As Image credit. As a child, complete underwater immersion, three-dimensional movement, in warm sun-drenched water was pure bliss for me.
When I was six and younger, I used to enjoy those moments of happiness described below by Willa Cather. Today, for me, a sense of happiness is to be found mostly in trance-like states, such as when working - especially when I write - with intense concentration.
Also, I think, happiness can be both a matter of conscious and semi-conscious perception - some sort of awareness, I think, must be involved if it is to have anything to do with one's human mode of being. I surmise, the clearer the perception of happiness the briefer the time extension of it, longer periods of feeling happy come with more diverted forms of consciousness of it.
Moreover, I think, we tend to lump rather distinct modes of being into that one magic word: happiness. A happy person runs the copiously packed continuum of forms and degrees of happiness up and down: even ambition and strong desire, even painful effort can be found on that continuum, if only they, in turn, do not predominate, i.e. if they are part of balanced mix.
As I write this, I have not reread the respective posts on happiness published here and here, but I seem to remember to have argued and continue to believe that happiness is neither best captured by evoking certain forms of extreme bliss or the concept of extreme bliss (whatever such experiences from one's own life one chooses to subsume under that category). A more meaningful, more long-term- and more real-life-adjusted measure of happiness I would tend to seek in the idea of being unmolested, unhampered by (physical and social) circumstances that constrain natural human initiative. In that respect, freedom is a major contributor to human happiness.
And in that sense, I am convinced that there is human progress; and in that sense, cultural relativism is in principle refutable. While I may not know how happy the Neanderthal-man or the average citizen of communist East Germany were, I am sure had they had the chance to do it (and the East Germans did have that chance, and have reacted as predicted by me), they would have opted for the tools and means of the freest societies in human history. Naturally. To be happier.
(The nostalgia for the good old Communist days is cheap talk and not in the slightest borne out by real action - never in history have citizens been freer to (re-)establish socialism than today.)
Of course, given the richness of her oeuvre, we should beware of reducing Willa Cather to just one facet of happiness; but it is edifying to be reminded by her of that particularly beautiful facet, which, I am sure, all of us have known as kids, and still encounter at times later in life.
The history of recorded thought is strewn with evidence that happiness lives in the most ordinary of moments. And yet no matter how universal a human aspiration it may be, articulating happiness in those rare moments when it is perfectly attained remains an elusive art. For Albert Camus, it was a moral obligation; for Mary Oliver, a kind of seizure; for Kurt Vonnegut, a sense of enoughness. But nowhere have I encountered an account of happiness more soulful and deeply alive than in a passage from Willa Cather’s first masterwork, the 1918 novel My Ántonia (public library) — the story of a spirited pioneer named Ántonia Shimerda, who settles as in Nebraska as a child and grows with the land, told through the loving and wakeful eyes of her childhood friend Jim Burden.
In this passage, Cather’s narrator is lying in his grandmother’s garden, drowsy and drunk with life under the warm autumn sun:
The earth was warm under me, and warm as I crumbled it through my fingers. Queer little red bugs came out and moved in slow squadrons around me. Their backs were polished vermilion, with black spots. I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.
The truth and beauty of this vignette never left the soul from which it sprang. Cather requested that her grave site, which she shared with her partner, bear the inscription: “…that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great.”