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.