This past year I've been interviewing mothers whose children have been killed here in St. Louis. My partner in the project, Charlie, and I had a goal when we began, but we got overwhelmed by the immensity of the sorrow of the women we met. So Joan, another board member of the Peace Economy Project that sponsors this project, invited us for lunch to sort out next steps.
Joan's Christmas decorations were still up, she had prepared a lovely meal, and she asked intelligent questions and drew out some conclusions. Charlie's and my spirits were lifted; we saw through Joan's eyes the good work we've done; and we saw a way forward. It was an hour of happiness that took the three of us by surprise and we talked for a moment about how happiness is a by-product, not an achievable goal.
So I've paid a little more attention to the moments when I experience happiness: moments with friends; the delights of my garden (though it is in sad shape right now); the look of a bare tree against bright blue sky; good news; lovely music; the conversation with a young, pregnant couple, strangers, while we waited for tables at a restaurant.
C. S. Lewis wrote Surprised by Joy about numinous or transcendent experiences, and I'm reminded of his writing and my own deeper brief occasions of knowing the other. But this isn't that. Moments of happiness are a more ordinary gift, easily shared, an opportunity for gratitude, a call to pay attention.