Monday, May 25, 2009

Sharing Happiness

"An unshared happiness is not happiness." -- Boris Pasternak.

Not being an absolutist, I'm reluctant to agree with Pasternak totally. There is, however, a germ of truth in this that I wish to explore.

It is certainly possible to be quietly happy about some things and feel no need to find company to share them with. The things that give this kind of happiness vary from person to person. For me, it tends to happen most often with what seems to be small in the grand scheme of things. When I finish making something with my hands, I do not need to show it to all and sundry in order to savor the satisfaction and gentle happiness that I feel. I can hold the finished sock, shawl or dress and smile all by myself before I move on to the next thing. And for quite awhile after it is completed, it will generate the same little joy whenever I use it.

Another experience where this occurs for me is when I am walking among the trees. Many times I not only do not need to share the connection and happiness I feel in this experience, I do not want to. There is a depth of feeling within me at those times that defy the ability to share. Or, at least, I've yet to find anyone to share it with whose presence would not detract from the feelings it generates within me. I wonder if the experience would be enhanced or merely take on a different feeling if I ever were to find someone to share it with. But, for now at least, it is a stand alone joy that is not diminished by being solitary.

The ocean, on the other hand, absolutely demands a companion for me to feel the greatest happiness. There is an overwhelming power generated by the ocean that requires that the experience be shared. I feel that I cannot hold it alone. And, while I realize no two people will experience it in the same way, the feeling is so vast that another silent witness makes it easier to find the depths of joy and awe that it can give.

There are also some events and accomplishments that are, somehow, lessened without the sharing of them. Sometimes these are the milestones in our lives. Large or small, joyful celebrations are not as joyful without friends or family to share them with. Other times, it is the recognition of achievement or the difficult challenge met that generates such a bubbling up of happiness that we must tell everyone dear to us about it. And, absent dear ones, we will stop mere acquaintances or total strangers and tell them because we cannot contain the feeling within ourselves. The efforts or hopes that we've held closely to our hearts erupt and overflow when they are realized. It's the feeling of someone about to become a parent who tells everyone about the coming baby. It is the person who has struggled to achieve a dream who is finally able to say, "I did it!"

I wonder if there is any real difference in the types of happiness, beyond the circle it finds its voice in. Some might argue that it is better to feel the fullness of joys within ourselves, not needing to share it. Perhaps even suggesting that exuberance is unnecessary to joy. Other might agree with Pasternak that sharing is necessary to the fullness of happiness. I feel that there is no duality to happiness; it is a both/and rather than an either/or proposition. There is quite simply no right or wrong way to be happy or to express it.

Society imposes unspoken expectations and restrictions on the level the expression of joy may take. These tend to be based on the perceived value of the experience and the age of the person experiencing it. In fact, if people do not express an 'appropriate' response to a happy event, they can be condemned either as unfeeling or childish. If anyone much older than 5 years old becomes too thrilled at the sight of a daisy, they will most likely be seen as a simpleton. If someone fails to celebrate anything at the same level as those around them, they are seen as unfeeling and perhaps depressed. Society demands conformity even in expressions of happiness. How sad.

The challenge in expressing happiness, as in most other things, is to give it our own authentic voice and the devil take the hindmost for what others think about it.


yarnpiggy said...

You are spot-on re: conformity. It is very sad.

I also agree that some things just aren't as wonderful without sharing them with someone else, while it is entirely possible to be perfectly happy with other things whilst alone.

Great post!

Anonymous said...

interesting how much *expectations* affect our experiences, eh? I think this is one of the reasons so many find such comparative joy in children & childhood - it's a time of being feer to simply *feel* rather than conform to preconceived notions of how things *should* make us feel.
Great post!

Knitman said...

I think if we are happy we naturally pass it on, without thinking about it, because when we are happy we are much more likely to see others and treat them, positively.