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What is happiness?”

My friend tossed the question on the table for the group to address. Several of us meet weekly to examine our various efforts to grow into useful human beings while staying sane in an ever more complex world.

As the talk went around, the word “contentment” kept popping up and the consensus seemed to be that happiness depends very little on outward circumstance and mostly on our own decisions to be content. As Abraham Lincoln is reported to have said, “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Our group consists of “women of a certain age,” and several said their happiest times were when they were raising their families, even though other factors in their lives were far from ideal. Maybe that’s because we were so busy doing what was right in front of us that we didn’t have time to mess in other folks’ affairs, or even read the paper very often, let alone worry about something that might or might not occur next month or year. For some people, the happy time may have been when they were building a business, or starting a project, but I think the common denominator here is being useful and serving others.

Inevitably, our discussion turned to material things; wants versus needs. Can that new car, home, or job bring happiness? Maybe for a time, but ultimately we are going to want more, bigger, shinier, or some sort of super-size. It’s human nature, so no, those things aren’t happiness. Getting our own way isn’t happiness if someone else is a loser in the bargain.

Pauletta, out in Vegas, recalls Christmases when she was growing up on a South Dakota ranch. One in particular, stands out. It was a very bad snowy winter and they were low on groceries. A neighbor who had a plane flew my friend’s mom to town for supplies. There wasn’t room for much, so she brought home one sack containing the necessities, and Christmas gifts for the children. Each youngster received one orange and one apple. Pauletta doesn’t say they were content with those simple offerings, but I suspect they were, or she wouldn’t be treasuring the memories all these decades later.

I recall very few Christmas gifts from childhood, but the one thing that stands out is that there was always an orange. Just one, but it was precious because it was the only one we saw all winter. I never ate it all at once, but made it last several days. We were not destitute and we didn’t have all we wanted, but we had all we needed, and surely wanted all we had. Life was hard, but I was loved, and I was happy.

Someone asked me recently what I hoped for in 2020. I had no answer at the time, but I do now. I hope to have less and appreciate it more. To be content, here, now.

May we not get all we want this year, but learn to be content if our needs are met.

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