A lot of people derive great benefit from recording, usually daily, the things that bring them joy or for which they are grateful. That isn’t something I do — at least not publicly — although I will sometimes jot down something along those lines as a reminder to future me. That may be because I am extremely content. In fact, when I used to use a habit tracking app that encouraged me to score my mood on a scale from 1–5, I discovered that only two scores prevailed, 4 and 5. Try as I might, I could not discriminate further between extremely content and very content and so, after a couple of years, I gave up trying.
The focus on contentment, which in my view is long lasting, rather than the more fleeting happiness, stems, I think, from a couple of sources. One was definitely Jonathan Haidt’s book The Happiness Hypothesis, which I read soon after it came out in 2006. At that time I was not very content. With the help of Haidt’s book, a couple of incredibly useful sessions with an online life coach, and taking to heart Daniel Pink’s ideas on autonomy, mastery and purpose, I turned that around. The love of a good woman helped too.
I want for nothing except, occasionally, friends in meatspace. As a result, probably, I don’t publicly offer gratitude or remark on small joys, though I do in private. But that’s not to say that I cannot.
A joyful day
Earlier this week, on the occasion of the good woman’s birthday. we took ourselves off to a nearby lake for a day away from the searing heat of the city. It’s something we often do, and always a pleasure. There was nothing particularly special about this occasion except that for a while I decided to focus on one aspect in particular: the noise.
Lying quietly in my hammock, cooled by quite strong winds coming off the water, it seemed that the space was completely defined by the unceasing stridulation of unseen hordes of uncountable cicadas. The only visual evidence of their existence, a single empty exoskeleton, hollow and translucent like old cellophane, attached, of all things, to a hammock rope. Then the wind kicked up a knot or two and for a moment the rattle of the poplar leaves fought with the buzz of the cicadas, who suddenly fell silent. Too busy holding on tight to keep up their music? One or two did persist and slowly as, perhaps, the wind dropped slightly, the chorus flooded out again.
I know they are not singing for me or for joy but to attract a mate, and found myself hoping that they all succeed so that the show will go on whether I am here to hear it or not.