I suspect it’s clear to anyone who reads my blog that I’m happy when I’m out on the trail, preferably up high in the alpine and preferably working hard to get there. This – even though on the way up I am often in pain (gasp, pant) and have been known to think quietly and privately, “WTF am I doing?”
Yup – happiness. Happy doing this on my own, doing it with the dogs, doing it with a group of like-minded folks and, most of all, happy doing it with the Love of my Life.
And yet, I ponder this question: “Am I happy?” Last night I looked at a few “definitions” of happy and they were pretty much what you would expect: Happy is not the same as pleasure – it’s contentment – it’s getting your needs met and happy is when reality meets your expectations. Or, as they say, expect nothing and you won’t be disappointed.
I suppose all this is true to varying degrees. We all have basic needs and we would be hard-pressed to be happy if they weren’t being met: clean air, water, shelter, food, clothing. We need some sense of security. I believe we need love, perhaps not that of a partner but we do need a place to focus the tremendous capacity we have to give love. Some of us (lucky us) find it with a life partner. Some of us have lifelong friends and others have family. Heck, for a long time a dog was my primary focus of love and it made me very happy indeed.
We need community. For some of us it’s our neighbours and family; for others it’s a group that shares our interests and passions. Connection is essential. Yes, there are exceptions but I also wonder if hermits are truly happy. Perhaps.
When we get beyond the basics, our needs become more individualized. I know that the things I need for happiness are different from the things Simon needs or that my best friend needs. I would wager that creativity and challenge are essential for my best friend’s happiness. When she’s confronted with a creative challenge (which she always meets and exceeds) she blossoms. You can see the sparkle. You can almost hear her say, “Bring it on!”
I see deep happiness in Simon when he is closely connected to his family – when he is connected to his community and when he makes a contribution.
I am also pretty aware of what makes me happy. I look back at the years I spent above the stable in Cedar, especially latterly when I stopped chasing the idea of having a relationship and settled into celebrating the life I had. I felt a deep contentment that was pretty steady throughout the days, weeks and months. I had work I enjoyed and that gave me a daily dose of accomplishment. I lived stress-free. I had complete security and total autonomy. And, of course, I had my hiking community.
I believe a large part of my feelings of being unsettled here have to do not with the place, necessarily, but with my change in lifestyle. Shortly after Simon came into my life, I retired. After fifty years of working and finding a great deal of fulfillment and achievement in my work, I have still not retooled – still not found places to get these “work” needs met. I’m “working” (!) on it – but not there yet.
It goes without saying that having Simon in my life is one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. Loving him and being loved by him – these are happy things. That said, happiness comes from within. Every day I choose how I will spend my time and I choose how I will feel. I know my needs – creativity, freedom, autonomy, achievement, admiration, contribution etc. It’s up to me to find ways to get these needs met in a way that makes a constructive difference to me and to the world around me.
Knowing myself, I watch with some amusement as I go about getting contentment, which I believe is a solid happiness. I dislike cleaning. Really – I do. I’d have a cleaning lady if I could afford it. But I also clean at least twice a week because I get a feeling of accomplishment and contentment when I’m done. Same with laundry – especially folding everything (each item with it’s own particular technique) and putting clean things in proper rotational order (yeah).
Even writing my blog gives me a sense of satisfaction because writing does that for me. And hiking – of course – hiking. When I look at my life, I believe that every one of my happiest moments has been in the mountains – high up – bliss, peace, contentment. This is one of the reasons I can hardly wait to get to Europe with Simon next year – to share these places I love so much with him – can you say “double your happiness?” And of course, hiking in the high places with him again this year – pure joy.
So – there we have it. Am I happy? Not in the way I was before. But I’m working on it. I have a pretty good idea what’s missing and I’m working on it. Meanwhile, I can choose to be the best me I can be as I do that work. I know that I don’t always get there. But dammit – I’m trying.