It is late October, almost time to set out a jack-o’-lantern and welcome Spiderman and Queen Elsa to help themselves to one’s candy. The leaves on the maple tree which shades our western window have all fallen*, or more likely, been forcibly parted from it by the wind.
The sky is overcast, but it doesn’t feel gloomy to me. For some reason, I am almost happy this morning, easily able to feel the good in the season and in the world. Forgive the possible descent into pomposity, but I’ve been thinking about happiness (there, I warned you. Proceed at your own risk). Happiness is often spoken of as if it existed outside ourselves, and most of us just can’t remember where we set it down last; perhaps we left it in the car? But when we go to check, it isn’t there.
But perhaps instead of thinking of happiness as being lost, or even found, we should think of it as being made. This idea is both frightening and exhilarating. Frightening, because that implies it’s something we have to do for ourselves, possibly involving hard work and even pain. And for some of us, there is a deep, abiding fear that there is not, cannot be, happiness inside, so it must be outside, if it exists at all.
The exhilaration comes from feeling happiness to be within the scope of our efforts, no longer to be denied us because of our life’s circumstances or our personalities. When one stops thinking of emotion as being contingent on external circumstances, a new world opens up–not an endlessly blissful landscape, but still one which we have a part in shaping, in whatever way we decide. I’m far from being a Stoic, but I do like this quote from Marcus Aurelius**:
If you are pained by external things, it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgment of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgment now.
I feel there is much truth in this. So I encourage you to make your own happiness. You can do it.
* Hence the seasonal name, fall. This has fallen out of use in British English, but remains current, alongside the more formal “autumn”, in American English.
** A Roman emperor who wrote a whole book on Stoicism.