Happy people keep a good balance between time alone and time spent with family and friends. They don’t care about keeping up with the neighbors. They “lose” themselves in the moment, in ordinary daily activities and in passions. They “let go” of slights and move on to new pleasures. Happiness has nothing to do with diamonds and BMW’s. Happiness is the ratio between what we expect and what we get in life and, thus, materialism is toxic to happiness. It is sometimes felt in a fully focused moment and it is often felt when we look back at moments in a life lived as a series of absorbing moments, even when those moments didn’t feel happy at the time.
Sometimes for me, it’s drinking in a fascinating cloud; it’s an approaching train whistle and it’s the feel of a dance partner in my arms as we gaze at each other and move to the music. It’s the warmth and texture of skin; it’s the salty tears that surprise me and it’s the exultation in hearing the cannons and bells in the “1812 Overture.” It’s the gold and red and purple leaf picked up on a fall hike; it’s the sound of my wife’s sleeping breath; it’s the steam rising from the roof on a cold winter morning. It’s the smell of burning leaves from my early childhood; it’s the sandpaper roughness of my cat’s tongue on my nose as he wakes me from a nap; it’s reading “Horton Hears a Who” to my kids and baby food names like “Blueberry Buckle.” It’s my first and last kiss; it’s the memory of cuddling under a blanket and marveling at the warmth of each other’s ears on a high school band bus trip with an early girl friend. It’s the smell of my Dad from long ago; it’s the electric charge that surges through me when I listen to the climatic moment of The Who’s “Won’t Be Fooled Again.” It’s lovemaking; it’s laughing at dumb sight-gags. It’s the memory of passing a joint from person to person and row to row while watching “Yellow Submarine” in a college campus theater in ‘69. It’s rubbing my cat’s belly after watching him sprawled out begging for attention; it’s those spontaneous and whimsical moments when I make up a song and dance to my bizarre wackiness. It’s reading what I’ve just written.