The great intangible.

May 17, 2013 § 10 Comments

At first, happiness was a store window, everything I wanted behind shiny plate-glass, unattainable, but brightly lit.

In my ordinary life I had a lot: a loving family, plenty to eat, other kids to play with. Still, I pressed my nose to the glass and yearned for more.

If I couldn’t touch happiness I could always describe it.

At ten, happiness looked like a pair of black patent leather T-strap shoes, with princess heels of course. The happiness that would be granted by putting on those shoes included confidence, head-turning beauty, a satisfying click as I paraded down the hall—the full happiness package.

Moo.A dog of my own was the happiness I craved throughout childhood until, after college I got one…and another… and another.

The dog of my imagination would love me as-is, would understand me, would not talk behind my back, would not care that I wasn’t popular, high-achieving or cool. Happiness had a wet  nose.

Until I discovered boys. That guy with curly black hair who just moved here from California? If he would only notice me, like me, call me on the phone…

But if he did call I’d probably say something stupid, and the happiness would be crushed like a stomped paper cup. I’d embarrass myself, and then would come the long night of regret when I played his smooth line and my dorko answer over and over. I’d try to pass myself off as sick in the morning.

He never did call, but I concentrated so hard on that dream of happiness, electrified by its promise of bliss and its potential for disaster that I bet I walked right past happiness every day. Maybe it was too ordinary, but more likely I failed to see it because I hadn’t chosen it. I was into pining and I did it well.

For most of my life I have selected what I thought would make me happy, sometimes going after it with a specific plan, but more often trusting the power of wishful thinking to attract an outcome, an object, an undying affection.

Just as money is the medium of exchange for everything from a can of soda to a trip to the south of France, the shoes, the dog, the guy who never called were the medium of exchange for that great intangible, happiness.

In the rare case when planning or wishing worked, the having rarely lived up to the wanting. The new shoes rubbed my heels raw. The dog, although wonderful, tore the screen out of the front door and threw up on the rug. Not discouraged, I always found something else to yearn for. As a result happiness remained somewhere just out of reach.

But I kept reaching. The way I saw it, in order for life to light up, ring wildly, and spit out abundant happiness I had to play the game absolutely right and be lucky–I just hadn’t found the right combination.

Me, as half of "Hot Tamale"I didn’t understand, Happiness doesn’t work that way. Over time happiness has proven to be free-standing and independent of my plans.

It is as ephemeral and as palpable as grace.

It is a double rainbow suddenly glimpsed over the rooftops of the same old neighborhood.

Unlike the elaborate happiness I constructed in my imagination, true happiness has few moving parts. It does not trip the wires of wealth and fame.

It is more akin to light and air; an enveloping good.

Happiness washes over each of us in its own way. For me it comes when I stand in the yard with my husband and watch the Mississippi kites nesting in our pine, or when I sing harmony or find a beautifully marked leaf on the road when I go for my morning walk, or see something as if for the first time because I’m with my three-year-old grandson.

My grandson, the Beezer.Happiness is simple, unplanned. It comes when it comes and it goes just as unpredictably.

We exist in the ordinary and hope for happiness.

Often, when least expected, it comes.


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§ 10 Responses to The great intangible.

  • craig reeder says:

    All your descriptions of the various forms of happiness are beautiful, but my favorite is the “wet nose.” And i think you really made the point well that happiness is rarely something we can reach out and grab. Finally, your last line leaves the reader with such a wonderful sense of hope.


    • I am always full of hope, always ready to be blind-sided by happiness…and I try to keep the yearning under control, reminding myself that there are no points awarded for really, really wanting something.


  • “more akin to light and air, an enveloping good.” Exactly. Other than the dolls of my childhood, happiness has never been about things for me. It’s about connection, kindness, and service, all traits you wear effortlessly. Lovely post, Adrian. I’ll bet you had more than one girl remembering those princess heels.


  • Agreed!
    At the moment, the magic Happiness beam spreads over me when P & I look at our roses, jasmine & gardenias in bloom, t& we talk about the promise of the little green lemons on the tree & the teensey few, but becoming blue, berries on the bush.

    Happiness is being able to walk through our yard, down our street & all the way into town.

    It is being able to pick up the phone & tell someone special in our family, I’m proud of you & I love you.


    • There is no end of happiness to be found in ones own yard. I remember my parents walking our property (is it just my family that calls a suburban yard a “property?). It was an evening ritual conducted as the sun was going down on the flat land of central New Jersey.


      • And I can imagine ther entire world to witness there in your Jersey.
        Gardeners, like dreamy writers, are the people who can set out to just collect the day’s mail from the box at the end of the lane & be gone more than an hour, in rapt observation of ants, the new house wren, the bunny under the lilac bush…..sun rising… gotta go!


  • Gerri says:

    I love this, it’s as if I wrote it myself , but I do not know how to write as beautiful as you do. So thank you for sharing yourself and thoughts and dreams, so close to my own it amazes me.


    • It is kind of a relief to figure out that happiness is not a thing you have to strive for, that most of the time it comes of its own free will. Thanks for the comment and for taking the time to read my blog Gerri.


  • deb reilly says:

    Sometimes I’m still of that old mind-set. When I am this-when I have that. But as your words remind, happiness = choice.


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