Can one only be happy when the news is good? When your political candidate wins the race and the bad people are ousted? Would something have to happen that matches your fantasy of the way you want the world to be or the way you want your world to be? Does it depend on mastering that Bach piano piece and getting through it without a single mistake? Would it need something to happen that advances your career? Or improves your love life? Would every technology need to work flawlessly before you could feel wholly content? Would everyone you meet need to treat you kindly or admire you or adore you or let you know how you inspired them? Would you need 500 “likes” on every Facebook post and affirming comments? Would the tomatoes need to be juicy and the strawberries sweet and the bananas without blemish and each meal cooked to perfection? In short, would your happiness depend upon what happens each day, each moment, the world agreeing to your fantasy of how it should be?
I suspect some part of us would answer, “Of course!” And it’s true that these things have an effect. I’m at the airport and quite happy that I got TSA approval and got to walk through security without taking off my shoes, belt, jacket and take my laptop out. I’m happy that I seem to be in First Class and I don’t quite know how that happened. I’m happy to be in the United Club eating couscous and could be drinking a beer if it wasn’t so early in the morning. I’m happy that I’m going to Mexico City, a place I’ve never been and teaching a three day Orff course in a place I’ve never taught. I’m happy that the second 8th group played well in class and that I had the presence of mind to keep after a student who was melting down from not getting the part and working with him for two minutes without the chaos of the rest of the class, he got it perfectly and left class a bit happier himself.
And I’m a bit sad that I’m argued with a friend yesterday and it did not go well. I’m not so happy with the lack of focus in my first 8th grade class today and my inability to wholly get them to rehearse better. Today is my Mom’s 97th birthday and I’m sad not to share it with her, though had her body and mind kept deteriorating as is Nature’s way for four years after she left us, it would not actually be a happy birthday visit. I’m sad down to my bones that my country willfully elected someone of the most banal character who surrounds himself with equal misfits totally incompetent, corrupt, narrow of mind and heart and only a little bit happy that the whole show is starting to fall apart. I’m sad that every time I’ve seen the Warriors play in the last few weeks, they’ve played terribly and lost (but happy that Steph is coming back and they’re still in the playoffs).
So you see how it goes. When we tie our happiness to outer events, we give away our power to create our own sense of contentment and are at the mercy of forces outside of our control. My first peek into this folly was as a teenager following the New York Knicks basketball team. I was such an involved sports fan that I literally woke up miserable if they had lost the night before and finally, had to go cold turkey and stop watching. I think this is the essence of the Buddhist notion of non-attachment. It’s human and fine and even a good thing to let your passion loose and care about things far beyond what they deserve, but you have to know how and when to rein it in and get it back on the leash. In the moment, you may yell and scream in pain or euphoria, but when it’s over, time to detach and pay attention to the new moment. It’s not about detaching and not caring so that you don’t have to suffer the pain of loss, it’s about caring but making yourself large enough that you don’t identify wholly with that passion, it’s just a piece of the larger puzzle.
So the things that happen that make us happy or sad and everything in-between are like the waves of the ocean, sometimes gentle, sometimes large, sometimes tidal and tsunami, but at the end, it’s all surface stuff. The deeper happiness lies in the calm of the depths below, the place you can reach by sitting still and breathing yourself down to the bottom of your sea of thought, wholly independent of the motion on the surface.
It makes me a little happy to have this venue to share the chatter in my head. But if this blogging were to end tomorrow, I believe I could still claim some happiness. And now to the pleasure of my ritual Crostics Puzzle. Happy birthday, Mom and Dad, I’ll write soon about going to the one place outside of the U.S. you went to regularly. Meanwhile, I’m happy for all the time we had together. And happy to be here, alive, breathing, off on another adventure.