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?"