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Pursuit of Happiness

Snow still blankets my garden, the ground is still frozen from a New Year’s arctic air blast from the North … and I am … happy? No – too strong. How about … content? That’s better. I’m totally “content” because I live for snow-on-the-ground kind of days. It’s a good thing … for me.

What about you? Are you happy?

It is the second day of the first week of January in a new year and a new decade. Christmas is, for the most part, carefully packed away, waiting in anticipation of yet another year. Resolutions have been made, the new year has begun.

I have a confession to make. I didn’t actually write my resolutions this year. First time, ever, I might add. But when I realized that too many of them were the same as last year, not a good sign, I knew I would just remember them. Then, because old habits are hard to break … I created a list on my BlackBerry where they will stay all year until they are checked off, one by one! January optimism as its best.

Yesterday morning my news reader was filled with examples of New Year Resolutions from celebrities to correspondents to politicians. And what I noticed was, for the most part, they were much the same as last year’s resolves … and the year before, and the year before that. We are all human, after all. I was reminded, yet again, that we humans really have similar hopes and dreams, and every year we record those dreams in the form of resolutions, and for the first 14 days on average, anticipate their fulfillment. (Yes, a scientific experiment). Collectively, these are the most popular; to lose weight, to exercise more, to save more money, to reduce the money we owe, to have more of the good life … to be happy.

Being “happy” is big business. A quick search on Amazon reveals that 29,876 of their books are about being “happy.” When searching the word “happiness,” 20,631 titles are retrieved. Books like; “Happy For No Reason,” “Happy: a Memoire,” “How We Choose to be Happy,” “The Happy Book,” and “You Can Be Happy No Matter What,” were telling examples. How about, “The Happiness Project,” “Stumbling Upon Happiness,” or “The How of Happiness.”

The pursuit of happiness is so tightly woven into our American fabric that we’ve even threaded our most central documents with it, declared it a national right, and protected that right in our most critical document, The Declaration of Independence. For the pursuit of happiness is what all humans, at their very core, desire.

Or is it?

Happiness is a wonderful thing, okay … a fabulous thing, a desired emotion that for most of us, comes along so rarely that its allure will last a lifetime. defines happiness as, “Happiness results from the possession or attainment of what one considers good.”

So what happens when one can’t possess that which makes one “happy?” Is that when the antonym to happiness comes into play? The antonym, by the way, is misery.

Rasmussen Reports recently conducted a telephone survey about our optimism on the attainment of that happiness. They say the, “survey shows that just 35% of Adults expect 2011 to be a good year or better, the lowest level of optimism found since the end of 2003.”

To me, happiness is an elusive emotion. It is an adrenaline rush that is wonderfully overpowering, sheds light to every corner of your being, and something that when it does happen across your path, it is a memory to cherish and protect. However, if all I live for is the attainment or the possession of that emotion, I would then have to imagine a future of many, many unrealized expectations. For truly, how often can one experience that emotion without quickly tiring of it and looking and seeking the next rung up the ladder of delight?

Do you remember that Christmas when you truly transitioned from child to early adulthood? That Christmas when unexpectedly your expectations didn’t quite meet reality? The toys weren’t as exciting as they were the year before? When clothes became more important than those toys (well, for girls anyway).

Searching merely for happiness reminds me of that Christmas. Constantly searching but never finding. The search just may, in fact, prove as elusive as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Now … I am optimistic by nature. I am ever hopeful for renewal, for rejuvenation, for beauty and I try to always look forward to the best of my ability. And in that light, I find myself seeking something different. While I wish for happiness, I desire something richer, something deeper, something much more attainable, something which compels me to look outward instead of inward … and that is pure and complete contentment.

Contentment is truly a choice; an outlook, a determination. It is simply … a decision. Does that mean we never seek anything greater? Absolutely not. But as the ancient writings in Proverbs chapter 15 declare, “A joyful heart makes a cheerful face; A sad heart makes a despondent mood. All the days of a poor person are wretched, but contentment is a feast without end.”

And so my wish for you is a life of chosen contentment and memories of happiness. I hope you choose to continue looking outside of yourself, being content by choice, and blessed by unexpected gifts of happiness.

Looking forward to 2011.

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