The pursuit of happiness is an “unalienable right” of all Americans, as set forth in the Declaration of Independence. But what is happiness, really? Vocabulary.com [https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/happiness] says: “Happiness is that feeling that comes over you when you know life is good and you can’t help but smile. It’s the opposite of sadness. Happiness is a sense of well-being, joy, or contentment. When people are successful, or safe, or lucky, they feel happiness. The ‘pursuit of happiness’ is something this country is based on, and different people feel happiness for different reasons. Whenever doing something causes happiness, people usually want to do more of it. No one ever complained about feeling too much happiness.”
In my high school yearbook (where I have been forever memorialized with an extra “a” as “Nanacy Lucas”), my life’s ambition was, quite simply, “To always be happy.” Needless to say, I have not lived up to this ambition, if such a thing is even possible.
I can honestly say that I’ve been consistently happy on a day-to-day basis during, at best, maybe four periods of my life:
- Until I hit puberty, I was a reasonably happy child. I had parents who were seemingly content together. My father was a disgruntled banker but an unapologetic practical joker and party animal, my mother was a suburban housewife, and my younger sister and I had everything we could possibly want. I had dreams of being a famous author and I did actually write things, with confidence and not an ounce of self-doubt (see “An Aspiring Young Author”, 3/15/15). I unabashedly performed musical theater in my living room, with a booming alto voice that was also on display in the church choir. I wasn’t the prettiest child and tended toward chubbiness, and there were the inevitable catty disputes with the gaggle of neighborhood girls who hung around Azalea Court, but until the arrival of the upper-lip mustache and an inexplicable vendetta against me in 7th grade by girls I didn’t even know for some imagined affront, I knew true happiness as a youngster. Quite clearly that was where my “pursuit of happiness” took root, because I’ve wanted to recapture that idyllic time ever since.
- True happiness returned at Trinity College, when I had the aplomb to offer my services as the manager and/or statistician of the men’s football, hockey and lacrosse teams, as well as the co-sports editor of the campus newspaper, the Trinity Tripod. I was living the sporting life I had always imagined: If I couldn’t actually PLAY the sports due to the unfortunate reality of my gender, I wanted to be as embedded in that world as I could possibly be, and I was. There were pretty boys for the taking nearly every weekend at frat parties and the campus pub, and while I might have publicly bemoaned my lack of a boyfriend (because sex was only acceptable if it was with an exclusive boyfriend; otherwise, it was frowned upon, even in the permissive late ‘70s), if truth be told in retrospect, I couldn’t have possibly stuck with just one for very long. The Trinity College campus itself was a source of peace and beauty, I took some fascinating classes, including ones involving poetry and fiction writing (to advance my prospective future career as a writer), and I had friends from every sphere of my college life. There was never a dull moment, never a weekend (or even weeknight, for that matter – there was a party every night of the week, if you knew where to look) that didn’t offer the promise of a rollicking good time. Although there were admittedly many sad moments (especially senior year, when I would occasionally fall victim to my fears of what was going to happen to me once I was forced out of my comfortable college cocoon), when I recall that time now, my overriding emotion is contentment. I had everything I could possibly want and, best of all, utter FREEDOM.
- In the late 1980s, until about 1992, I lived in the East Village of New York City. It was my bohemian dream life come true: I had a basement studio apartment on East First Street between First and Second Avenues crammed full of furniture and creatures, including of the human variety. I bartended across the street at a local watering hole called Downtown Beirut II that featured live music, which made me a minor celebrity in the neighborhood, recognized by patrons and performers on the street – no greater thrill, I can tell you! I was surrounded by artists and wanna-be future stars (of which I counted myself) and I was going to write the great American novel (or series of short stories) based on my life in that time, in that place. I was a joyful soul. I even met my future husband, a handsome punk seven years my junior who was a source of pride for me and envy among others. Even when we moved out of the Village to Park Slope, Brooklyn, my new neighborhood was leafy green and gorgeous, I was still surrounded by good friends and soon baby Darian entered our lives. I could not have been happier.
- The last time I was truly happy was at Hofstra School of Law, when I was grateful to return, in my early 40s, to an environment of such intellectual energy. I was friends with the kids and comfortable with the professors, straddling the divide between the two. Being a lover of school in all its forms, I thrived, looking forward to my arrival on campus every day. (I also had an innocent little crush on a cute classmate, offering yet another thing to look forward to on a daily basis.) Working on the Hofstra Law Review just added to my enjoyment. When I graduated in 2002 with honors, having won a few awards (including a “Distinguished Service to the School” award), with a six-figure law firm job in my back pocket, seeing the pride on both my mother’s and my daughter’s faces, it was the epitome of my life.
Since then (and as was the case in between each of those time periods), happiness has been much harder to come by. I don’t find it in my chosen career (see “The Blizzard of 2016 and Some Thoughts About My Job”, 1/27/16), and I sometimes feel a little lonely (even though, given my druthers, I am quite content to spend time doing whatever I choose in the pleasure of my own company). But lately I’ve been making a concerted effort to work at being more happy in my life. This blog is a major source of satisfaction, for one. Also, as previously noted, I’ve been trying to find small joys in each day and preserve them in my “joybook” every night before going to sleep.
But the majority of my smiles these days comes mostly from the animals, both here at home and at the shelter. Last Sunday, I was sitting on a chair in the big cat room at the shelter, with the gorgeous but temperamental Gracie on my lap, my beloved Winnie (who I am going to end up adopting, I am quite certain) to my right on the cat tree, and then big Blackjack came over. All the cats were basking in my affection and being surprisingly sweet to each other, until Gracie, as is her wont, decided she was done with me and jumped down. But for those ten minutes or so, I felt nothing but bliss.
I guess, ultimately, it’s unrealistic to think I could be happy every minute of every day, especially when things like death and injustice are so pervasive. So, despite my high school ambition to “always be happy”, and my unalienable right as an American to pursue it, I’ll settle for being happy more often than I’m not. If I can find that balance, I would consider my life a success.