Monday, April 6, 2015

The search for happiness

We interrupt this program to bring you a philosophical screed.

Recently I re-read a favorite historical novel, Avalon by Anya Seton. It takes place in early Medieval England, late 900s to early 1000s AD, when Viking raids were common.

Brief synopsis of the last quarter of the book: The main character, Merowyn, is kidnapped by Vikings and taken to Iceland, where she weds an Icelandic man and has a son. After a period of difficult adjustment, she grows to dearly love both her husband and her new home. Later she and a group of other Icelanders colonize Greenland, where she bears a mentally-handicapped daughter. When her husband dies twenty years later, Merowyn returns at last to England, that gentler country she missed during the cold bleak years on an ice-swept land. As a widow, she must make do as best she can and ends up marrying a man she respects but doesn’t love. She thinks back to the silvery-gold early days of her first marriage and realizes she was happy then and didn’t know it.

For some reason that phrase – she was happy then and didn’t know it – stayed with me after I finished the book. And it made me wonder: how many of us are happy but don’t appreciate it, know it, or realize it?

“Happiness” is such a loaded and multi-faceted word that no one can really define what it means for them. It’s different for everyone. Happiness can be found even in places and circumstances you may not like; but it’s often there, buried among the less enjoyable parts. Facets of happiness (contentment, satisfaction, pride of achievement, etc.) can all contribute to the overall qualities of the emotion.

I think what haunts me about the notion of being happy and not realizing it, is how many of us let overall happiness slide through our fingers because we’re too concerned with little things we don’t like. Anyone who takes their health for granted and then loses it, for example, will appreciate how much happier they were when their health was good.

We all have a zillion things we would like to do. As a trivial example, we look forward to when we can make some cosmetic improvements to the house – paint, replace ugly carpeting, that kind of thing – but we don’t let minor details interfere with the fact that we have a nice home that keeps us sheltered, even if the linoleum is chipped.

And if we lost the house, then how much would we look back at the ugly carpeting and unpainted walls and realize we should have appreciated a solid sheltering home when we had it?

The sad thing is when people place contingency measures on happiness. They stubbornly insist they WON’T be happy UNTIL such-and-such happens. They WON’T be happy UNTIL they paint the house. They WON’T be happy UNTIL they get a different job. They WON’T be happy UNTIL their spouse changes to meet their particular criteria. They WON’T be happy UNTIL they achieve a [fill in the blank] goal.

WON’T is a pretty stubborn word. What’s preventing them from being happy NOW?

We all have goals, plans, and ambitions for the future, and I think those are critical (imagine how bleak life would be without goals), but what’s preventing us from enjoying the present NOW?

Dissatisfaction with some aspect of NOW can prevent us from appreciating a lot of beneficial things, even if it can’t be described as “happiness.” What about contentment? What about the satisfaction that comes from fulfilling duties and obligations, even if those duties and obligations aren’t what they want to do? What about the fulfillment that comes from helping others?

I doubt pure happiness is possible, although we’ve all experienced moments of it. But let’s make a concerted effort, shall we, to find and recognize happiness where and when we can? Maybe you don’t like your job but you love your spouse. Maybe you don’t like your spouse but you love your job. Maybe you don’t like where you’re living but you do like your neighbors. Maybe you don’t like your appearance but you shine in a hobby or skill. Maybe you know you did the best you could under some difficult circumstances. Maybe you struggled through and fulfilled a promise, duty, obligation, or vow even when you didn’t want to. I don’t know, pick something – anything – and appreciate it for the satisfaction it brings you.

I guess the goal behind this philosophical screed is to avoid regret. How many of us want to look back after years or decades (like the character Merowyn) and regret not appreciating a point in our life when we were happy, but didn’t know or appreciate it at the time?

I don’t think pure happiness is ever possible on this mortal earth. But contentment is. Pride is. Satisfaction is. Embrace those and appreciate them for the happiness they bring.

Okay, philosophical screed is over. We now return you back to your regularly scheduled program.


  1. Joy comes from within. Happiness is situational.
    I have found that this joy comes from my love and faith in my Lord. If I truly obey his Word. I am at peace.
    What a shame that we always seem to be wanting more when what we have will suffice. Unhappiness comes from keeping up with whatever or whoever.

  2. Well said Patrice. If we choose to 'act' happy even when we aren't totally happy, it often helps us to feel happier. It also changes the way those around us feel. We 'feed' off of each other, whether good or bad. Let us choose good. I used to keep a gratitude journal and every night before bed wrote what I was grateful for that day. Even if it was as simple as, I have a bed to sleep in today. Then in the morning I would read it again to remind me and start the new day off well. It is amazing how something so simple can change your attitude. I am grateful for you Patrice and your willingness to write this blog. Thank you.

    1. Before I continue reading the other comments, I wanted to respond to yours. I try to keep a gratefulness journal, too.

      Sometimes, like you, after a hard day, the only thing I can come up with is the warm cozy bed I get to sleep in tonight.

      Just like you.

      Just Me

  3. Happiness is a state of non-contradictory joy.

  4. So true. Great reminder of something we should all be a little more focused on.

  5. fI think of myself as happy, but a "friend" tells me that I am confusing contentment for happiness. As far as I am concerned, tit makes no difference-I would not change my life.

  6. I think far too many Americans just don't know how blessed we are...every one of us....every day.

    Just ask anyone from Iraq....or Africa....or any of the growing number of places around the world where hot lead is flying and people are being slaughtered simply for their faith....or less.

    This post made me think of II Timothy 1:7:

    For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love and of a sound mind.

    Thank you for your philosophical screed, Patrice, and for reminding me it's not about the funky fences, but the critters therein. And the peeling paint on the barn doesn't lessen the joy and sense of abundance that come with the birth of each new lamb.

    God bless America, and us for having it.

    A. McSp

  7. Thank you! What a great post! I needed this reminder. The pastor at my old church used to say that happiness is a biproduct on the road of life. He said it wasn't a goal in and of itself. That happiness occurs when we are faithful to God and fulfill our responsibilities and have an attitude of gratitude. I know that when I take the time to look around and realize how much I have to be thankful for and how blessed I am that I feel much happier. ~~Cricket

  8. Stuart Briscoe : "Happiness depends on happenings. If your happenings don't happen to happen as you'd like them to happen, you've no happiness." From a lecture on Paul's letter to the Phillipians.

  9. “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?”
    ― Thornton Wilder, Our Town

  10. When I read "The Hiding place' by Corrie ten Boon, something stuck with me. While they were in the concentration camp she asked her sister how she could be so happy all the time. She replied - 'Happiness isn't something that depends on our's something we make inside ourselves." Wise advice from someone who didn't seem to have much to be happy about.

  11. Thank you Patrice.....I needed this wisdom from you and now my heart feels light and grateful for all we do have, imperfections and all. God, family and friends are the beautiful and most important things in life. God bless you and yours.

  12. I can't tell if the last one posted ..... But the Circus is in town awaiting 2 weeks to set up in Spokane .... but I've dropped 2 of 6-7 trucks & trailers Loaded with Circus stuff (I was just a driver) I dropped them there in Coeur D' Arlene (if I spelled it right) at the county fair grounds Many big red trucks are there and more on the way,,,,, I don't know if that's something you'd like to hear about? .... But I fallowed your blog many years and thought hey I know them .... And I found the ppl to be Extra nice .... and it's a great area to live as well ...... "T" (maybe next trip I'll bring Heirloom seeds for you? I know it's off topic but .... "T"

  13. On Topic:
    I'm getting to the age? that Nothing is perfect .... including me, I lived many years expecting the Best of ppl , only to see it isn't possible. I too have (lots) short comings, perhaps more than I wish to admit. But I don't live with Regrets either. I now know God has taken me on this trip for some reason. most of the time I don't know what that reason is, But I'll stay the coarse with a human side paths .... I don't look back and have regrets (a few wish's but no regrets) Let the paint peal .... it's a home and your safe.

  14. This post really touched me. I remember clearly after my mother's sudden death thinking about how I did not know how happy I was when she was living. I marveled how it could be that just 48 hours before she died, I had not known how good my life was. Appreciating our loved ones, however imperfect they may be, will give us a sense of contentment and happiness, and we should remember how quickly they can be taken away.

  15. The grand-daddy of topics, happiness.

    I've always thought happiness is a decision.

    A lot of great comments.

    Just Me

  16. Wonderful post. I love the pic of the family in bed with the umbrella. Do you have the title of the picture?

  17. *The uppercase lettering is to point out a certain part of the's not because I am angry :)

    Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 (ESV)

    "Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot.
    Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and POWER TO ENJOY THEM, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil--this is the gift of God.

  18. Happiness is a choice. When we choose to be happy, it seems to me that happiness begets happiness.

    Of course, joy is another matter altogether. True joy comes only with the gift of salvation.

  19. We had some friends over a few weeks ago and our conversation turned to what we did during our working lives. I was remembering mostly good things and some of the problems that I had solved along the way. After about 30 min. I discovered that I had really done some good work and solved some really tricky problems. I had never realized that before and I was pleased with my self although I was not aware of it at the time it was happening. You made me look up screed also.

  20. Thank you Patrice. I've been struggling a lot lately with this exactly. Husband just got out of the military after ten years and is been a rough transition. Searching for happiness and being unable to obtain it. Gives me new perspective. Thanks for sharing.

    Learning in ny

  21. This post was amazing and I love your Blog, this really made me stop and think about myself and my current life,I have so many things to be happy about, yet I still am looking, thank you for such a positive post ! Shannon

  22. I have been reading your blog for years, Patrice; and I can say that without a doubt, this is the BEST column you have ever written! Thank you.

  23. I agree this is definitely one of your best columns. Well said! Blessings, Kat