I’m going to skip ahead a little in The Importance Of Living for this one, just because this is a section I think would be worth revisiting several times.  Let me start with a quote and then explain more:


Chin Shengt’an, that great impressionistic critic of the seventeenth century, has given us…. an enumeration of the happy moments which he once counted together with his friend, when they were shut up in a temple for ten days on account of rainy weather. These then are what he considers the truly happy moments of human life, moments in which the spirit is inextricably tied up with the senses:

I’m not going to write out all 33 now, but rather I’m going to list the first few and then add my commentary.  Some may seem a little classist or sexist upon first reading, but if you read a little closer, you’ll find that you’re right, they absolutely are.  Nonetheless, it was a different time in a different place, so let’s not judge too harshly.

It is a hot day in June when the sun hangs still in the sky and there is not a whiff of wind or air, not a trace of clouds; the front and back yards are hot like an oven and not a single bird dares to fly about.  Perspiration flows down my whole body in little rivulets. There is the noon-day meal before me, but I cannot take it for the sheer heat. I ask for a mat to spread on the ground and lie down, but the mat is wet with moisture and flies swarm about to rest on my nose and refuse to be driven away.  Just at this moment when I am completely helpless, suddenly there is a rumbling of thunder and big sheets of black clouds overcast the sky and come majestically on like a great army advancing to battle. Rain water begins to pour down from the eaves like a cataract. The perspiration stops. The clamminess of the ground is gone.  All flies disappear to hide themselves and I can eat my rice. Ah, is this not happiness?

My first job when I was 16 was as a gate attendant at Van Buren Park.  I haven’t been back there in about 20 years, but back then the gatehouse was a poorly constructed wooden thing with wide-open windows on all sides and no air conditioning.  That first summer I was unaware I could bring a fan with me and plug it in (I got up to three fans eventually) and those first few weeks were spent sweltering. One day it was around 90 degrees and out of nowhere the clouds opened up and poured down, and the dry dirt road became wet and steam began to rise off of it.  So I know the sense of relief he speaks of.

I get the same feeling when my least favorite student is absent from class, or when I wake up from a bad dream and realize I didn’t give the book report in my underwear.

So yes, relief is happiness.

A friend, one I have not seen for ten years, suddenly arrives at sunset.  I open the door to receive him, and without asking whether he came by boat or by land, and without bidding him to sit down or the bed or the couch, I go to the inner chamber and humbly ask my wife: “Have you got a gallon of wine like Su Tungp’o’s wife?”  My wife gladly takes out her gold hairpin to sell it. I calculate it will last us three days. Ah, is this not happiness?

Yes, asking your wife to sell her pretty things so you can get drunk with your friend is a bit of a dick move.  Agreed. However, it does say gladly.  Aren’t there people in your life who you would gladly do anything for, and the best part of your day is making them smile?  Sacrificing for loved ones does bring a certain contentment with it. Too much sacrifice might bring resentment after, but the occasional sacrifice I think is good for the soul.

I’d like to think that his wife did not feel forced to sell her hairpin, and that she also partook of the gallons of wine they bought with it.

Maybe we could also look at this as possessions versus experiences.  A gold pin isn’t much of a story to tell. But a gold pin sold for a three day wine bender, that’s a blurry memory you can take to the grave.

So yes, sacrifice and experiences can be happiness.

I am sitting alone in an empty room and I am just getting annoyed at a mouse at the head of my bed, and wondering what that little rustling sound signifies–what article of mine he is biting or what volume of my books he is eating up.  While I am in this state of mind, and don’t know what to do, I suddenly see a ferocious-looking cat, wagging its tail and staring with wide open eyes, as if it were looking at something. I hold my breath and wait a moment, keeping perfectly still, and suddenly with a little sound the mouse disappears like a whiff of wind.  Ah, is this not happiness?

I mean.  I guess?

We had two cats for a very long time, and I don’t particularly care for cats, but the one time they were useful was when we had mice.  Then I was very happy we had cats. Even though they were murderers. No, especially because they were murderers.

In the middle of the night we heard Jack get one of them.  It was a screech, a leap, and then, in darkness, thumping. Like he was not just killing that mouse, he was destroying that mouse.  When we woke up it was like a CSI scene at the foot of our bed. We needed a blood splatter analyst to reconstruct exactly what occurred.

More of these later.  But I’ll end with a couple of my own.

Even though the number was invented by some Japanese marketing company, when you hit 10,000 steps by early afternoon, and knowing every step you take after that is just gravy.  Is this not happiness?

Sitting on my couch on a Sunday, a mug of fresh brewed coffee steaming nearby, with two pug faces resting on my lap and a stack of free comic books from Free Comic Book Day to be read.  Is this not happiness?

Little moments.  Big happiness.  Savor them as long you’re happy.  Remember them when you’re not.


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