When I fell in love, I was happy; when I learned I was pregnant, I was happy; when my sons were born, I was happy; when I kissed their little pink cheeks as they came out of school, I was happy; when I bit greedily into the first bite of chocolate cake that they had concocted with their clumsy hands, I was happy; when I walked into a theater for the first time in my life, I was happy; when I strolled through the small labyrinthine streets of Beijing, Paris, Rome, Cairo, or Edinburgh, I was happy; when I chatted with several Tibetan women at the edge of a dusty road between Yunnan and Tibet, I was happy; when I walked around the villages of Miao and Tong, nestled in the mountains of Guangxi, I was happy; when I discovered the tulou of the Hakka—large dwellings of dried earth circular, square, or rectangular in shape that housed entire clans for ten, twenty, or thirty generations— I was happy; when I share a joke with some friends, I am happy; when I meet a girlfriend whom I haven’t seen in a long time, I am happy; when I laugh on the phone with my ninety-five-year-old grandmother, I am happy; when I play a game of mahjong with my husband and children, I am happy; when I come upon a sentence or a word rich in imagery in my reading, I am happy; when the smell of a delicious dish or the fragrance of a good tea fills my quivering nostrils, I am happy; when I happen to hear a song that reminds me of a delightful moment, I am happy; when I open the window and feel a gentle and refreshing breeze caressing my cheek, I am happy.
Reading that sentence, I instantly noticed the overlaps in our definition of happiness. Our venn diagram would have a large shared space. Falling in love, being pregnant, pinpointing those representative moments from her son’s childhood; the words, tea, the delicate breeze, the joy of finding that perfect sentence, these too are my marks of a happy life.
I’ve tried to chart her progress of happiness from that beginning to where she chooses to end. Her switch of tenses—from what was to what is—feels like an important shift. It’s one I find I have to remind myself of often. Happiness deserves to be in the present, not just a memory of days past. I am confident that there is much to be joyful for in the near future and a home that will finally be ours. That hope is never far from my thoughts. And still, every day there are these uplifting moments:
Happiness is the winter weary hand reaching out to intertwine with yours in the wee hours of the night.
Happiness is the smile that unexpectedly greets you in the middle of a day.
Happiness is the promise of a visit and a new puppy wriggling in your arms.
Happiness is a handwritten letter peeking out of the post office box.
Happiness is sitting in a movie theater watching the high jinks of a silent black and white film while the piano accompaniment meanders playfully along.
Happiness is sneaking that first bite of your loved one’s freshly buttered toast.
Happiness is the ring of the phone, signifying your child’s connection across the miles.
Happiness is the delicious point in a novel when you realize you are All In.
Happiness is also the decadent, indulgent feeling of spending Saturday morning in bed with that book before the weekend takes off.
Happiness is looking at the calendar and seeing two concerts coming up in the next few weeks. Good friends and shared music make the best pairings.
Happiness is the memory of walking through the sacred halls of a museum, falling into the infinite timeline of curated treasures.
Happiness is a memory of a trip bubbling up like a dream.
What about you? What makes you happy in this moment?