A few years ago my brother-in-law Dan, computer wiz extraordinaire, designed a little game for each of our computer desktops. He called it The Meaning of Life. In those days, about all I knew about computers was that in order to open an application you had to click on it. I duly took hold of my mouse and aimed it at the little Meaning of Life icon: but it slipped away from me. I tried again: again, perversely, it darted out of reach. Yet again: no dice. Once more: still no joy. Eventually I realized was that this was, in fact, Dan’s point. No matter how hard one tried to get a fix on the meaning of life, it would remain elusive. It was bound to be a lifelong pursuit. That is, if one saw life in such terms, as a pursuit.
This anecdote has come to mind as I have been contemplating my no-doubt foolhardy decision to sign up for the April Blogging from A to Z Challenge with my chosen theme of things that bring me joy. I had thought it would be quick and easy to write a daily paragraph on something that lifts my spirits, brings a smile to my face, or makes me laugh out loud. But today I’m feeling doubtful about the task, and wondering whether this whole Pursuit of Happiness business—enshrined as an inalienable right in the United States’ Declaration of Independence—is misconceived. What is the pursuit of happiness but the lifelong attempt to play Dan’s little game, self-defeating by design? Isn’t happiness something that comes quietly, unsought, like grace, when least expected? Isn’t it the by-product of consistent hard work, of loving commitments kept, furthered, moved closer to realization?
My parents’ generation didn’t seem to believe in the pursuit of happiness; at best, they distrusted it. They felt that doing something simply because it made one happy was mere selfishness. Instead, even while showering the fruits of their labors on us, their children, they attempted to instill in us the principles of hard work, thrift, and delayed gratification. What we saw, even at the cost of their personal happiness, was their continual, habitual self-sacrifice, even when we felt it to be unnecessary. While we supposed it was kinda noble, it was also infuriating. We wanted to be happy, and we also wanted them to be happy. Young and restless, we wanted it all, and wanted it now.
I’m now older than my parents were when they routinely infuriated me with their self-denial. I still want personal happiness, but I’m enough of my parents’ daughter to distrust it for its own sake. I hope that if I can manage to keep up with this year’s one-a-day challenge, my month of daily posts will explore the visitations of happiness in all its facets and forms, from overflowing joy to quiet contentment, from hot-footed pursuit to simply letting the mystery be.