Really happy?

A reader wondered if I am “really happy.”

Hmmm. My first response was, “of course. Why wouldn’t I be?”

But that’s too shallow. Their question is about something else, perhaps, and my answer should be more thoughtful.

Some time ago I read an article about the difference between European and American perceptions of this very question.  Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to find it and I don’t remember where it was published.

But the upshot seemed to be that the Europeans were, by most measures, “happier” than the Americans, but the Europeans had lower expectations of happiness, and, they did not measure their lives in this way.

I thought this was interesting. They don’t expect to be given happiness, but are happier than those who do.

I’m sure that much of my style, and the tone that generated the question of whether I am “really happy,” is the result of being raised by my French grandmother. She was not always concerned whether I was “happy.” She believed her job was to make me aware, resilient, self-directed, compassionate, kind.

Do you see the difference here, between her goals for me and those who would focus on making a child “happy?”

Not long after she assumed my care and feeding, when she seemed so French, so indifferent to some disappointment I was suffering in the moment, I demanded “Don’t you want me to be happy?!”

It’s telling that I remember well her response, but the cause of the disappointment itself has evaporated from my memory.

“Jessica, happiness is not the goal,” she said. “Happiness comes when you achieve something else. It is not something to be achieved for its own sake. That would be hollow, that would have no meaning.”

This is different than having fun. I work hard, I play hard. I have fun, and I sometimes have to do things that are not so much fun. Sometimes they follow each other so closely, it’s hard to tell them apart!

But those I am most comfortable around don’t seek happiness for its own sake. Yet, they often seem happier than those who do. They recognize that to be alive is to experience happiness and sadness, triumph and tragedy, victory and sacrifice, love and despair.

I am very fortunate to live, and create everyday, the life that I have.


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