Reflecting on Happiness

Early morning sun with creepers climbing onto balcony grills

On World Mental Health Day, I took some time today to think about 'happiness' meant to me. It's something I've been chasing despite not having a clear vision of what it was. Realising what it meant to me, what it is to me today and thinking about it changed the way I looked at the world around me. 

I realise that my definition of what happiness is has changed over the years and it keeps expanding these days (which I hope is a good sign). 

A few years back, I'd set extremely unrealistic expectations for what 'happiness' meant to me. I began looking for an abstract emotion that I had crafted in my head with not much thought of feasibility. To be more clear and direct, I had this image of 'happiness' in my head and I was constantly seeking it. The fault here was that the 'image' that I was trying to reach wasn't exactly even there in my head. It was this swirling fume of half-finished thoughts and unrealistic hopes.

I wasn't 'happy' whatever that meant to me back then (it was so unclear, I still don't know what I was looking for). I look back at those days today and think of all the things that make me 'happy' today that didn't then.

I remember receiving a comment from a stranger that one of my stories was good. It should've made me happy, right? It didn't. I was thankful, but I didn't feel anything.

I remember listening to Bharathiyar's poems while travelling. Today, I marvel at these words அச்சமில்லை, அச்சமில்லை அச்சமென்பதில்லையே (this translates to something very simple—fearlessness. And yet, it means everything to me). I don't even remember how I'd reacted to this wonderful wonderful sentence back then but today, it makes my heart brim with what I'd consider happiness and empowerment.

Fast forward to a few years later, that is, today. I still don't have a clearcut definition of what 'happiness' is. I keep quoting it then and now because that's what that word feels like to me. An abstract emotion that we're all somehow trying to define, trying to feel, trying to have control over.

I feel something in me when I sunlight hits my window and moves in, slapping me awake. When I hear a song, a poem or anything really in Tamizh, my mother tongue. When I learn a new language that isn't my own. When I speak said language to someone whose native language it is, and they smile at me in approval. When I watch an old interview of my favourite musician.

I feel something in me when I read a story a stranger on the internet wrote. When someone tells me something I wrote is nice (even if a nagging voice telling me they're just being polite). When I watch the water I pour seeping into the soil in my garden. When a little bulbul stops by my balcony (it flies away at my slightest movement, but it was here a second ago and in that, I'm blessed)

I could go on and on about the fleeting and otherwise unimportant moments that I have in my day that make me feel something. I've come to define and entitle that 'something' as happiness.

It sounded glorious back then, that word—happiness. As though it was a word inscribed in gold and wrapped around with red velvet and studded jewels. It still sounds glorious to me, that word—happiness. But it's a word hidden in my mother's smile, the paint chipping off my walls (because it means that I've been living in this house ohmygod I've been living in this delightful house that's home). It's within the memes my cousin sister sends, in the stories my dear friends write and the songs unknown strangers play on the metro.

I'm still searching for 'happiness' all these years later and I will always be. But I'll find it in the moon, or the sun, or anything I want it to be in. That grants me power over it, power to hold it in my hands, feel the emotion and be one with it.

I don't expect everyone out there to agree with what I say and would understand if you have 'happiness' defined. But I'd rather not let definitions and demarcations confine what I feel from an elemental emotion such as this, or any other.