Think about the moments you were most happy. An event, a period of time, a phase of your life. These moments mark our passages. Markers on the continuum of our own lives. They define us.
I think back to my fifth birthday, which I do not remember at all, but I have an old film of it, and I see happiness on my face. I have been perched on a chair at the head of a kitchen table, surrounded by my extended family, my chubby tan little body capped by sun bleached hair, even a few curls there, rarely seen again, where I preside over the lighting of birthday candles and the opening of presents. There is glee in my eyes, the one and only feature of my face that remains largely the same. My mother is especially beautiful that day, tanned and freckled skin exposed by a sundress, and healthy - perhaps the last time in my life as she was diagnosed soon after with the disease that would define and ultimately rob her life.
I leap forward not to my wedding day, which was marked more by nerves and uncertainty than joy, but to a belated scuba diving honeymoon where we finally relaxed into matrimony and where my first daughter was conceived, and subsequently the utter joy of that pregnancy, filled with the delight of possibilities, an effort, the first really of my life, to be truly healthy, and the rewards of thicker hair and brighter skin and a joyful outlook, only now and then marred by the anxiety that would come to plague the early years of motherhood. Fast forward to the birth of the second daughter, and the happiness, not only to have another healthy child, but to begin to be a better mother, always easier the second time.
The first publication of written words. The completion of a degree and then another, although these were more relief and satisfaction perhaps than happiness. Moments on the beach, at family gatherings, with friends. Rare but heavenly moments where my husband and I were in sync and taking such pleasure in love.
Maple Avenue. At last, having released the ballast of the big house in the back country, Rusty’s dream house, we move to the 150 year-old Greek revival on the busy in-town street, with wonderfully tall ceilings and chestnut floorboards and five carved mantles over working fireplaces, and the sheer treasure of owning and inhabiting a house filled with history. I drove down to Maple Avenue the morning before we closed, 5:00 AM, a rare quiet time in town, and stared at the house from across the street, knowing in the deepest part of me that the house and I were meant to be. My house, my home, the address of which remains with me as my internet moniker, where holiday parties became tradition and church bells chimed the passing of each day and the first novels were written in the front parlor, while children grew and flew and, sadly, romance was lost, but a self discovered.
Meandering through bookstores, especially the great ones, these are always happy moments. Working at bookstores. Discovering new places. Time with children, with the dearest of friends. A great play or film. A great book. Long afternoons on the beach. These moments of happiness, constant but fleeting, punctuate a life.
The first moments in Laguna Beach, the neon sign marking a new life. The move. The first year of discovery, the year of making friends. The early blogs so filled with delight at everything from views to foliage to the familiar detritus of a walk to town.
I look back at my life and see what made me happy and seek more of that going forward. The best part of life, the looking forward, is now largely past – love, marriage, children, career, personal development – but the pleasure of all that stays with me. None of it has to do with work or money or status. Only moments of joy and contentment. That’s all there is and that perhaps is the essence of happiness, if one is so lucky as I to have had so many moments.