Modern psychological research is discovering that happiness is not actually contingent on things or circumstances. One way they've proved this is by following people for a year after they've either won a big lottery or became a quadriplegic. Basically they found that the lottery winners weren't any happier, nor the quadriplegics more miserable, than they were before their life-changing event.
This goes against everything we've been told to believe. This is also very good news.
The wise ones have known this for millennia. Over and over they tell us that in fact happiness is not something we can pursue, that it is not object-based or reliant on our physical circumstances. Still, I find that there are things in life that seem to nudge me in the general direction of happiness, or at least into a state of appreciation, which for me feels just as good.
Some days, it's slicing carrots, melting butter in a pan, stripping tiny leaves of thyme from their stalk. It's doing the washing up after some one has cooked me a lovely meal. This morning it was discovering the first of the season's locally grown strawberries, sweet little rubies nestled in their green baskets.
Or it's cooking something simple and straightforward, like roasting a few sweet potatoes and leeks and tossing them with olive oil and bit of finely chopped fresh rosemary. It's serving it up in a deep yellow bowl and setting it on a table on an early spring evening, the window slightly open, candles flickering.
It's true: if I look deeply at these activities, it's not really about the carrots or the scent of the dishwashing liquid or the yellow bowl. It's about the mind that can appreciate the moment, whatever it brings. Steady and focused but open and receiving. Engaged, curious, available. Whatever the circumstance, whatever the moment: what pleasure is there here?
(Images: Dana Velden)