Happiness is a moment, not a life

Last Saturday morning, walking to the last sessions of the IWAC Conference in Savannah, I saw this graffiti on a building behind my hotel at the corner of Turner Boulevard and Fahm Street.

The graffiti says, “Happiness is a drug I can’t afford.” (Click and see.) Who spray painted this, I wondered? Is this a shout? And if frustration gave birth to this remark, did the spray painter not feel any thrill in the act of expressing it?

I’ll bet he did have at least a few minutes of absorption that are equated with happiness.

I don’t like that question, “Are you happy?” because happiness is a quality that is on the move constantly. It’s like hunger or the satisfaction of hunger: depending on the moment, I could answer in different ways. If I say NO the person asking may assume a generalized unhappiness on my part when, really, happiness is specific and ephemeral. This is okay.

This month in The Sun, the painter Ran Ortner describes the feeling of being engaged in his work:

In my reading I’ve come across this again and again: that a person is most powerful when in a state of inner peace. The outside world recedes when I’m engaged in my work. I fall under the illusion that what I’m doing is all-important… I’ll take a break, and when I come back and look at the work, I’ll think, Damn, there’s magic there… That’s what makes art great — it’s a souvenir from these frontiers.

To me, a sort of cool-temperatured soul, that inner peace is happiness.

It doesn’t only come with art-making. If it did, I would experience it as infrequently as I make art. So much of my time seems spent in getting work done or giving comfort or making/maintaining a home.

Some of that inner peace comes actually from those activities, even mowing the lawn or sweeping the sidewalk. And I feel satisfied with the souvenir from the frontier of the backyard. Just this morning, Friday at 6:50am, I sat on the steps in the back, watched the birds peck at the damp dirt under the green grass, looked around at my neighbors’ yards, heard the garbage truck on a distant street, and felt happy with the place I’ve made over many moments of absorption. This includes my recent wrestling with two overgrown rhododendron. Happy is a lightness of being — that may be the best way to describe it. (Thanks to Kundera for the phrase.) It comes and it goes and it comes again.

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The tortoise wins her race

I didn’t win the race; I won my race.

Lydia and I ran the B.A.A. 5K along with 6,000+ other runners, our second race this year and my second race ever.  On the train ride back to our car at 9:30am, having done what we each set out to do — Lydia improved her time and I ran the whole route without walking — Jimmy asked me if this race felt different than the first.

Yes, it did.

Before the race, Jane and Lydia contemplate the finish line.

I enjoyed this race more. There was only one hilly patch (near the State House), and my mental resources therefore were not focused on the stamina and positive self-talk needed to get up yet another one of the several hills in the South Boston 5K. My mind was free to think other thoughts.

After the start and as we were trotting up Boylston Street, I noticed a lot of women running past me in lululemon tanks with the ruffle down the back and several sporting lululemon running skirts.  What, by the way, is up with skirts on runners? Do they hide something? Does wearing one communicate a dichotomy in identity? I’m pretty; I’m strong. What’s wrong with simply I’m strong?

Lineup gathers on Boylston Street in front of the Boston Public Library.

Speaking of sartorial runners, before Lydia surged ahead I pointed her attention to another mother-and-daughter pair near us who were in full makeup, foundation included, with hair carefully blown dry.

All those overt beauties ran past me along with many other runners who were fast starters. My ego felt vulnerable in the first few blocks. I was determined to pace myself, and yet it’s a little disheartening to be passed by just about everyone. I had a talk with myself and bolstered the self-esteem. Continue reading

Not a runner, here I am running

On Sunday March 18, Lydia and I ran our first 5K, the South Boston St. Patrick’s Day Road Race. The distance is modest in number, but it feels monumental as an accomplishment, and I wrote about it for my other blog on A Sweet Life: link. See Jane run! See others, like this fellow with his dog, run too.

Man with dog crosses finish line, South Boston, March 18

Beyond finding out that I can run for 3.1 miles, hills included, I experienced something else worth knowing that can help me with other things in my life I want to do (like writing and skating): habits are motivated by a goal.  Lydia and I spent several weeks plodding along with regularity, but our interest in and commitment to running really picked up when we registered for the race. Our habits suddenly had purpose.

The day after the race we ran again, and Lydia took us on a new route. She increased our distance by ten percent. Neither of us really felt like running — didn’t we deserve a rest? a treat? — but we did. In four weeks, on April 15, we have another 5K in Boston.

Image credit: Jimmy Guterman