Life is tough.
As the Buddha said, life is suffering.*
I don't want to write about suffering; it may be the stuff of great art, but most of us can agree that we'd rather it stay out of our own lives, thank you very much.
Besides, people suffer in so many ways; Viktor Frankl wrote that even the smallest bit of unhappiness can cloud our entire vision, filling up our lives until we think that that is all that there is. So how can we measure suffering, if it means something so very different to the people struck by the earthquake in Sichuan, to an abandoned child in rural Massachusetts, or to an old woman who has lived with depression for 80 years? What do these forms of suffering have in common, if anything?
But I said I didn't want to write about suffering; heaven knows there's enough of it in the world without me putting in my two cents on the topic! I want to write about happiness, because happiness doesn't always catch our attention the way that sadness does, or anger, or jealousy. While these feelings come to me all too quickly, unbidden, happiness needs to be cultivated. And such work takes time, and care, and purpose.
Cultivation of anything is always purposeful; cultivating happiness requires that we know ourselves (that I know myself), and that we are attentive to our own responses and, sometimes, obey those urges towards happiness. We are beings who want to be happy; it is in our very nature to be so, whether you believe in original blessing or in Buddha nature, and yet so often we put obstacles in the way to our own happiness. My work this year has been to find the light-filled, glistening moments of happiness among the dullness of grad school applications; my 9-to-5 job; a family member's illness; and piles of scientific articles to read and comment upon -- to find those moments, and grab them tightly, noting them to myself and storing their passage in my memory so that I can, I hope, repeat them again.
Among other things, this year I've learned just how much I like to cook, to feed myself and others, and to plan new meals. I've acquired a shelf of fantastic, classic cookbooks and foodbooks: Mastering the Art of French Cooking; A New Way to Cook; The Silver Spoon; 1080 Recipes; Madhur's Jaffrey's World of the East Vegetarian Cooking; the last six months of Gourmet magazine; Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking. Sometimes I read these books before bed, slipping into an infinity of recipes that is similar to the infinity of knitting patterns that I want to make, or the countries that I want to visit, or the novels that I want to read. I want it all -- and I content myself, making do, with one recipe, one happiness, one moment.
Tonight I am going to a friend's apartment in Brooklyn, a friend who wants to learn how to cook (better), and I'm showing her how to make the wonderful garbanzo beans that my husband and I shared a few weeks ago. It's an easy recipe, and sharing it with someone else makes me happy. As I become a better cook, and more confident in my understanding of the way that food works, I like being a cooking teacher, helping another person to demystify the chemistry of the kitchen so that she, too, can eat well. This is all part of my pursuit of happiness today, these one happy moments that follow each other.
*The Buddha also said that there is an end to suffering, but that is another story. I don't think that the end of suffering -- nirvana -- is the same as a pursuit of happiness, but maybe those paths will coincide in one way or another...