In This is Happiness, a beauty of a novel by Niall Williams, I found a nugget of gold that has been subtly transforming my view as I test it out during the day.
Noe, the young narrator, wonders why his friend is not more burdened about an impasse in his life and asks him why.
He explained himself in a single sentence. ‘Noe,’ he said, and took a theatrical breath, ‘this, is happiness.’
It was a condensed explanation, but I came to understand him to mean you could stop at, not all, but most of the moments of your life, stop for one heartbeat and, no matter what the state of your head or heart, say This is happiness, because of the simple truth that you were alive to say it.
I think of that often. We can all pause right here, raise our heads, take a breath and accept that This is happiness.
In the midst of hardship, This is happiness can be a perplexing idea. Settle into it, though, and it immediately deconstructs expectations of what happiness is supposed to be. It says THIS (right now) is happiness…not the notions we are fed via instagram, movies, advertisements etc. Being alive to the whole deal is the gift. Accepting that is a radical act.
It reminded me of this clip of Henry Miller describing his simple philosophy of living:
You live from moment to moment. So in doing that, this moment decides the next step.
You shouldn’t be five steps ahead. Only the very next one. If you can keep to that, you’ll always be all right.
Do only what’s right under your nose to do.
It is a simple, rough, direct form of mindfulness, expressed in a way that makes it seem more doable than most. It is the creative process, when deep into the flow of painting, writing, cooking, making just-about-anything, living. Anni Albers called it “listening to the materials, to that which wants to be done”. The moment decides.
Can we “all pause right here, raise our heads, take a breath and accept that This is happiness”?