Happiness - that often elusive, yet all-important raison d'etre of human existence. Even the Dalai Lama has said that to be happy is the purpose of life.
We all experience fleeting instants or days, even weeks of joyful bliss - moments of perfect belonging, at-one-ness with the world, the Universe, each other. But how can we make it last?
We so often view the state of being happy as something that befalls us every so often, unbidden or by chance. But there is a danger in anticipating that some things have the power to "make" us happy.
Maybe we are happy for a while after we get that longed-for date or win the lottery. But polls have shown that even million-dollar-lottery winners are only happier for a brief time after their big win.
So how can we maintain a fairly enduring joyful state? Can we create it? Can we make ourselves happy, external circumstances notwithstanding?
It has been said that happiness lies not in having what you want, but in wanting what you have. Achieving and maintaining a reasonably consistent state of happiness is a choice, something within our control, but that e0ffort at times.
Think of it as a mental art form. And like other arts, you have to work at it; it takes practice. But like kickboxing or tap dancing, the more you practice the better you get. Being happy becomes a habit.
Of course, it helps if you have some of the basics down. Reasonably good health, an adequate job (or at least a hobby) to keep you from insane, a home to keep the rain off your head friends to listen to your jokes or wild rants (depending on your disposition) are all key ingredients.
These may sound like moderate needs, but it is surprising how many people underestimate how fortunate one is if one has all or most - of the above.
Granted, it doesn't always help to remind oneself that most of the world goes hungry while we nonchalantly consume another fried cheese at 2 am. Expectations and desires are relative, after all - just like everything else.
Nevertheless, it can't hurt to keep your relative fortune in mind when you find yourself inexplicably irate because the latte you ordered arrives as a large espresso. Get over it already.
It can help, however, to keep the macro in mind as much as possible. As Albert Einstein ostensibly put it, "Once you accept the Universe as matter expanding into a nothing that is something, wearing stripes with plaid comes easy."
In other words, it helps to keep a universal perspective in mind and appreciate how remarkable it is that you are standing on this giant rock and not flying off. The world is an amazing place, no matter how many diabolical notions or individuals step in at rimes to rain on our collective parade.
Yet even the most optimistic among us have an odd habit of dwelling on what is wrong - because we simply don't have to concern ourselves with the things that are already right. We can look at a zillion perfectly formed daffodils, but it is the quirky one that is not quite right that attracts our attention.
"Yeah, yeah, very nice," we think. "But what's up with that one?"
"What about us?!" the legions of daffodils might (understandably) scream.
When people are happy they are often also "good." How often do you hand out spare change to the when you are irritable and cranky? But catch you on a warm spring afternoon, walking on air to meet the object of desire, and you just might
find the time to give. Or you buy a round of drinks just because you're in a good mood. Happiness might thus be contagious, like the flu. And we might take it on faith that the most surly among us may also be the least happy.
But no, that studied, melancholic air some of us choose to radiate is not bewitching. At least not for very long.
Besides, most people won't really mind if you're miserable, so you might just as well enjoy yourself.