By Ken Trainor
It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness. With sadness there is something to rub against, a wound to tend with lotion and cloth. When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up, something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.
—Naomi Shihab Nye
It is difficult to know what time of year is my favorite. I love January, the calm following the holiday tempest as the daylight incrementally lengthens following the solstice. I relish the snugness of the February cocoon; the first brave protrusions of erupting daffodils in March; the setting sun, dead center on the western horizon, in perfect balance at the spring equinox; the sudden elongation of light into the early evening following Daylight Saving Time; Easter, where the theological Resurrection enjoys an objective correlative in spring's rebirth; the blossom bonanza in April; the leafing of trees in early May; the lush lawns and brilliant roses of June; the searing intensity and deep-summer sultriness of July and August; the mellowing sunlight of September; the explosion of color in October; the moody darkness of Halloween; the inviting warmth of Thanksgiving; the starry wonder of the winter solstice; and the luminous whirlwind of Christmas.
Every time of year has something to recommend it, not the least being that each lasts so short a time, yet can be counted on to return again. Variety and continuity — not a bad deal this cycle of seasons.
But if I had to choose, Memorial Day weekend would be right up top. Spring is notoriously stingy in these parts, but the end of May is roughly when it peaks, with its wide array of flowers — tulips (waning), irises, lilies of the valley, bridal veil, Korean spice viburnum, lilacs, and heavy-headed peonies. Trees shed seeds by the truckload, and the streets fill with birds, darting to and fro, feasting on this reproductive orgy (while dodging the murderous fenders of passing autos).
There is no spring delirium like the delirium in the upper Midwest because we are accorded so few perfect days that, whenever they arrive, people seem dazed by the grandeur of it all.
We shouldn't set our holidays by the calendar. We should wait for perfect days to arrive and declare them holidays — celebrating by consensus.
If only life could be so simple.
Actually life is that simple, though we disguise it in complicated clothing. We assume nothing could be so simple, so we sometimes overlook what life offers. We search for more when life is presenting its best and right under (and currently in) our noses.
Unhappiness, perhaps, is merely the belief that life, in its current condition, isn't good enough. I don't mean man-made life with its poverty, injustice, and violence — all the nasty stuff we can't solve (until after we balance the budget).
I mean life itself, being alive, a life worth living, those rare moments when you find yourself saying, "It doesn't get any better than this."
In one of my favorite films, As Good As It Gets, the main character, played by Jack Nicholson, asks a group of patients waiting to see a psychiatrist, "What if this is as good as it gets?" A good question, one that can be looked at in different ways.
But the bottom line is it doesn't get any better than this because this is what life offers. If that's enough, you're one of the lucky ones. If you keep asking, "Is that all there is?" (as Peggy Lee memorably sang), then you've joined the ranks of the restless, spreading dissatisfaction.
I often find myself with a foot in each camp.
Satisfaction and dissatisfaction seem to have little correlation with wealth or poverty, illness or health, success or failure. Some of it is likely due to body chemistry, but if there's a secret to happiness, it may be not asking more of life than it is capable of giving.
The problem with happiness is that it isn't exciting enough. Happiness is closer to stillness. It's the flip side of boredom, which may be why some of us seem to avoid it like the plague. Those who meditate would say stillness is the gateway to inner contentment, and when you reach contentment, you're in the vicinity of happiness.
I come closest when I'm outside in the warm sunshine, my face lifted to the sun, doing my best impersonation of a peony.
Or as poet Naomi Shihab Nye writes:
"Since there is no place large enough to contain so much happiness, you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you into everything you touch. You are not responsible. You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it, and in that way, be known."
This column previously ran in Wednesday Journal on May 24, 1995. It has been re-edited and updated.