As unfathomable and illusive as we so often contrive it, happiness is an unconcealed and front-line engagement. There is nothing mystical or out-of-reach about it at all. Anyone who has endured the annoyance of having to look for a spot to settle one’s highball while reading a strengthening British novel knows of what I speak when I say that the advantages of life are by deﬁnition remote unless they are within reach. All the mahogany and oak side tables in the world are irrelevant unless they are at hand. I mean to say, I prefer to relish the present without abeyance. To suggest that the good life is only a stretch away or in any wise other than within one’s grasp is to promote an ideal of happiness which is to my mind founded upon deliberate deception; namely, that the blissful future awaits us elsewhere. Hogwash! It is plain that if one lives by that maxim you’ll never get there. Things have to be within reach to be cherished; otherwise well-being is a mere fabrication. As Kurt Vonnegut’s Uncle Alex reputedly enquired, “If this isn’t good, what is?”
I do of course assume that one wishes to be happy in the ﬁrst place. I suppose there are some who dwell with gusto upon their misfortune or who derive some spooky pleasure from being miserable. For them I have no counsel. Carry on! Indulge yourself in your moans and groans and be resolutely desperate! I however prefer something more closely approaching an idyllic state. It is regrettable that I feel compelled to call such a state idyllic as that implies an element of ﬁction. In fact I don’t think that contentment is imaginary at all. I acknowledge certainly that many of us including myself have long denied our entitlement to it or at least have argued that its achievement is delayed or extended by one circumstance or another. And while this may have the appearance of being a fair response to sensible limitation, I have lately discovered that protraction of bliss is a spurious construct. We have succeeded to distance our pleasure as though it were a treat for later delectation rather than present enjoyment; and all the while the source of our rapture was right under our nose.
If you are inclined to believe that your happiness awaits you on a distant horizon it therefore follows that everything you do in preparation of that ultimate goal will be nothing more than a stepping stone to its attainment and likely treated with as much respect as anything else beneath your feet. It is likewise probable that if the consummation of jubilation is postponed by laying stone after stone before you in the accomplishment of your journey, you will of necessity end by leaving the work of your life behind, a collection of so much unappreciated junk. This would perhaps be tolerable if the result were worth the effort, but how can the effort be memorialized if it is effectively discarded? If the shelf-life of everything you do or have is predestined then it is assured it will never sufﬁce. One may as well rejoice in the declining value of a new automobile the moment it is driven off the lot! Life is not about amortization! Happiness is not about writing off or writing down. Just the opposite. It is about exuberance, muniﬁcence and ampliﬁcation.
Connecting with the vital and expansive element of life means that you have to be able to feel it and that means it has to be within reach. If on the other hand you have perplexed your life so sufﬁciently that you have muddled where you stored its treasures then it is both out of sight and out of mind. In this respect austerity is a good thing if for no other reason than that it promotes manageability and invites focus. Remember that our sources of pleasure in life are metaphorical only and it therefore matters not in what material respect or to what extent we express ourselves. What matters is that we have more than a notional link to those expressions. It is demanding too much of the human mind to expect that a satellite beam from a remote source will have the strength of certitude. If we are to be convinced of our happiness, if it is to be palpable, it must be within reach. Removing the blueprint from the illusory to the genuine may mean we must make certain compromises, among them the decision to examine what is before our eyes. The closer the target, the more likely you’ll hit it. And we needn’t concern ourselves that compromise will somehow dilute the inscrutable zest of living. Remarkably life has its own independent vitality, ambition and process of transformation. And while all that business is going on, we may as well delight in what is within reach.