I wonder too if the anxiety that's currently gripping our culture is based, in part, on the bottom dropping out of our expectations of happiness. The recent college graduates currently occupying Wall Street and other less-likely places (there's an OWS contingent camping out in a vacant lot here, for instance, which seems like a particularly ineffective form of protest, since the jobs fled from here at least fifteen years ago) are the first generation in memory for whom a once-reliable pathway to security (and, hence, to happiness) has been washed away. I don't like to hear people on the right casting aspersions at the OWS-ers, who are probably very scared; it's just unkind. I have a close family member who is long-term -- as in years -- unemployed; he has a graduate degree, and worked in highly-remunerative capacities for years. I have another close family member who is married to a fully-employed licensed professional who likewise has a graduate degree; this family, nonetheless, gets WIC, but makes just a little too much to qualify for food stamps (i.e. SNAP). When you're scared about how you're going to provide for your family, happiness tends to go missing.
But of course, fear and happiness are different in the First World from what they are reputed to be in the Third. As for me, I think of happiness as something that I sometimes devoutly long to have administered to me -- like a draught, or a shot, or a little homeopathic pill -- to keep me going, to settle me, so that I can do my work -- the daily work of trying to know what the will of God is, and, then, of trying to do it. Sometimes I have it, in spite of being a million miles from home and dealing with a number of painful or wearying situations. As for the work, I'm generally quite shaky at it, but then sometimes I'm entirely in the groove, making contact with what appears most clearly to be God's will with the kind of precise and delicate balance that you feel when you ice-skate, when you become aware of the sure and beautiful contact of your skate-blade with the ice, and you glide with a sharp and true freedom, picking up speed, until you go stumbling and crashing down.
The other day I read this poem, by Barbara Crooker, on The Writer's Almanac:
Sometimes I am startled out of myself
like this morning, when the wild geese came squawking,
flapping their rusty hinges, and something about their trek
across the sky made me think about my life, the places
of brokenness, the places of sorrow, the places where grief
has strung me out to dry. And then the geese come calling,
the leader falling back when tired, another taking her place.
Hope is borne on wings. Look at the trees. They turn to gold
for a brief while, then lose it all each November.
Through the cold months, they stand, take the worst
weather has to offer. And still, they put out shy green leaves
come April, come May. The geese glide over the cornfields,
land on the pond with its sedges and reeds.
You do not have to be wise. Even a goose knows how to find
shelter, where the corn still lies in the stubble and dried stalks.
All we do is pass through here, the best way we can.
They stitch up the sky, and it is whole again.