In college I had a professor who told our class, “If you’re not happy now, you never will be.” It was one of those wake-up-and-smell-the-coffee moments, and so simple, you’d think we would know that. But since our founding fathers etched “the pursuit of happiness” into our national DNA, we tend to treat happiness as something that must be searched for and chased after, something out of reach, to be found only at the end of some race or journey or climb.
But is happiness even the goal? Well, maybe. Happiness ranges, of course, from contentment and satisfaction to ecstasy and euphoria. Nothing wrong with any of those feelings. In any form happiness is a state most of us want to return to again and again. I guess it’s the pursuit of it that strikes me as tricky. It’s like pursuing a mirage in the desert or trying to get to the end of a rainbow. Besides, it seems to me that human growth is dependent on and happiest with something to work for – which means it’s the process of working toward the goal that provides the greatest satisfaction.
In terms of writing: Publication, good sales numbers, and good reviews are certainly worth celebrating, but they’re temporary spikes in the happiness level. Maybe some authors get enough joy-energy from the spikes to fuel them in between. For most of us life is a daily butt-in-the-chair, fingers-on-the-keyboard, head-in-the-work affair (complete with the uncertainty of what the future holds for any given project). The euphoria that comes at the finish line is just a blip. Then it’s back to the process. I’m grateful when other writers remind me to find joy in the journey, because if I’m not happy now . . . Here are some of my favorites.
It’s a privilege to have “work that’s enlarging your soul while you’re going to work every day.” Susan Fletcher
“It’s the producing that satisfies, the daily work itself, and the knowledge that you’ve found a craft which will profit infinitely from a constant application of discipline and attention.” Kenneth Atchity
“Writing is not a race. No one really ‘wins.’ The satisfaction is in the efforts, and rarely in the consequent rewards, if there are any.” Joyce Carol Oates
“You can never control whether your writing efforts will be successful, but you can control whether they will be enjoyable or satisfying.” Jane Smiley
“It’s the doing of the project that counts, not how others will value me or the project later.” Tomie de Paola
“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one, the being a force of nature instead of a feverish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.” George Bernard Shaw
So maybe instead of pursuing happiness, we can find happiness in the pursuit.
Happy reading! Happy writing!
© 2013 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved. Photo courtesy morguefile.com