HAP­PI­NESS

ZOOMER Magazine - - WISDOM - by Will Ferguson

WHEN CHARLES de Gaulle re­tired, the Amer­i­can am­bas­sador asked the gen­eral’s wife what she was most look­ing for­ward to in the years ahead. She thought a mo­ment and then said firmly, “A pe­nis.” In the shocked si­lence that fol­lowed, Gen. de Gaulle leaned across the ta­ble and whis­pered, “My dear, I be­lieve it is pro­nounced hap­pi­ness.”

How­ever one wishes to pro­nounce it, the sad fact about hap­pi­ness is that it is of­ten de­ferred, some­thing we put off, some­thing we will get to af­ter the other items on our to-do list have been duly checked off. This can put heavy pres­sure on re­tire­ment. Fi­nally, we can be happy!

I once wrote a story about a self-help book that ac­tu­ally works – and de­stroys the world. It was ti­tled Hap­pi­nessTM, the trade­mark sign be­ing a sym­bol of what I saw as the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of hap­pi­ness in our mod­ern con­sumer so­ci­ety. I was con­vinced that hap­pi­ness was an il­lu­sion, a chimera de­signed to sell goods. Now I’m not so sure. My cyn­i­cal cer­tain­ties, like my knees, have eroded over time.

When we’re young, hap­pi­ness is closely tied to plea­sure: food, love, mu­sic – mo­ments. Hap­pi­ness leads to joy, joy leads to ec­stasy, and ec­stasy by its very def­i­ni­tion is fleet­ing. It dis­solves like cot­ton candy. Then we be­come all se­ri­ous and ca­reer-ori­ented, and hap­pi­ness gets tan­gled up with am­bi­tion. Then sta­tus. Then fam­ily. Un­til fi­nally, as Leonard Co­hen sang, it comes round to your soul.

As I get older, I find that the mean­ing of hap­pi­ness has changed. It’s no longer some­thing to be doggedly pur­sued, nor is it some­thing to be pushed off to a later date. It’s qui­eter, a state of mind, one that comes not from cling­ing to false hopes but from let­ting go, of ac­cept­ing the life one has, of tak­ing stock and feel­ing con­tent with where you are and, more im­por­tantly, who you are.

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