Saturday, November 14, 2009

Happiness is a Warm Tortilla

It's 11:22 -  no, wait -11:23 pm as I begin this post.  I had turned off my computer and was going to be a good girl and go to bed, when, blam! Inspiration hit.  As I was jotting down notes so I'd remember what I wanted to say in the morning, the voice of Annie Dillard spoke into my ear, forcing me to pause with my pencil in midair.  In her book, The Writing Life, she says, "One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. . . The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now."

So here I am, spending it now.  Thanks, Annie.

My last post diddled around with definitions of happiness, but left me feeling, well, unspent.  And there have been so many posts I've read lately discussing happiness that my inspiration is to continue on this thread, this cross-pollination, this interlacing.

I've thought a lot about happiness in the past few years.  For a long time, I despised the word.  I thought happiness was for stupid people.  In my early days as a college student, I took a class where instead of taking roll, Dr. Dorman would ask us a question.  One day she asked, "Would you rather be happy but dull, or brilliant but tormented"?  That was easy, because I already WAS brilliant but tormented, and damn proud of it.

A few years ago I made friends with a man while we were both doing master's degrees in English at the same university.  We had many brilliant conversations ( however, hardly any were tormented), and we were in total agreement about happiness just being a dumb concept.  Ironically, some of the happiest moments of my life were spent in his company.  

Then I fell in love with a man who is naturally happy, and values it.  Slowly, through my relationship with him, and simply wising up, I've come to an appreciation of happiness as something worthy of my attention.

I began to think about the difference between happiness and joy.  As I discussed in a previous post, joy is something I have experienced as non-dependent on circumstance.  It can break in anywhere, anytime.  It's of the moment and of eternity (which I define as the opposite of time).

Happiness, to me, has to do with favorable circumstances, and a span of time.  It's very human. And because of all these things, it's connected to stories.  Happiness is a story we tell ourselves.  At Diamonds and Toads recently, Kate asked her readers if they believe in "happily ever after."  I responded basically that, in terms of relationships, because they embody stories, one can indeed live happily ever after, but not every day.  It's an overarching quality of happiness that infuses the story, even when the particular chapter involves conflict.  It's just like being "in love." You're not going to always feel "in love," but you always do love the person, even when you experience negative feelings toward them for a moment, or a week. 

When I first formulated my definitions of happiness and joy, they lent themselves to a hierarchy:  Joy was more "real" and "valuable" than happiness.  While I no longer despised the concept of happiness, it still didn't seem very important to me .  It seemed false BECAUSE it was dependent on a story for its existence.

But as I discussed in my last post, I've begun to believe in happy stories, which has happened because I finally saw that I was telling myself stories all the time and they were pretty miserable and seemed very real.  It began to dawn on me that I might not be able to escape telling myself stories, but I could change their content.  If I can't grasp Ultimate Reality every moment of my life, I can at least tell myself a happy story to fill in the time.

But now, my rigid definitions of happiness and joy are starting to blur at the edges and meld into each other.  And that's just fine with me.

If I was back in Dr. Dorman's class again, answering that question, I'd say, "How could you possibly be dull if you're truly happy?  What good is brilliance if it doesn't know how to find happiness?"


  1. Wow, speaking of interlacing! That thing I wrote yesterday about Ivan? Inspiration hit while I was out on my walk. I habitually carry a notepad and pen with me just in case that happens. But this time, I didn't write it down and instead sped home ASAP, because I knew if I tried to get it all down with a pen and reproduce it later, I'd lose some of it. Somehow I managed to keep the whole thing in my head until I got home. Looks like Annie Dillard came a-knocking at both our doors.

    I'll have to look up that book...

    "What good is brilliance if it doesn't know how to find happiness?"

    An excellent question. I read what you wrote about your rigid definitions of happiness blurring, and a word popped into my head as I did.


    I think you're coming into your own as far as happiness is concerned. It seems you view happiness as being closer to contentment (meaning a steady, constant feeling) than joy (which is always acute). With your lessening emphasis on the "happiness heirarchy," and your discovery of a naturally happy man (and a naturally happy relationship, even despite whatever momentary bumps may come) it sounds like you've become happy/content, finally. I, too, once put joy above happiness, happiness above cheerfulness, and so on and so forth (I think English students are just given to ranking words by intensity like that at first). Then, I loosened up. I began to worry less about what the words meant and how to get there (I'd seen so many literary references to "happy fools" that I'd begun to get the idea that to be smart, you had to be sad...tormented, even). I began to worry more about doing things and being around people that made me happy. And that, let me tell you, has been the mental and emotional equivalent of kicking off my shoes and flinging myself into a hammock in the Bahamas.

    You've been granted illumination...or pollination, if you will. That "what good is brilliance" remark demonstrates real wisdom, if you'll take the word of a 23-year-old puissant on it.

    Again, an engaging and thought-provoking scribble. Thanks for that.

  2. One of the main things that is coming up for me as I read this, is the idea of knowledge and how having more and being exceptional at this or that puffs you up and then creates the spiral effect of meeting the standard. Knowledge...very illusive. Also competitive and harsh.

    Wisdom on the other hand is a birthing within us and carries us into places and opens us up. It lifts us, taking our being into a higher place and it is a reflection; therefore creating humbleness. Wisdom is something we are also DRIVEN to give away, we want the same refreshment human to human. Not competitive...this wisdom thing.

    The critical part of these two intricately woven pieces of my head and heart are interlacing them. (love the word interlacing by the way). I know I have certain types of knowledge. I know that I might know a little more about this or that, but the WISDOM in it is how to present it with my SPIRIT so that mankind grows around me and is touched in their heart and LOVED bountifully.

    When I reread your post about Joy just now I thought about Jesus. HE HAD SO MUCH KNOWLEDGE, so much understanding, but there must have been a happiness and joy and GREAT deal of wisdom to have brought so many to know him and love him.

    I say all of this because as you grow in wisdom and rely less on thought and knowledge and lean more on your spirit it appears the gift of your existence is creating a joyous and happy place for you! Exciting it seems, and you share so much with is beautiful to be on the receiving end of what your life is delivering to you.

    Let me also say this...I hope this comment makes sense. My head is an absolute NOODLE and my mind is trying to work, so if this all sounds totally ridiculous...please forgive me, I am EXHAUSTED.

  3. I am reminded of something the Dalai Lama said in this regard:

    "If you want to be happy, practice compassion. If you want others to be happy, practice compassion."

    It's solid, reliable advice.

  4. I wanted to add one more thing...I mean MYSELF as a part of mankind growing around me, and by the term "My Head" I mean knowledge and "My Heart" I mean wisdom. I am telling you this exhaustion is taking over the receptors in my brain.

    One more thing, this writing is so gratifying to read. Precise and inspiring. It really LIFTS me.
    And your blogging is really great. The blogging is so giving and embraces the whole. I love THIS as this blog is "The Whole Blooming World". It is fun to watch this evolve.

  5. These comments have been difficult for me to respond to. I keep coming back to them and trying to think of something coherent to say.

    My inspiration to write this post came out of my dissatisfaction with the previous post, feeling like I hadn't said "it all." Well, I feel even more like that now. It's like the more I say about this topic, the less I know about it.

    And you guys' comments add so much more to contemplate.

    I think I'm going to have to leave it at that for now, let it simmer, if you will.

    I will definitely be mulling over for a while the connections between happiness and compassion, happiness and contentment, and happiness and wisdom which Dan, Postman, and Jennifer have brought to the table.

    Thank you all for your wonderful insights.

  6. One of the things I see here is the diversity in what brings all of us happiness, it is an individual experience. I am looking forward to more of your thoughts...

  7. Polly,

    I have read your post and am trying my best to formulate my thoughts.

    I'm still exhausted from that event and then, stupidly, last night I had a bunch of Baileys and now I find myself in a Bailey's cigar fog. (As I had one of those too.)

    In the words for the Gov. of California-

    I'll be baaack.

  8. Take your time, girl.

    I honestly don't know how anyone can say "Governor Schwarzenegger" with a straight face.

    Postman - you live in California - any thoughts on this?

  9. First thought:

    Your professor set you up for being rigid in his supposition that you can have only one- stupid = happiness, brilliance= torment, but not the other.

    The formula is at once, neither balanced nor accurate.

    This is not reality.

    I have found many times that several things are true at once, not just one thing only is true.

    For instance, my employee really screwed up at the event.

    Is he a screw up?

    No. If I took his one action on that particular night and judged him on the whole for it, I'd have fired him.

    Thought number two:

    Get mixed up with the wrong ass people- you are natually going to be unhappy.

    Thought number three:

    Happiness really is a choice. So, since you're choosing anyway, don't choose to be with dumb ass people.

    Thought number four:

    Sometimes I'm a dumb ass.

    Thought number five:

    Do you mind me coming to your blog and cussing all the time?

    Thought number six:

    Yeah, wait until the Bailey's fog wears off and THEN comment. I never truly came back. I just kept writing.

  10. Cuss all you want, my dear. I still occasionally feel squeamish about having used the F word so forcefully when I commented at your blog about my daughter's dinner party.

    Your comment here reads like a Zen koan to me. You're very wise. Maybe there's something to be said for that Bailey's fog.

  11. Excuse me, Pollinatrix! I, for one, find comfort in the idea of Arnie being the governor. Like I said when he was elected, "If we're ever attacked by hordes of murderous robots, he'll know just what to do."

    I can say "Governor Schwarzenegger" with a straight face. However, "The Governator" always defeats me.

  12. I broke my general rule and read your comment in email form. It had been so long since I looked at this post that I'd forgotten what you were even referring to. So when you said "Arnie" my mind immediately went to Leo DiCaprio's character in What's Eating Gilbert Grape.

    Not that that has anything to do with anything. I don't what's wrong with me today. I just keep leaving nonsensical comments everywhere I go.

  13. I found that fulfilling. It made me feel less guilty about reading all my comments in e-mail form.

  14. I just thought you'd like to know that I have nominated you for a blogging award...head on over to my blog page if you want to check it out. And congratulations in advance. Heh heh...



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