Somewhere in the blogosphere is quote by Robertson Davies, the late Canadian novelist, about happiness. I meant to copy and remember it but I didn't so I may be remembering askew and aslant. But I think the crux of his elegantly put thought was that people are born with genetic or temperamental skews toward optimism or pessimism, or, otherwise put, happiness or unhappiness. I realize we are in a period when attributing all kinds of things to genes is in vogue and that very little is that simple -- maybe blue or brown eyes or maybe even that is not so simple.
I think everyone who has been a young mother whose friends were mostly other young mothers, knows that children are born with very noticeable temperaments. In those young mother days we also firmly believe that whatever we do will greatly influence our children's future lives and we feel anxiously responsible. We worry about our raised voices, our timing of toilet training, our strong desire to give a tantrum throwing two-year old a whack on the seat of his diaper padded pants. As we watch those children grow into teens we are often totally bewildered: what did we do to deserve what they're doling out to us? But time goes by and in it's fullness they become adults and some temperamental characteristics we noticed way back in earliest babyhood assert themselves. Some are solid and serious, some are silly and flighty, some are a mass of confusions, and so on. Some become adults who find their place in the world and are happy in the overall scheme of things. Others have problem after problem and in the worst cases serious depressions and misery.
So what do I know about happiness? I do believe Davies is right; some tendency is inborn and whatever we did as young mommies didn't change that. Whatever my mother did didn't make much difference either. I am a person who has an inner sense of balance which has been upset at certain points in my life. I am asked to make a list of ten things that make me happy; it's both good to do and ridiculous. We aren't asked to define happiness: for me it's mostly contentment interlaced with moments of quiet pleasure. Sometimes there are periods of acute pleasure -- watching DVDs of operas last fall, especially of Beverly Sills in Marriage of Figaro, and the second act of Tales of Hoffman, just as examples.
We can increase our own happiness by seeking out the things we love; and we can increase other people's happiness with acts of kindness, random or calculated. Happiness by it's definition is a good about which everyone would agree. And those who don't have a genetic disposition are, perhaps, even more susceptible to gifts of happiness than others. Davies said something more profound and eloquent, I'm sorry I've had to ramble instead of quote.
[Photo: I am hiking toward a wonderful castle in the Czech Republic on a beautiful sunny day. Isn't that something that would make anyone happy?]
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