In Pursuit of Happiness

A couple months ago, I had dinner(ish) and drinks (more of this) with a friend, and in the course of our conversation we spoke of many things – “of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings.” We talked of opportunities passed by and wasted potential – and ultimately, whether they mattered when considering one’s overall happiness.

My friend shared a view of his – that the best way to measure happiness was to measure the time between “memorable moments.” He noted that when we’re younger, memorable moments seem to happen more frequently. As we look back on it in our late 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond, we find a wealth of happy, memorable moments from youth through to college. Yet somehow, shortly afterward graduation, the time between these memorable moments lengthens significantly – sometimes years pass between them. And he posited that if asked when they were most happy, many if not most people would harken back to the glory of their youth.

For weeks, I was seduced by this idea. I repeated it to friends and family when the topic of happiness came up. It seemed so logical – even obvious. And if you take the theory as valid, then the question of course becomes: “How do you create those memorable moments?” Does it require planning or does it just happen? Do you take two weeks to climb Mount Kilimanjaro as one of my friends did in February? Or take a year off to retire to an island in the Arctic Circle, as another friend did? Or are the best of these memorable moments those that come quietly – your child’s perfect summer day, the joy of friendship encapsulated in an evening or the permission to indulge yourself in self-discovery?

And the more I thought about it, the more disenchanted I became with the theory. Because while I think “memorable moments” are a reasonable measure of happiness, I disliked the inability to control the outcome – you can’t plan for life-changing, grand events every month, or even every year, and I don’t believe that the everyday moments that become memorable can be manufactured.

A drawing by artist Matthew Amey, entitled "Free"

A drawing by artist Matthew Amey, entitled “Free”

And so an idea began to form in my head. Instead of measuring happiness in terms of memorable moments, what if you measure them by the unmemorable ones? Not the absence of memorable moments per se – and certainly not bad events – which are, by their nature, memorable, just not in a good way. Instead, I’m referring to the moments in between. Because to me, happiness isn’t about a moment or even a series of moments. It’s not about grand events or really distinct moments at all. It’s about a feeling of moments. You may not recall a single isolated conversation you’ve had with a particular loved one, but you feel the quiet contentment of all those discussions wrapping you like a blanket. Perhaps you don’t remember exactly what you and your kid did on any one particular Saturday, but you remember an entire winter of Saturdays that meld together in a blur of walking, playgrounds, learning to scoot and bike, reading and going to the Museum of Science. And maybe it isn’t a single dinner with one friend that you remember, but rather the multitude of them that makes you feel warm, fulfilled and loved.

And so I propose that the true measure of our happiness is hidden in the unmemorable. What do you think?

3 thoughts on “In Pursuit of Happiness

  1. I’m pretty pleased to discover this web site. I need to to thank you for your time for this particularly wonderful read!!
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    • Just realized I neglected to comment on this – Thanks for your thoughts, Winston. I take some comfort in your theory considering how terrible my memory is 🙂 Also appreciate the link to the TED talk – really enjoyed it.

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