Thinking happy thoughts

Published 1:04 am Saturday, August 27, 2011

“It was a rare August day. The temperature had dropped into the 80s and the humidity was low. In mid-morning, a delightful breeze brushed my back as I steadily fastened clothes on the backyard clothesline. I sighed with contentment.”

Are you shaking your head, wondering if I’ve gone crazy? Eighty degrees this August? Actually, I wrote that in 1997. I continued with, “Wouldn’t it be neat if, when this day drew to a close, I could fold it up and put it in a bag? Then I would tuck it in a secret place and release it at will some other day.” I remember that my heart overflowed with happiness that day. I was thankful for not only the pleasant weather, but also my many blessings as a wife and mother.

Reflecting on that time, I thought of a phrase by someone named Young. He wrote, “The spider’s most attenuated thread is cord and it is cable to man’s tender tie on earthly bliss—it breaks at every breeze.” From those words, I picture a garden spider’s large, beautiful, lacy web tenaciously hanging on during a stormy afternoon when the wind whips it this way and that. It is not surprising how long those minute strands can hold fast. If you have ever put your hand in a spider web and pulled it away, you realized how strong the fragile-looking strings were. Eventually though, the raging wind spoils that intricate work. The web, strong, yet fragile, loses the battle, unravels, and dangles in the air. The spider just finds another spot and starts all over again. I think our pursuit of happiness is similar.

Robert Louis Stevenson, the man who wrote many delightful childhood poems (my favorites), said that the habit of being happy enables one to be freed, or largely freed, from the domination of outward things.

Do you consider your childhood the happiest days of your life? A literary critic and an English literature professor at Yale University, William Lyons Phelps, did not think so. He wrote, “The belief that youth is the happiest time of life is founded on a fallacy. The happiest person is the person who thinks the most interesting thoughts. We grow happier as we grow older.”

James Oppenheimer, an American author, said that the foolish man seeks happiness in the distance; the wise grows it under their feet.

I read somewhere just the other day that a kind deed makes the receiver happy as well as the doer. That goes right along with the philosophy of a Belgian symbolist poet and playwright, Maurice Maeterlinck. He believed, “An act of goodness is of itself an act of happiness. No reward coming after the event can compare with the sweet reward that went with it.”

I think my feelings that day years ago fell right in with Frenchman Blaise Pascal’s description of happiness: “Happiness is neither within us only, or without us; it is the union of ourselves with God.”