“He soon felt that the fulfillment of his desires gave him only one grain of the mountain of happiness he had expected. This fulfillment showed him the eternal error men make in imagining that their happiness depends on the realization of their desires.” -Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
When I was pregnant with my second baby, I took my one-year-old to the indoor swimming pool, where there was also a hot tub. Upon seeing the hot tub, I desired it greatly. The warm water and the reprieve from the pull of gravity on my watermelon tummy seemed like perfection. But alas, I couldn’t get in because there was no one else to watch my one year old.
I resolved to go back alone and enjoy the perfection promised by the hot tub. A few weeks later, my mom accompanied me and watched my one year old while I got into the hot tub.
And it was okay. It was not earth-shattering; it was not perfect; it was not utter relaxation and unadulterated joy. Nope. Rather, it was a bit pleasant. Just as Tolstoy says, I experienced one grain of the mountain of pleasure that I expected.
This is why achieving the degree, promotion or acquiring the latest, greatest thing *iPad* never delivers the happiness and perfection they promise. They only grant us a tiny grain of brief happiness. There is no moment of “arrival” when happiness is here to stay and everything works out.
Happiness does not come from the fulfillment of desires. Consumerism wants us to think it does, but it isn’t true. And the pursuit of this brings only misery.
Instead, happiness comes from living in accord with our values (being a child of God), in seeing the meaning and the good in life. Happiness comes from excellence in development of virtues both of the self and of work (including the work of child rearing). And happiness comes from sincere relationships with others as we acknowledge and exchange mutual value.
This is why it is possible to be happy even in dire situations and why people without tons of money can be happy. We see this in the lives of the saints who exuded great joy in the midst of great suffering. It’s why rich people can still be miserable.
In short, happiness comes from within ourselves–and even more accurately from God and his grace. No human being on earth owes us anything nor can he or she alone “make” us happy. No one can make us be or do anything. Only we can choose our actions and attitudes; and only we are responsible for our actions and attitudes. (Excluding cases of forced physical coercion of course).
So there you have it. Be happy in the present, in every step, in every action–do not wait for happiness to descend on you from other people or things, because it never will.