Happiness Revisited

Written By: The Lowdown - Dec• 31•12

Regularly I receive fan mail, mostly from female readers. I don’t know why that is; perhaps it is because I write about subjects close to their heart. For example, my most recent story was a gripping love story and the one before that was about the pursuit of happiness.  May be that explains it. Now, my many female fans requested me to write again about happiness. How can one resist such a request; so this piece is about happiness once again.


When I ask myself: ‘Are you happy?’, most of the times I say: ‘Sure, by and large I’m happy’. It is as simple as that! But it isn’t so simple. That is what I found out when I read a book about happiness.  After having finished reading it, I wasn’t so sure any longer whether I was so happy.


How come? Well, the book said that happiness can’t be measured! I thought: what nonsense; I know for one when I’m happy or not. No, the authors argued, if you say you are happy, you need ‘external validation’; in simple language: confirmation by somebody else. My advice in this case would be: don’t ask your partner to act as your external validator, because he or she will probably have as sunny an opinion about your happiness as you have!


The book furthermore concludes that international comparisons of happiness are unreliable. Consequently, the authors rightly advised that we shouldn’t attach too much importance about the alleged superior happiness of the Danes, nor lose sleep over the secret of their success. They also pointed out that happiness doesn’t mean the same thing in different languages. For example, happiness in Chinese is xingfu. Its meaning implies a favourable condition of life with an emphasis on strong family relations. However, I know quite a lot of people who are happy precisely because they were able to shed the yoke of strong family relations.


Despite all ifs and buts which the authors presented about happiness, I was still not convinced. I stuck to my opinion that I can pretty well tell whether I am happy or not! However, the authors (thorough characters, by the way) presented yet another dilemma: the distinction between happiness, pleasure and joy.  Well, that was a tough one. In my confusion I consulted theOxford concise dictionary. What did it say? Happiness is a feeling or showing pleasure or contentment. Fine, on to the meaning of pleasure: it is a feeling of happy satisfaction. As for joy, it means a feeling of great pleasure and happiness. So, there is only one conclusion possible: happiness, pleasure and joy all express the same pleasant sensation. My linguistic investigation confirmed what I suspected all along: The authors were creating a smoke screen, barring deciding for ourselves whether we are happy or not!


Yet, I was pondering about the real distinction in meaning between happiness, pleasure, and joy. I entered into a mental exercise based on a true story. The characters are: My rebellious son and me. The subject matter: A freshly ironed and perfectly folded white handkerchief.


Every morning I pick one fresh handkerchief from the special handkerchief shelve in my closet. This gives me immense pleasure. I feel very happy indeed to have such a nice handkerchief! I put it folded and all in my pocket. When I need it, I take the handkerchief out of my pocket, unfold it carefully as if I would have wrapped a very delicate object into it, smell the faint fragrance of the washing powder and of the ironing, and only then I blow my nose (By the way, a long time ago I had a roommate who, after having blown his nose, consistently checked the result in his handkerchief. Needless to say that I moved to another room).


Now, one fine morning, my son had a running nose and asked me whether I had any paper tissues on me. I said: ‘No, but I have here a spic and span handkerchief for you to blow your dripping nose in’. He refused taking it saying that it was unhygienic to blow one’s nose in a handkerchief. I must admit that I was a bit taken aback by his biting criticism. But I retook myself and retorted: ‘Did you know, my friend, that half the Amazon rainforest has been cut down for the production of paper tissues?’ For a moment he was speechless; the dripping of his nose took a turn for the worse, so he accepted my handkerchief. And this gave me a perfect sense of joy!


 by Peter de Haan

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