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There’s No Accounting for Happiness
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There’s no accounting for happiness, no definition of what will determine it.
Or, even— most important—an awareness of being happy.
“Being happy” is not the same as “happiness,” is it? That “being” puts the “happy” into a temporary mode. Happiness is enfolding, encompassing.
Years ago Charles Schulz made famous the character of Charlie Brown, a sort of Everyman, or Everyboy. Equally well known was the book of “happiness” as defined by Charlie Brown or his buddies in the comic strip. Soon advertisers and everyone else picked up on the phrase “Happiness Is.” These were basically moments of peace, of pleasure. A warm puppy—the most famous (although the thought of one doesn’t make me happy at all).
At seventeen I was happy if Tom W, who played the French horn in the band, smiled my way, happier still if he pinched my waist as he passed by. We played in the woodwind quintet together, too, and so were in each other’s presence or space, forcing of course the opposite of happy to me, the days when Tom W ignored me that I could qualify—and did—as misery. Happiness as I felt it then was the Christmas semi-formal that Tom W invited me to and I almost swooned at the image of my hand entwined in his, both resting on my white gown as we sat under a streetlight after the event, and he kissed me goodnight in his parents’ car.
I felt I should freeze that moment in time –and I actually have, haven’t I?—because that moment I knew true happiness.
The day I had a baby – my first – I felt I’d done the most original thing in the world—couldn’t get over how happy that thought made me: I had a baby! How happy the baby made me. The day my second husband left the house – finally finally left, as in moved out, after the tedious months of his collecting accessories for his apartment, playing stricken martyr day after day. Then one day I was alone with the kids! I opened the drapes – the sunshine was mine, mine, I owned the sunshine all to myself and felt happy, so happy.
So: I was happy. What of happiness?
It’s what I am writing of in my new memoir, as yet untitled which suggests unfocused: the summer and subsequent year of meeting Bruce, and my sense of happiness that I could not recognize at first. I’d defined it up to the age of 43 in particular ways, I think. Those moments, for instance, of accomplishment or pleasure. I hadn’t thought of it as a state of being.
Bruce, the summer I met him, did not measure up to anything I thought made me happy and yet around him I enjoyed a peace, a pleasure, that I felt almost apologetic for: this isn’t my idea of what I want, not really; I’m just biding my time, as pleasant as it is; it is not serious.
Until I realized Being with him was Happiness. And happiness goes on. It’s not a moment-by-moment thing. We could afford nothing. We were 3000 miles apart. We solved those “minor” problems—and how could we?—because we had each found happiness.
It was strange to think about—all those years ago. Basically, it lasted for over thirty years until he died. Then the children died, one by one, adults then, too.
Can I be happy? People see me now as somewhat of a freak, I think, of enduring something that would “devastate” them. A word used often. How dare I find moments of happiness? Maybe just being happy. Even I marvel at such a thing. And yet I do. There’s no accounting for it, really.

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