along. When the bumper on my Buick finally gets fixed. When the baby stops crying. When my lotto numbers fall into place, one glorious ping-pong ball at a time.

The other night I watched this British show hosted by a dude named Parkinson (unknown to me), and one of his guests was a very famous female cooking writer/host, Nigella Lawson (also unknown to me; I'm not up on my British celebrities, I guess). Apparently, her first husband had died a long and lingering death, and she married her second one less than two years later. When questioned about the British press's rather unsympathetic reaction to this turn of events, Lawson basically said: "I've always been a believer that if you get the chance to have a little happiness in your life, you have to take it, no matter where or when you are."

Which got me thinking.

(Flashback to the final episode of Cheers, where Sam tells Woody: "Thanks, Woody, you've given me something to think about there." And Woody says: "Ah, I'm sorry, Sam, I hate when somebody does that to me.")

Is happiness something to be grabbed, taken, possibly stored? Is it our human right, or a privilege?Can get we get it? Hold on to it? Is it a state of mind or an actual, physical state?

I don't know. I do know that happiness always seems to be over there somewhere -- up ahead, around the corner, second light on the right. Can't miss it.

And yet we do miss it, don't we? All the time, constantly. We think we're happy, and then the moment passes. (That moment can last for five seconds or five years, depending on the person.) We look at others thinking, I wish I were that happy, not realizing that they are looking at us and thinking the exact same thing.

Perhaps it's a class thing, this notion of 'happiness' being something we deserve, something we can wield and clutch. I don't think the poor of Cambodia think about 'happiness' all that much; they are too busy trying to survive. This is not saying that they don't want all the good things that we want. (Wow, that's a double negative sentence for you.) Of course they do. But I don't think that they put such a premium on their happiness. If they have money for today, food for today, they are happy. Genuinely, demonstrably happy. You can see it in their smiles, smiles that we've lost, or never had. If there exists the possibililty that tomorrow there will be no money, no food, well, so be it. That's tomorrow. For today, all is fine.

I'm simplifying things, I'm sure, but it just seems that we in the west crave happiness more than ever, with less and less people actually getting it. Everybody back home seems to be either drugged up or shooting up, looking for a state of medicinal, chemical bliss that will endure.

Maybe it's not supposed to endure, this happiness. Maybe those moments when we catch ourselves thinking 'I'm happy' are what happiness is all about -- an instant, a certain place in time, not directly connected to anything long-term, or even lasting. Maybe it just means recognizing that we're here, alive, breathing. Waiting for the day's twilight, and knowing that's enough.

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