Do you take notice when you are truly happy, or do you only see it in hindsight? I’ve kept a journal since I was 12. My father’s mother gave me a big, fat red journal for my birthday and I dedicated myself to writing about my days…at least on holidays and birthdays. Eventually I wrote more often. In high school I wrote almost every day, but these entries became mundane lists of my daily activities. Now I write down poems that speak to me and lines of songs that I can’t get out of my head. I write my thoughts on books I am reading. I write a few poems of my own and I record pieces of my days and stories from my childhood or those of my parents. Having all these things written down and I can look back on them. Was I happy? Did I realize that I was happy? Does the past look brighter in the darkness of the present? I don’t want happiness to be lost in the everyday. I want to appreciate what I have when I have it. My days are mostly happy, yes, sometimes I am lonely, and sometimes I am sad, but mostly my days are happy. There is happiness in learning and working and in being alive. I want to be purposeful about noticing happiness—my own and that of those who are around me. This poem very much caused me to think about these things:
The Happiest Day by Linda Pastan
It was early May, I think
a moment of lilac or dogwood
when so many promises are made
it hardly matters if a few are broken.
My mother and father still hovered
in the background, part of the scenery
like the houses I had grown up in,
and if they would be torn down later
that was something I knew
but didn't believe. Our children were asleep
or playing, the youngest as new
as the new smell of the lilacs,
and how could I have guessed
their roots were shallow
and would be easily transplanted.
I didn't even guess that I was happy.
The small irritations that are like salt
on melon were what I dwelt on,
though in truth they simply
made the fruit taste sweeter.
So we sat on the porch
in the cool morning, sipping
hot coffee. Behind the news of the day--
strikes and small wars, a fire somewhere--
I could see the top of your dark head
and thought not of public conflagrations
but of how it would feel on my bare shoulder.
If someone could stop the camera then...
if someone could only stop the camera
and ask me: are you happy?
perhaps I would have noticed
how the morning shone in the reflected
color of lilac. Yes, I might have said
and offered a steaming cup of coffee.
Also, in thinking about happiness and ordinary days I am reminded of this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson (I got to see his grave on my Spring break trip), “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” I first stumbled upon this after having listened to a friend give another friend advice: “Just do whatever makes you happy.” The actions this friend was suggesting were selfish and would most likely hurt another person. In light of this kind of seeking for happiness, I thought the above quotation very fitting. You shouldn’t put happiness above honor and usefulness and living well. However, can a miserable person really live well? If you can be happy in the everyday, if you can find poetry in your days and beauty in the things around you—won’t you be happy? The purpose of life is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever. And yes, then you will be useful and honorable and compassionate. And yes, then it will have mattered that you have lived—and you will be happy. You will be truly happy. So, maybe the purpose of life really is to be happy, and we should notice the happiness in our ordinary days.