I felt happy recently. I know, I know. Stop the presses. Trainor’s happy. Don’t worry, I won’t burden you with my “prescription for happiness.” I don’t have the prescription. All I know is we live in a country where “Pursuit of Happiness” is the unofficial state religion.

I’m not a practitioner of that religion, but happiness has visited me on occasion. Nothing in particular precipitated its most recent arrival. I was standing alone outside the Nordstrom coffee bar in Oak Brook, late afternoon on a Sunday, sipping a vanilla latte. The sun was brilliant – slanting late-winter light, buttery with the promise of better things to come, fresh seasons, as the sun inexorably creeps back north along the horizon. When winter relaxes its grip, it’s easier to look forward.

The latte was good and sunlight always boosts my mood, but mere circumstances are never enough to explain happiness. As it happens, the circumstances of my life are not, at the moment, ferociously in my favor. But we all know people who are poor, or in poor health, who radiate happiness, while the rich – or as they like to put it, the “so very fortunate” – may seem hard and guarded.

I was with a good friend, which helps, but I was alone at the moment happiness chose to become my unexpected companion. Since I had the luxury of not being in a hurry, I took a few moments to consider the nature of this quiet visitor.

It had been a good week. I had risen to a few occasions, worked hard, faced a few fears, met some goals. But reasons only create the conditions – or reduce the impediments. When the negatives are removed, is happiness our default setting? There are times I dare to think so.

Happiness never overstays its welcome, but I’ve been around long enough to understand and accept that. I don’t expect any commitment from this free spirit. I learned long ago not to try to harness happiness when it graces me with its presence. Neither do I attempt to prolong the experience. It is what it is, comes when it comes and will be gone before long. So be it.

What I’ve learned to do is pay attention and marvel that we ever meet at all. For many years I felt betrayed by the easy departures and berated my own inability to sustain the sensation. How could it be so elusive, so temporal, so ephemeral? Could it mean much if it flits in and out of our lives with such capricious indifference? I thought less of it – or less of myself for not being able to make it last.

I was young then and have learned a thing or two since. Desiring happiness is futile. And despite the Declaration of Independence saddling us with the notion, it doesn’t do much good to pursue this phantom.

As fleeting as happiness is, though, it doesn’t play favorites. Granted, some of us seem happy more often than others. If the Dalai Lama isn’t happy, he puts on a terrific impersonation.

I don’t know much about happiness, but, in my experience, if you feel reasonably good about the recent past and have reasons to look forward to the future, you stand a reasonable chance of being paid a visit.

We can create the conditions. There’s no shortage of wisdom on how to live a life that invites happiness – like planting the right flowers in your garden to attract butterflies. But there are no guarantees the butterfly will stop by. And sometimes, unfortunately, the butterfly lands when we’re not looking.

“Are you happy?” isn’t the right question. A better question is “Are you awake when happiness comes to call?”

It does. It will.

Happiness isn’t the goal.

It’s a guest to be welcomed.

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