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The Meaning of Happiness

Photo by Desi AnwarHappiness, they say, is a state of mind.   It is not what you have and it is not what you do.  It is how you feel as you are going through the motion of living.  But then, it is not like emotions either, that change when the sun shines or the rain pours, or even for absolutely no reason at all.  Rather it is a constant (like a background noise that ceases to have no sound because one ceases to listen to it) whose presence is noticeable only during its absence.  Indeed, it is often in moments of unhappiness do we realize how happy our lives have been!  In times of loss do we appreciate how much we actually own.

So, how do we achieve a happy state of mind then?  It is not, as we have said, in possessing.  But we do feel elevated in the anticipation of possessing something we’ve always wanted, do we not?  However, this pleasant sense of anticipation normally disappears very soon after we finally possess what we wanted.  So we move on to the next set of desirable object, not to delight in that object itself, but to fulfil that craving, to revel in the pleasure of the chase and the anticipation.  To get intoxicated in the anguish of being denied.

This anguish (the pain of the lover waiting for the beloved) however, must not be confused with happiness.  Though often it does make one feel that much more alive and gives one a sense of purpose.  That one’s life has a meaning, whether it is in accumulation of all sorts of material things, experiencing different situations and forming a variety of relationships.

That is why one can have the best things in life (a big house, big cars, a beautiful or handsome spouse, intelligent children etc.) and yet still not be happy.  One only needs look at Hollywood scandals or the lives of the rich and famous for a barometer of how much happiness has no relations to who we are, what we do and what we have.  

The other thing about happiness is that it cannot and should not be deferred.  For instance, we often say to ourselves, I will be happy once I get a job, get married, have children, find the love of my life and so on.  The fact is, if you’re not happy now, there is no guarantee that you will be happy tomorrow, next week or next year.  As a matter of fact, if you’re not a happy person to begin with, the chances are you will always find something to be unhappy about or you’re never truly happy to begin with.

I find one of the keys to happiness is to create meaning or value in the things we have or do.  It does not matter how insignificant it may seem to others but if we find meaning in it, it makes a big difference to our state of mind when we do it or when we actually have it.  And the way we feel has a lasting impression that teaches us to appreciate this state of mind and not to confuse it with a temporary mood.

I would like to give a little example.  When I was a young teenager my mother would give me a weekly allowance to spend as I like, which I did, on things that most young people would such as comic books and snacks.  I took the money and I spent it without much thought of where it came from and what I should do with it. 

Then I took a Saturday job at a local supermarket where I worked from eight o’clock in the morning until six o’clock in the evening, mostly standing on my feet, stock-checking, pricing goods and attending to customers at the check out desk.  The job for a young girl not used to working was exhausting and I was not free to do as I wanted.  Tea breaks were fifteen minutes long and lunch hour was exactly that.  One hour, no more, no less.

At the end of the day, after I took off my work overalls, I collected my pay for the day.  It was in a brown little pay packet with my name and it contained a small amount of money that I could have easily obtained from my parents in my weekly allowance or if I begged for it.  But it was money that I earned myself, through hours of working that gave me dirty hands and aching feet.

When I got home I gave the money to my mother for keeping, as I did not really need it, but my mother refused.  She said, that is your money.  You earned it and you can do whatever you want with it.  You could throw it away if you want to, but I have no right to it.

Suddenly I felt the money in my hand had a different value to the weekly allowance that I normally got.  Somehow it felt more precious.  It was my first salary paid for by my time and labour.  I developed an appreciation for it, not for the value it had, but for the value that it had for me.  

And it is in this type of appreciation, the appreciation of the value or significance we create in everything we do or we have in life that gives us the true meaning of happiness.