Peace of mind
The great unabridged Oxford English Dictionary contains half a million words. Among all these one of the two most difficult to define is “happiness.” It is easy enough to find a purely verbal definition such as “a feeling of pleasure or contentment” but that is superficial. Any state of mind is hard to describe but happiness is perhaps the hardest. It is not necessarily associated with any physical state – the possession, for instance, of wealth or power or high position or beauty or outstanding skill. Indeed, often enough, the actual possession of wealth, power, position, genius, or the adulation which beauty attracts, drives happiness away and leaves behind a feeling of sated discontent, a yearning for something even more. Happiness – it is a will-o-the-wisp which as soon as you grasp at it, it disappears.
In Mary Renault’s lovely novel, The Persian Boy, she has the young Alexander the Great give the best definition I have read: “What is happiness?” Alexander asks. And he answers himself “To have achieved one’s longing, perhaps. But also, when all one’s mind and body are stretched to breaking, when one hasn’t a thought beyond what to do the next moment – one looks back, and there it was.”
That is part of it, and yet not the whole of it. In the end happiness is indefinable. I am not a very religious person but I see that in the end it may have something to do with what old Sir Thomas Browne was getting at …..To continue reading, login or subscribe now.