The DNA of Happiness

As I explained before, I am slowly making my way through the Proust Questionnaire, a tool commonly used by writers for character development. It’s become my goal to work my way through this list a question at a time, preparing for a motivational memoir that I’m working on.

While some of the questions don’t require a huge amount of thought, the first question is a really, thought-provoking challenge:

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Now, perhaps, I could’ve simply taken this question at face value and just jotted a few things down.

However, why get straight to the point when you can procrastinate and turn a simple question into a journey?

So, I’ve taken this opportunity to explore the DNA of Happiness.

What actually makes us happy and when you think about being happy, what sort of images come to mind?

Not the “I’ll be happy when…” but the real stuff. What has brought you the greatest, personal happiness?

Or, to put it another way, “What have been the happiest days of your life?”

I wonder if they look anything like mine?

Our Wedding Day....The Happiest Day of My Life. I smiled so much, my face hurt!

Our Wedding Day….The Happiest Day of My Life. I smiled so much, my face hurt!

“Happiness is a vine that takes root and grows within the heart, never outside it.”

― Kahlil Gibran

I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition.
Martha Washington

The Arrival of Our Little Man...I couldn't take my eyes off him!

The Arrival of Our Little Man…I couldn’t take my eyes off him!

What does it mean to be happy?”
One kid declared:”If I have a million dollars in the bank, I’ll be happy.” Another announced:”If I’m number one in my chosen profession, I’ll be happy. But I won’t settle for number two.”
The discussion continued with comments in a similar vein. All agreed that money, success, and achievement would make them happy. Not one of these seventeen and eighteen year old kids talked about love, children, relationships, marriage, community or friends. Which made me wonder: When your resume is perfect, how does your soul feel? …If we can buy big houses and powerful cars, we may be able to achieve the illusion of security, but it is still just an illusion. If we do well at school or work, we may get a sense of accomplishment but there will always be a something more to accomplish- happiness will always be around the corner.
Real security only comes when we are comfortable with who we are (and the feeling is enhanced when we are in a relationship where there is mutual love and understanding. Real happiness is a by-product of a life well lived.

Letters to Sam– Daniel Gottlieb

Bringing Miss home from hospital.

Bringing Miss home from hospital.

True happiness comes from the joy of deeds well done, the zest of creating things new.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits.
Thomas Jefferson

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Celebrating my Second Birthday with Teddy (my parents don't like to appear on my blog).

Celebrating my Second Birthday with Teddy (my parents don’t like to appear on my blog).

Giving to other people is what makes me feel alive. Not my car or my house. Not what I look like in the mirror. When I give my time, when I can make someone smile after they were feeling sad, it’s as close to healthy as I ever feel.”

Morrie…Tuesday’s With Morrie, Mitch Albom.

Graduation from the University of Sydney in 1992.

Graduation from the University of Sydney in 1992.

Life is difficult.
This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it- then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult, no longer matters.”
M.Scott Peck: The Road Less Travelled.

Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
comes wisdom
through the awful grace of God.

-Aeschylus (Quoted by Robert F. Kennedy in his Eulogy to Martin Lurther King.4th April, 1968.)

Overseas Travel. Pictured here in Florence, Italy.

Overseas Travel. Pictured here in Florence, Italy.

“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.”
“On Joy and Sorrow” Kahlil Gibran

Performing My Poetry at the Shakespeare Bookshop, Paris 1992.

Performing My Poetry at the Shakespeare Bookshop, Paris 1992.

Ay, in the very temple of Delight
Veil’d Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine;
John Keats: “Ode to Melancholy”.

What with all this pondering about happiness and also its inter-relationship with sorrow, I thought I’d better start reading what seemed a pretty good authority on the nature of happiness…”The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living” by His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Howard C Cutler. Although I am only up to page 75, this book really is well worth reading.

The Dalai Lama basically states that: “The purpose of our existence is to seek happiness.” This happiness can be achieved through training the mind. Underlying all the Dalai Lama’s methods, there is a set of basic beliefs that act as a substrate for all his actions: a belief in the fundamental gentleness and goodness of all human beings, a belief in the value of compassion, a belief in the policy of kindness, and a sense of commonality among all living creatures.”

In terms of how to train the mind, the Dalai Lama says:
“When we speak of this inner discipline, it can of course involve many things, many methods. But generally speaking, one begins by identifying those factors which lead to happiness and those factors which lead to suffering. Having done this,one then sets about gradually eliminating those factors which lead to suffering and cultivating those which lead to happiness.”

Christmas brings a lot of happiness....and also heartache.

Christmas brings a lot of happiness….and also heartache.

Yet, despite getting all philosophical, perhaps happiness really is as simple as this:

“Happiness is a warm puppy”- Charles Schultz.

Bilbo as a pup.

Bilbo as a pup.

I’m sure Bilbo would agree!

xx Rowena

PS I should mention that while I’ve been researching happiness, I’ve come down with serious bronchitis. Today, I was back to the doctor and given a powerful combination of two antibiotics and am on the nebuliser every 2 days during the day. If this doesn’t work, I’m off to hospital tomorrow afternoon. Although my health isn’t great, I am happy and content.

Why is this so?

Perhaps, because my ongoing health battles have made me quite conscious of seizing the day and what matters. For me, that’s my family, my writing, being part of community, my faith, getting out with the dogs and walking along the beach in the sun, photography, playing my violin. I am living my life to the very fullest. Things could be better. Could be worse but I’ve worked through all that and really do have a strong sense of hope that I am going to keep winning this ongoing battle.


35 thoughts on “The DNA of Happiness

  1. TanGental

    Wow, Row that’s a fab post, even by your glorious standards. Some great quotes too. I think happiness comes when I laugh, when I want to laugh because that’s when life delights me. I’ve laughed at funerals of close relatives and dear friends because of a memory of a shared time and I’ve been happy that I had that opportunity. I’m not someone of extremes – I don’t do manic and I don’t do depressive so the highs are gentle uplands and the lows simple dips in life’s contours so my happiness spectrum is a shallow sine wave. And there’s a lot of it, even in the darkest moments. Get better.

  2. maxwellthedog

    For a lot of people, it seems happiness is making up clever quotes about the nature of happiness. I have a couple of favorites:

    “Happiness is like a kiss…you must share it in order to enjoy it.” – good advice!

    “If ignorance is bliss there should be lots more happy people around.” – think of that the next time you see someone just smiling as they walk down the street.

    “Someone is happy with less than you have.” – quit your whining!

    “Happiness in intelligent people is one of the rest things I know” – that’s a thought provoking one by Ernest Hemingway.

    and last but not least…

    “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. – Benjamin Franklin

  3. New Journey

    your post makes me happy…and feel so warm and fuzzy to witness another family happy together, growing into a larger family, puppys….love all your pictures, thanks for sharing….be well XXXXXKat

  4. roweeee Post author

    Thanks very much, Kat. Not a perfect family but still under the same roof. I don’t either of us expected a bed of roses and we’ve stuck together through quite a lot of “@#$%”. My husband grew up in a poor family in rural Tasmanioa and I think that has been a good grounding for the realities of life. Could be better, could be worse. We’re still here xx Ro
    PS Antibiotics seem to be working so still at home but have a nebuliser. As much as I’d like to think I’d get better faster in hospital, there’s always the risk of getting something nastier in there. xx Ro

  5. roweeee Post author

    Hi Geoffle,
    You must have brought me some good luck. Have improved a bit today and have avoided hospital, which is great.
    The quotes in that post come mostly from books that I’ve read and sit in a row at the front of a shelf near my desk, within easy reach. I strongly recommend “Letters to Sam” by Daniel Gottlieb:
    I ow notice that he’s written other books so I’ll have to hunt them down.
    I highly recommend “The Art of Happiness by His Holiness The Dalai Lama and psychiatrist Howard C Cutler. There’s an interesting chapter on compassion, which I’ll have to address for the group. He has some very constructive ideas. You wouldn’t believe how long this book has been sitting beside my bed!
    I agree with you about funerals. They’re happy, sad, tragic and yet a celebration of who that person was and their life. There was a great funeral movie going back which was a cult classic. I’ll have to get back with you on that one.
    My mood swings have largely evened out more these days but I used to be much more extreme. I don’t think I had the grounding that I have these days. Was blown around a lot in the wind, if that makes any sense. Since having the kids, I’ve had to be more of a tree to be there for them and gain some strength, roots, substance and as I’ve overcome difficulties, gained the inner strength o feel capable. That I’m not just as the mercy of what happens to me but that I can fight back.

  6. aFrankAngle

    You given me a thought. Between looking back and also thinking how we see how others are wired, there is an aspect of our personality that we are born with – innate – it comes with us into the world without the effect of environment – so yes, some of are born with a DNA of happiness.

  7. New Journey

    I agree….hospitals have so many other bad germs and with your immune system already at a low..I think home with your loved ones and your own bed will heal you faster,,,,just let the rest go…XXkat

  8. Pingback: What Is Your Idea of Perfect Happiness?… The Proust Questionnaire. | beyondtheflow

  9. roweeee Post author

    That’s very good advice. I am learning to let go more and of course, the more I do it, the more I can do. This can lead to exciting moments swinging across crowded rooms by the chandelier but you’ve also got to live.
    I relate very strongly to the accounts of how Londoners survived the Blitz. The bombs came down and were pretty random and apparently after awhile, the survivors ended up feeling a sort of good luck. The more they escaped the bombs, the greater their resilience and resolve.
    Naturally, you’d know more about this.
    For me, I had had quite a number of severe threats to my health…some were false alarms either on my part or the lab but ever since I had the chemo, I’ve almost felt invincible, even if it gets me. I’ve ben terrified of leaving the kids without their Mum but in the meantime, a number of kids in my son’s class have lost a parent and it is not so unusual. I am still here and my medical team knows me really well so I’m a huge step ahead. I also have so much to live for but I also know that I’ve been leading a full life.
    Exploring happiness has certainly made me reflect on a lot of things…along with this latest cough virus and my daughter’s audition…quite a case of yin and yang. Hope you and the family are well xx Rowena

  10. TanGental

    We are but you never take anything for granted so try and embrace every moment. Not always easy and easy to forget but you do try. The son started his legal job last week after years of degrees and law exams and the daughter has been touring the country in her mini gaining valuable work experience as a trainee vet, even operating in a few cases. Sewing up a cow after a Caesarian was an experience apparently as was amputating a gecko’s second penis! You have to wonder at nature providing it with a spare! So all in all, we are in a good place.
    Fingers crossed for the audition on the 7th!

  11. TanGental

    Oh and yes the Blitz spirit. My parents were both in and around London during the war and it was a momentous time. If you have time and look at the tab on my blog for dads letters a 1940s love affair you’ll get a little of the flavour. They met working opposite the Houses of Parliament in 1944 before they joined up.

  12. roweeee Post author

    I have been meaning to read those letter ever since I found your blog. They’re right up my alley. It sounds rather romantic meeting up in front of the Houses of Parliament, or, like two spies meeting up. I love a bit of intrigue xx Ro

  13. roweeee Post author

    What a story from the vet. Good to hear your son started his legal job. Not something you can always guarantee to go smoothly these days. I love the idea of your daughter driving a mini around the UK. Is it a newer version or the real deal? No doubt, you have seen the movie: “The Italian Job”.
    By the way, the movie that I mentioned the other days in regards to funerals was “Harold & Maude”. I haven’t seen it since I was at uni but is was quite intriguing. xx Ro

  14. TanGental

    Yep I remember the movie. V good as I recall. No the Vet likes her comforts so the Mini is only a year old (soft father’s huh!).and the Italian Job is fantastic too.

  15. roweeee Post author

    Definitely a soft touch. Dad made me pay for my first car although he’s softened in old age and I guess after we’ve proven ourselves…and had the health troubles. He gave us his old BMW and recently we sold Mum’s BMW to upgrade our Pulsar. Our older Pulsar has run on the smell of an oil rag whereas Mum’s BMW was a mechanic’s delight with bills in the thousands. We made the right decision. xx Ro

  16. roweeee Post author

    I remember having to save my pennies as a child to buy my first camera and going into the shop and paying up with all those coins.Our chat yesterday made me realise that our kids haven’t saved up for anything. We occasionally remember to do the school banking thing so they have some savings. In my daughter’s case, the pocket money has come to a bit of a stop as her room blew up and it’s beyond all of us at the moment. We’ll get through the audition and have another go. xx Ro

  17. TanGental

    The image of your daughter sitting in the ruins of some explosion, her face streaked black and hair wild is delicious. Exactly the picture of my brother at the same age when he made gunpowder

  18. roweeee Post author

    Thanks, Geoff. My Dad’s brother blew his eyebrows off with gunpowder as a child. These days, you can’t even buy a cap gun easily.
    I’ve been working on that wild hair of her tonight trying to turn straw into a stunning glossy mane by Monday. I’ve been too sick to get her to the hairdressers this week and also dreaded the in likelihood of nits and getting sent home. So tonight there was the nit comb followed by the intensive conditioning treatment and tomorrow morning, she’s off to Geoff’s barber, where you don’t need an appointment. Fortunately, he has a female cutter but he’d probably be fine anything. Just so long as he hasn’t been out on the turps tonight and he can cut in a straight line!

  19. TanGental

    ‘out on the turps’ I haven’theard that in yonks – classic. Wishign everytign goes smoothly on Monday, mostly for you. try not to stress too much. You’ve got a beautiful young lady there and everything will be fine, haystack or no haystack!

  20. roweeee Post author

    Thanks. I’m almost feeling like we have it all sorted. I even managed to get her hair cut and get the whole 2 inches off. She’s always wanted blond hair and the ends were almost golden and she was rather proud of those and disappointed when they got the snip. After a few hours, I was forgiven after she appreciated the improvement. Geoff works at Macquarie University and is always commenting on the impracticalities of women’s fashion. She is fueling the fire! xx Ro

  21. Pingback: Back to the Proust Questionnaire. | beyondtheflow

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