Let me begin my first post of the new year by declaring that this is happiness for me: a wet dog, bathed in the golden light of a late December sun, breaking through the surf and calling upon me to forget myself and return to the world of divine play. This is where life takes place, she says, here in this moment, this tide, this light, this chance to fall in love with everything once again. There is still an adventurous child in me—a small core that has not yet fallen prey to cynicism—and my wet dog understands this completely.
What is this thing we call "happiness," this elusive mental state that we wish for ourselves and one another on the first day of every year? Most of us can say what happiness is not—and it's seldom what we imagined in our youth—but we still have great difficulty getting a fix on what it is. We are in good company, of course, for the great poets and philosophers have always reminded us that happiness can never be easily defined. It is unpredictable, elusive, fleeting in nature—and therein may lie its charm, for if one could find happiness and possess it at will, it would probably lose its essential quality of being happiness. Perhaps Thoreau said it best:
Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.While reading some new poetry anthologies during the past few days, I have come across three poems in which happiness has been discovered in unexpected places—which, as many of us have learned, is where it is usually found. In So Much Happiness, Naomi Shihab Nye reminds us that "happiness floats," that it "doesn't need anything," and that virtually everything "could wake up filled with possibilities." In Orkney / This Life, Andrew Greig tells us that happiness can only be found in the present reality of this life. "This is where I want to live," declares Greig, "close to where the heart gives out, ruined, perfected . . ." Finally, in a poem titled Happiness, Raymond Carver recalls the unexpected pleasure of simply watching two paper delivery boys on their morning rounds, an experience that left him with a profound sense that happiness is a fleeting moment of such beauty that "death and ambition, even love," are irrelevant.
Read and enjoy! There is no better gateway to the new year—or maybe even happiness—than poetry.
SO MUCH HAPPINESSNaomi Shihab Nye
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
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs
But happiness floats.
It doesn't need you to hold it down.
It doesn't need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records . . .
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.
ORKNEY / THIS LIFE
It is big sky and its changes,
the sea all round and the waters within.
It is the way sea and sky
work off each other constantly,
like people meeting in Alfred Street,
each face coming away with a hint
of the other's face pressed in it.
It is the way a week-long gale
ends and folk emerge to hear
a single bird cry way high up.
It is the way you lean to me
and the way I lean to you, as if
we are each other's prevailing;
how we connect along our shores,
the way we are tidal islands
joined for hours then inaccessible,
I'll go for that, and smile when I
pick sand off myself in the shower.
The way I am an island loch to you
when a clatter of white whoops and rises . . .
It is the way Scotland looks to the South,
the way we enter friends' houses
to leave what we came with, or flick
the kettle's switch and wait.
This is where I want to live,
close to where the heart gives out,
ruined, perfected, an empty arch against the sky
where birds fly through instead of prayers
while in Hoy Sound the ferry's engines thrum
this life this life this life.
So early it's still almost dark out.
I'm near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.
When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper.
They wear caps and sweaters,
and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
they aren't saying anything, these boys.
I think if they could, they would take
each other's arm.
It's early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.
and they are doing this thing together.
They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.
Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn't enter into this.
Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.
"Everything," says Naomi Shihab Nye, can "wake up filled with possibilities of coffee cake and ripe peaches, and love even the floor which needs to be swept . . . " That would include both me and my wet dog, the Zen master, especially on this New Year's Day. What a wonderful year it's going to be!
Happy New Year to Everyone!