The Slippery Nature of Happiness

Tonight in my Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction class, the instructor offered this poem, by Naomi Shihab Nye. I’ve not read Naomi Shihab Nye since college, but I recalled tonight that she was once one of my favorite poets:

So Much Happiness

It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up.
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.

But happiness floats.
It doesn’t need you to hold it down.
It doesn’t need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
And disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
It too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records…

Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
and in that way, be known.

The poem reminded me of how I felt after my son’s birth. His birth was incredible, amazing, powerful. For three days afterward, I alternated between feeling absolutely exalted and ecstatic in the wake of that experience and sobbing with the knowledge that no matter how vividly I try to remember giving birth to him, that experience is gone and it will never come again.

My husband was a little worried that meant I wanted to have more children (our plan was—and is—for our son to be our last biological child).

“I don’t want to give birth to another child,” I explained through my tears. “I want to give birth to this one over and over and over again.”

Since then, the rest of life intervened, dulling both the ecstasy and the despair, leaving me with only echoes.

That’s the double-edged sword of mindfulness. If we’re aware and present, we can be aware of and filled with happiness. But if we’re aware and present, we’re aware of the emptiness when happiness is gone. We can’t hold onto happiness. Like everything in this world, happiness has a finite lifespan. All we can do is notice it, experience it, then let it go.

2 Replies to “The Slippery Nature of Happiness”

  1. I felt something similar after Niels was born: that I didn’t want to do that only one more time. Birth is incredible and I would love to experience it again myself but there is no way there is room in my life for another child. No way.


  2. nice post. it hits on why i work more towards contentment then happiness. as you know you can’t be happy all the time but content i am not so sure.


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