I came across this quote on tumblr today attributed to Jonathan Carroll:
Finding happiness in life is sometimes like finding treasure at a seedy looking junk shop. You go into the store not to find anything, but more just to pass the time before the movie starts, or a friend makes you tag along because they need to buy a cheap bed for their new dog. But then amazingly, amidst all the sad looking coats and lamps that don’t work, the bad paintings of waterfalls, and wilted Halloween costumes of characters on forgotten TV shows, there it is! You cannot believe your eyes. You walk over to it slowly, almost afraid it will disappear before you get there. But no, it’s real — you have it in your hand now. You try it on and it fits perfectly and it costs nothing and the day, the place, the time, the moment all just became golden.
— JONATHAN CARROLL
I have to first admit that I've never read anything by Carroll and until today thought he actually wrote The Fault in our Stars.
I know. John Green.
But I read this quote a few times and thought about it. It's evocative, in that Carroll takes me into the scene. I can feel myself in that moment, in that seedy looking junk shop. I love his use of the word 'wilted' to describe an old Halloween costume; though I will say, I'd never look for a used dog bed in a junk store, but I realize I'm going off-topic here.
Other than the descriptive writing, I'm not a fan of this definition of happiness. At all.
I don't like to think of life as a junk store, one that we must sift through until one day happiness sort of presents itself in the form of something we weren't looking for, don't need and likely will never use.
Isn't it funny which images work for some of us and not for others?
And of course, it leaves one wondering about her own definition of happiness (did I just talk about myself basically in the third person?). That leads down a rabbit's hole of wondering if one can even define happiness and if society's obsession with it isn't, ironically, what makes it such a wisp of smoke after all.
Then I saw this quote by Andy Rooney (of all people):
I know that is less descriptive and poetic, but maybe that's what makes it resonate more for me. In many ways, it seems to be saying the same thing - that happiness is found in small, unexpected moments, whether they're in a junk store or a nap or a lovely breakfast. But there is some agency to it, to the idea that it's not something we happen upon but that we find each day, should we be willing and able to see it.
To that point:
I mean, aside from my undying love of Hemingway (and now McCarthy), sometimes less is more.
Am I right?
Finally, the 'definition' or quote I identify with most is perhaps the hardest to live on the daily.
So, we've gone from happiness as something we come across in a dusty junk store....to happiness as something we find in daily life.....to happiness as something we create within ourselves.....to happiness as the harmonization of our thoughts, language and actions.
See what happens when I sit in bed with a cup of coffee, a Think Thin bar (yes, I eat those) and my laptop?
Lest you think I have too much time on my hands and should stop pondering the ether, there is actually a Harvard University class on happiness, which is the highest rated class on campus.
Professor Tal Ben-Shahar wrote a book about it:
I read Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment a few years back, and much of what Ben-Shahar writes makes sense to me, namely the idea that happiness is a combination of working toward a goal and finding the work itself enjoyable. So, if you want to earn a PhD in physics but hate science, that might not be the best equation for happiness. If, however, you want to earn a PhD in English literature, and you happen to love reading, writing and analyzing fiction, the odds are in your favor for finding some semblance of happiness in the process.
Finally (I know; I said that before), the book that really shaped my view of happiness overall is Man's Search for Meaning by Frankl.
I read this in my twenties because, thank goodness, I have a mother who had books like this lying around the house. It was a paradigm shift for me in terms of understanding strength to be mental rather than physical and in viewing happiness as a sense of purpose rather than an attainable object I could buy or a person who might fill the gaps.
I'm curious if anyone has a definition of happiness that sums it up for you? Is there a book, perhaps, that was pivotal in shaping your worldview in terms of happiness or purpose or whether or not happiness is something we happen upon, seek out or create within ourselves?
And, obviously, has anyone actually read Jonathan Carroll? I'm curious now.