By Laurence J. Sasso, Jr.
They say that happiness is a warm puppy, and most of us would probably agree.
However, to truly define happiness it might be better to think less about what it is and to think a bit more about what it isn’t.
For example, it isn’t drinking more wine than we drank yesterday, but less than we plan to drink tomorrow.
Happiness isn’t tied to the word more unless we are talking about good health for ourselves and our loved ones and more time to enjoy each other. As for the rest of it: more money, more shiny things, more popularity and more power rarely translate into more happiness.
Supersizing our dinner won’t fill the hole in our psyches or our hearts that is labelled happiness. That spot inside where joy and laughter ought to be stored in abundance can be filled, but only if we look for the filling in the right places.
For instance, the kind of laughter that nourishes and sustains us doesn’t come from someone else’s misfortune. It doesn’t come from making fun of appearances or body types or another person’s level of intelligence or way of speaking. It comes from finding the sort of humor everybody can share, the kind found in human situations that are universally funny.
We are happy when we feel like we belong or are accepted. We are happy when the joke isn’t on anyone or maybe if it’s on everyone. Happy people have heart. They don’t hate. They radiate good will.
Also, waiting to be happy until some ideal circumstances arrive is folly. If we think “when we get a bigger house we will have big birthday parties for the kids,” means the kids will be off to college before you can achieve the dream, and you won’t need all that space after all.
It’s like the old proverb: “When I had teeth I could afford no meat. When I could afford meat, I had no teeth.”
Happiness isn’t being envied by the neighbors or the in-laws. Envy inevitably leads to anger and resentment, and what makes for more unhappiness than those emotions? Love and respect are much more likely to make us happy, but not if they are demanded or become manipulative.
Connection with family and friends is a common goal. Most of us believe having a large, nurturing social circle will be a certain path to happiness. If the means of maintaining such a network is social media, though, then perhaps we shouldn’t count on it.
Happiness isn’t a tweet, or a like on Facebook, or a snapshot of mom’s cinnamon buns on Instagram. Being in the presence of your children and grandchildren and singing a song or telling them stories is where it’s at. Happiness is much more likely to emanate from an in-person hug or tousling of the hair. It takes more than thumbs on a screen.
When we’re young we believe winning in sports will make us happy. In fact, for many of us it is an article of faith. We were imprinted with the famous Vince Lombardi quote: “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing,” and we believed it without reservation. Oddly enough, though, as age encroaches winning alone comes to seem less significant. Being able to still play the game becomes more important, and camaraderie grows most important of all. Being in the trenches together outweighs the momentary high that comes from conquering the enemy (unless we’re talking Red Sox – Yankees of course). Seriously, though, if pressed hard enough, aging athletes will admit that they look forward most to the precious post mortem time after a game when key plays are re-lived and poking fun at teammates is a treasured rite.
Seeing the world is special, but seeing each other is even more so. A trip to Disney is great, but a visit to a favorite aunt or cousin to share family lore is, as the commercials say, priceless.
Happiness isn’t won by keeping score or measuring worth or counting possessions. It isn’t earned by getting a promotion or being elected to something or winning a contest.
The very root of the word happiness is hap, a term that dates back to 13th century Middle English. It means luck or good fortune that is the result of an accident. Think haphazard. In other words happiness can’t really be planned in advance or sought after. It’s a by-product of other pursuits. It just happens. . . if we let it.