Happiness would surely be the most common hope I express for everyone I know. I say it all the time. Happy Birthday, Happy Anniversary, Happy Travelling, Happy Christmas, have a Happy-rest-of-the-day, and on it goes. And yet… and yet… happiness is not something in which I place much confidence at all.
?Happiness. I’ve learned this particular spelling from our GP who puts a question mark before the disease that I may or may not have. It’s rather a good way to describe a matter under suspicion, or something whose merits remain unproved.
?Happiness is quite real, of course. I’m quite happy reasonably often, and like most everyone else I love being ?happy. Light hearted confidence, smiling with friends and laughing at the world. ?Happiness is an addictive sensation. Many things make me ?happy. My family make me ?happy – while ever they are ?happy of course. A bright sun and a cool breeze make me ?happy. A friend’s success is quite likely to make me ?happy – so long as I am warmly disposed towards said friend. Success of my own making is sure to make me ?happy. Any word scoring more than 30 points in scrabble is going to do it for sure! Washing my own hands with soap and running water in my new accessible basin makes me extreeemely happy. And here is the first of my several concerns for the legitimacy of ?happiness: I can be ?happy without giving a thought to anyone else.
When my Favourite Wife and I were newlywed we took our family of five away from the town where we had met, and made our first home in the bush. We farmed chickens on the lonely bend of a creek, without a neighbour to be seen in any direction. Our driveway was a couple of miles long, and then only met a dirt road. The farm cottage was ‘older’, I guess you could say. We walked noticeably uphill from the kitchen (a cosy little room with a wood stove taking up half the space) to the living room with its worn floral carpet and open fire; and then down again into the couple of bedrooms behind. We almost broke into a trot on the downhill side. It was the sort of house where the wind would blow and the curtains billowed – even though the windows were all tightly shut. A glass of water on our bed-side table would sometimes freeze over during the night (absolute fact!). And we were happy. The creek – nearly a river at times – was only meters from the house, and many evenings after work and many weekend picnics were spent on its sandy banks and in its cool rock holes. We were happy together, happy with our lot in life, we had little and we worked hard.
That’s a romantic picture of ?happiness I guess – and there is another of the faults of this elusive gift. ?happiness seems more tangible in memory or in anticipation than in experience. This gives rise to many of our euphemisms’, such as ‘the good old days’ and, ‘the grass being greener’. There is nothing wrong with happiness. I think happiness is a good thing, probably, but whatever goodness it has is unlikely to be its own.
I did my carpenter’s apprenticeship under the watchful eyes of some old codgers from the bush. Along with the rudiments of timber craft, they also passed on treasured folk-law, such as the true facts concerning Goanna Oil. True goanna oil, as it happens, cannot be contained in a glass bottle. Any goanna oil enclosed in such a glass bottle is only there by pretence: true goanna oil is far too thin and will run straight through. (Which makes me wonder: did they ever tell me how you actually do keep goanna oil?….). ?Happiness is just like that. You can’t keep it, nothing will hold it for long, it’s precious and it’s rare.
To even notice that you are ?happy is to risk losing the moment forever. Looking for ?happiness is more foolhardy still, an enterprise doomed from the outset. Try and be ?happy and the most likely outcome is boredom. ?Happiness is found along the way. ?Happiness is a by-product; it happens to you when your attention is given completely to something else. It’s like the patch of cool air you pass through beside a stream or a wet rock face when trekking through the bush. It’s like the richness of conversation that arises when friends are working on a task together, completely absorbed in the job at hand. It’s like the unexpected comfort of a hard concrete path when you take a break from long, hot toil with a pick and shovel.
To wish one another a “?Happy New Year” sounds to my grumpy old ears like hogwash. Better, wiser, to wish one another a Loyal New Year. Loyalty: now there is a path to happiness. Concentration is another: nose down, push other thoughts aside and focus on the task; and soon enough ?happiness drops in to visit. But don’t forget: ?happiness is a shy commodity, it flees attention.
So I wish you a Loyal New Year, a Fruitful New Year, and a year attended with Concentration, Diligence, Perseverance and Faith. I wish you a Prayerful New Year and a Challenging one too; a year of Need and Provision, of Questions and of Hope. Eyes forward, hands to the plough, one step at a time; and who knows? We might just be happy with that.