Tuesday, September 1, 2009
We used the entire period, on the first day, to canvas our respective provisional definitions of our subject, happiness. Someone had to pantomime the "check your watch" gesture, to cut off the flow of responses. Very good omen.
Already we're into questions about whether its pursuit in our society is too focused on individual or "subjective" perceptions of personal well-being, what "reality" should have to do with such perceptions, and if it's possible to be happily oneself in an unhappy community or a declining culture. The early consensus seems to be that each of us must take responsibility for assessing the conditions of our own flourishing, that we must be open to the possibility of our good coming from the last places we'd ever expect, and that we should be prepared to jettison others' expectations (and sometimes our own, as in the case of Michael Gates Gill).
I'm pleased to note how few of us have bought into the superficial brand-identity, pre-packaged and commodified versions of happiness-for-sale at retail. We're all pretty clear, it seems, that "pleasure" is not our quarry. "Joy" is something different too, Older Daughter points out.
Flipping through some of our written definitions: "Happiness will never come in the future," says one. I assume that means not that our prospects are dim, but that positive experience must be present to be felt. Another writes of getting "lost in the moment, neither worrying about the future nor regretting the past." Absence of worry recurs. Many mention the variability, from person to person, of happy-making conditions. One size does not fit all. And many insist it's a big mistake to get too invested in, or dependent on, externals.
But I still want to know if it's ok for me to say I'm happy with my iTouch.