Monday, May 21, 2012


What makes us happy? 

Many people would answer that question by naming things or people in their lives:  my kids, camping, painting, my new car…  That sort of thing.

Indeed, things we do, people we know, items we own contribute toward a sense of happiness.  However, there is, it seems, a difference between being happy and feeling a sense of happiness, which, I think, is something more acute than general and genuine happiness.  People who are “in love”, for example, will say that they are happy.  This, of course, is the endorphins talking.  Ask those same people ten or twenty years into the relationship and you are very likely to get a very different answer. 

So, what is happiness?  Merriam-Webster defines it as “a state of wellbeing and contentment; joy.”  Interestingly, happiness used to mean good fortune; prosperity.  That definition must have been dropped when someone coined the phrase, “Money can’t buy happiness,” which is, by definition, seems to be a bit of an oxymoron in that context.  

Let’s go back to a state of wellbeing and contentment; joy, and break that down.

Contentment:  a feeling or state of being contented - which, in turn means - feeling or showing satisfaction with one's possessions, status, or situation.  Thus contentment is being satisfied. 

Well-being:  the state of being happy, healthy or prosperous.  (Hmmm…)

Joy:   the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.

According to MW, happiness appears to be intrinsically related to concepts that are normally associated with material wealth and prosperity.  So, of course money can’t buy happiness; it is happiness! 

But is it really?  Wealth itself is not, I think, what makes people happy.  Like everything, the attitude and actions associated with wealth are more likely to determine if a person is happy than just being wealthy is. 

Yesterday, I accompanied my daughter, her in-laws and her friend to a little lake nestled in the mountains about a half-hour away from my home.  My first impulse upon receiving the invitation to join them was to say no.  But I didn’t.  I said yes. 

We arrived at the lake shortly after ten in the morning.  The sky was overcast, but the air was warm and the lake was calm.  We started a fire, pulled out the snacks we had all brought to share, unloaded the 4-wheeler and the canoe and settled in for the day.  A family of five – Mom, Dad, boy, girl and dog – were already there.  They were out on the lake in two paddle boats.  We discussed the merits of paddle boats and canoes while we jockeyed for position out of the smoke from our fire. 

M decided to go for a ride on the 4-wheeler, so B and I donned life vests and pushed off shore in a canoe that M had borrowed from a neighbour for the day.  It’s been at least 34 years since I’ve sat in one of these tippy little boats.   The last time that I can recall going canoeing, was when I was sixteen at Manning Park.  I loved it then.  I loved it yesterday.  It was amazingly, wonderfully, fabulously, incredibly awesome.

I was happy. 
First time in a canoe in over 30 years!  Fabulous!

And it didn’t cost anything.   

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