What is This Thing We Call Happiness?

“Perhaps if one really knew
when one was happy
one would know the things
that were necessary for one’s life. “
~ Joanna Field

We live in a culture that seems to be obsessed with the pursuit and capture of Happiness. Like a fortress on a hill, we lay siege, armed with the latest tools and weapons that will help us gain entrance and capture it. Then we can take possession, own it, live in it, make it ours.

Is happiness really a prize to be pursued? Is it a thing to be owned or a place to journey to? Your wiser self knows the answer to those questions is a resounding “no”. But the way we are structuring our lives loudly proclaims “yes”.

“The thirst after happiness is never extinguished in the heart of [wo]man.” ~ Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The beginning of the calendar year is pregnant with possibility. One of those possibilities is that you can be happier this year than last. Finally, you think, you’ll quench that unquenchable thirst. You’ll finally read that book that promises to reveal the secret to a truly happy life, and you’ll have one. Or you’ll sign up for the personal development course that guarantees happiness is just a click away. A quick fix formula ought to be just the ticket.

Really? Still thirsty?

I thought so.


Feet In River By Annie Tuthill
Feet In River By Annie Tuthill

In this moment, as you are reading this, did you realize you were standing in a river of happiness? Flowing all around you, eddying and swirling in the shallows, everflowing and everlasting. All you need to do is dip in your hands and take a sip, or a gulp, or even splash about a bit. Flowing all around you are all the things we so easily take for granted; the friends who cheer us on, the loved ones who hold us close in their hearts, a world full of wonder and magic waiting to be explored.

It’s so easy to forget that everything we need, truly need to be content lies before us and all around us. Like the song, “Love is All Around”, so too is happiness. It’s up to us to wake up to the awareness of it. Wake up to the abundance we stand in the midst of. When we do, we can begin to have a grateful heart for the “good life” we are already having. And that grateful heart will go a long way towards creating a happy heart.

Places to look for clues about what your heart needs to really and truly be happy are to be found in the everyday graces and favors that bring a smile to your lips as you make your daily round. When you begin to learn how to spend your time living in your life rather than working on your life you’ll become reacquainted with what you love. Begin to fill your days with that. Moment by moment, each day, begin to practice the Art of Living.

Life is experienced in the moments that come in between the hours. (click to tweet)

You may find your moments of artful, contented living spending a quiet winter’s evening planning your spring garden. Or you might take your lunch away from your desk for a change. Savor your meal, spread out before you on a proper plate with real silverware. Have a weekday dinner in the dining room instead of the kitchen. Turn off the electronics, pull out your art project and single task for a change.

Pause, just pause for a moment instead of rushing headlong through your day. Pause, and listen. Pause, and see.

You’ll begin to rediscover what it is that lights up your life and delights your heart. As you do, celebrate and enjoy the happiness.


What is this thing, then, that we call happiness, if not a prize to pursue and possess? It is an essence that infuses us. It is a quality of being. It is the frame in which we enclose our thoughts.

Even though happiness itself isn’t a thing “out there”, there are some wonderful things that make us feel happy. There’s the new love in our life, the new promotion at work, the snappy new outfit at the super clearance price, and a thousand other things, all of which evoke happy feelings. But the feeling fades, doesn’t it? That kind of happiness is fleeting, and unsustainable.

True and lasting happiness is sourced deep within your heart. (click to tweet)

If you take the time to nurture that you’ll have an everlasting and everflowing wellspring of contentment of your own, bubbling up and out, flowing into that river of happiness where you stand.

Even so, it’s good to remember, as Thomas Merton says:

“We cannot be happy if we expect to live all the time at the highest peak of intensity. Happiness is not a matter of intensity, but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony.”

Part of that rhythm and balance includes weathering stormy days, disappointments, upsets, discouragements and general un-happiness, if you will. We’re not meant to be in a permanent, static state of happiness. Like any and all emotions, happiness is transitory, constantly ebbing and flowing.

A contented heart knows this. Surrendering to the ups and downs of real life sets you up for a happier, more contented Real Life. Know that happiness is always available. It’s all around you. It’s a thought away. It’s a moment away. Always.

That’s the real secret of happiness.

In what ways does your heart recognize happiness? How can you begin to practice the Art of Living more fully this week?

Share your comments below.

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