Nonfiction Memoir

This is Happiness

Happiness as a state of being in the present moment.

WE OFTEN THINK of happiness not as a state of being, but as a state of becoming; and, therefore, miss the opportunity for happiness in the present. But what if we thought about happiness differently? What is happiness is as simple as noticing a dandelion to be a flower and not a weed?

He washed his hands at the stream.
He was excited to be near it.

Ernest Hemingway, “The Big Two-Hearted River”

“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.

Prior to our entrance, 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 pushing out from the bank to the center.

He rose and we continued.

The footpath abruptly stopped and so we had to create our own path from there on out. We approached a rusted barbed wire fence and I lifted my son over and above 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 that we passed on as we 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 a little 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.”

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 a makeshift fishing rod in his hand, and frankly 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.

Often, due to our inability to be present—to be mindful and engage fully 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, and, therefore, miss the opportunity for happiness in the present.

“I want to be happy . . . If I can only do/change x . . . if only Friday evening can get here . . . I will be happier. I will be able to relax.” While there may be some truth to this (ex. if I quit a bad habit, eat healthier, exercise, talk to a counselor, etc. there is the potential my life will change for the better), in that moment, 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, just as with anger or sadness. No one says, “I would like to become angry. I would like to become sad.” Yes, events can take place which force this emotional state, but ultimately you just are. Happiness, like anger, like sadness, will come. It will exist in a moment. It will leave. It will exist in a moment again. Happiness, however, has better opportunities to exist if we allow those moments to exist by being present with an open invitation to enter.

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, a flower in your garden, a break in your day in which your body relaxes and your lungs are cleansed with only your breath in and your breath out.

Happiness is sitting under a tree listening to the 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.

Dandelion. Photo by Coen Dijkman. Licensed under CC BY SA 2.0

By Jeffrey Pillow

Jeffrey Pillow is an American short story writer, memoirist, and poet. He is the author of The Lady Next Door. His writing has been published in Urge Magazine, The Nervous Breakdown, 16 Blocks, USA Today, Sports Illustrated,, New York Times, Washington Post, and Richmond Times-Dispatch.

He grew up in the small town of Phenix, Virginia, population: 200, and now lives in Charlottesville with his wife, two kids, and a dog named Mozzarella Cheese. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia where he was a Rainey Scholar. This is his blog.

7 replies on “This is Happiness”

Sticks, daffodils, mucky water and a boy are right up there with Snakes and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails! Enjoy every minute of these years!

Thanks Coach. Nothing quite like being a dad. Henry’s interested in going on hikes now, so I hope to take him to the mountains sometime soon. He’s done one before, but just a father and son outing would be fun.

I was on that walk you shared with your son and your dog. Taking a rest by the river bank connecting with nature and watching your small boy immersed in the moment. Your descriptions bring your story to life so vividly. Enjoy his wonder at everything because in the blink of an eye they have grown and are ready to make their own way in the world

Thank you for the kind words Alison. It’s a simple story but actually one of my favorite things I’ve ever written. During this walk, it was like time was at a standstill and I was able to observe fully the moment I was in.

That’s what I find with nature Jeffrey…time does stand still and life somehow becomes simpler. Enjoy writing, your obvious connection with your child and Mother Nature…a great combination. Take care..Alison

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