“Can we go over there?” he said.
It was a path we’d never walked before. Its dirt worn trail barely visible on the other side of the lake amongst the pines and oaks. My son crouched down and plucked a bright yellow dandelion from its stem and twirled it between his fingers.
“For Mommy,” he informed me.
The three of us — dad, son, and dog — ventured down our newfound walkway, stopping occasionally to spy the fish in the shallows and the Eastern Painted turtles perched on rotten logs that instinctually dip into the water as an act of self-preservation in the face of man.
Finding the perfect stick next to a rooted stump, my son dipped its length into the green-black water. The ripples in response pushed out from the bank to the center. He rose and we continued.
The footpath abruptly stopped forcing us to create our own path from there on out. We approached a rusted barbed wire fence and I lifted my son over making sure not to snag his pants leg. I then lifted my dog in my arms and stepped down on the barbed wire to hold it in place as I placed my other foot before me.
An unsteady wooden bench lay just past the crippled fence overlooking the water. We passed on sitting and made our way to the bank of the water’s edge. There we sat down amongst tiny white flowers. I rested my elbows in the grass and my dog placed her nose against my belly. The froth from her mouth bubbled up at her whiskers.
A glint of sunshine reflected off the lake. My son walked down and placed his stick into the water.
“I’m fishing Daddy,” he said as he turned to look over his shoulder at me.
As my son stood there, slightly bent with his makeshift fishing rod in hand, a thought came to me: this is happiness.
My son inched closer to the water and placed his stick into the mud and ran it back up against the shore, then reached down.
“I got a seashell.”
It was a freshwater molluscan shell no bigger than a dime. He studied it between his fingers. He came upon the bank and I rose and we walked back home.
My son with a dandelion in one hand and a stick and shell in the other. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the passage from the Ernest Hemingway story The Big Two-Hearted River.
He washed his hands at the stream.Ernest Hemingway, The Big Two-Hearted River
He was excited to be near it.
After our walk, I thought more about what happiness is and what it means in my life. It was a peculiar thought to have in the moment as my son sat there with his improvised fishing rod in hand. The opportunity for the awareness of this moment as it was taking place likely would not have existed for me in the not so distant past.
Due to our inability to be present, to be mindful and engage our external surroundings and press pause on our own internal monologue of incessant worries and anxiety, we think of happiness not as a state of being but as a state of becoming. As a result, we miss the opportunity for happiness in the present.
“I want to be happy…”
“If I can do/change x…”
“If only Friday evening can get here…”
“…I will be happier. I will be able to relax.”
While there may be a grain of truth to this, in that moment I came to understand that the truth was staring right back at me in the reflection of the water: that of my son. I realized happiness has less to do with changing a current state to a future state and more to do with acknowledging the opportunity within the current state.
Happiness is a state of being, a present state, as it is with anger or sadness. No one says, “I’d like to become angry” or “I’d like to be sad.” While events can take place which force this emotional state, you are what you are in that moment.
Ebb and flow
Happiness, like anger and sadness, comes and goes. It will exist in a moment and it will depart. It will exist in another moment and again it will leave. If we allow these moments to bubble up by being present, happiness has an open invitation to enter. If we close ourselves off, the door remains shut.
Happiness is not reliant on costly getaways or vacations in warmer climates. Happiness is an intriguing conversation with your spouse, a good book, a piece of art, a kiss (not a peck) in which you feel your soul connect with another human being as if you are transferring energy. Happiness is a flower in your garden, at the edge of a forest, or forcing its way through a crack in a sidewalk. It is a break in your day in which your body relaxes and your lungs are cleansed with only your breath in and your breath out.
It is sitting under a tree listening to birds. Happiness is recognizing a dandelion can be a flower and not a weed if your perception is that it is a flower and has the same beauty as that of a flower.
This is happiness.
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