What does happy look like?

It seems that everywhere I turn, people are talking about the pursuit of happiness. Just yesterday, my husband received a postcard in the mail from his employer, a huge communications company. The postcard displayed a bar graph of his compensation with color coded segments for money, health benefits, and the pursuit of happiness (which was a reference to the free services we get in our home from the company).

Last month, I learned that two girls makes parents happier than a boy and a girl. From British website Bounty.com:

1. Two girls
2. One boy and one girl
3. Two boys
4. Three girls
5. Three boys
6. Four boys
7. Two girls and one boy
8. Two boys and one girl
9. Three boys and one girl
10. Three girls and one boy
11. Two boys and two girls
12. Four girls

Hmmm. So according to this list, more children equals less happiness.

Which reminds me that a year ago, I did read that the childless are more happy than parents. (I expect that the infertile are exceptions to this, so let’s clarify that it’s those who are child-free by choice.)

Did you know that there is a Journal of Happiness Studies? And of course you know about Gretchen Rubin’s bestselling book, The Happiness Project in which she spends a year test driving every theory and tip about Happiness to see which ones work.

I recently listened to a story on NPR about countries that are studying their people’s happiness, or social well-being, so that they can measure the success of the administration.

Now I’m having a hard time getting my arms around the concept of happiness. Can’t it change from moment to moment? Certainly for parents it does. When I go to pick my daughter up from school, I feel a happy rush of anticipation before I see her. When I spot her in the crowd of 3-year olds, my heart fills with pride. Then as she turns to me and I squat down to greet her, it can go two ways: a big hug that keeps my happy mojo going or a grumpy face with a pronouncement of “I don’t like you. I wanted Daddy to pick me up.”

The latter puts us on a path toward a twenty minute struggle to get out of the school, perhaps a screaming tantrum on the way to her brother’s school, during which I might be feeling tense, resentful, or frustrated. As we park and get out of the car, she might say, “Mommy, in Fairytale Land, there are pink toilets,” demonstrating to me that she has completely moved on with her day, leaving me to wonder if I am happy or not.

I have a vision of happiness that is the impulse to skip, to laugh a lot, to feel energized by everything. Is that what we’re talking about here?

Or are we talking about what I have: a loving husband, health insurance, two smart and reasonably behaved children, supportive parents, and enough money to house and feed us.

My current thought is that it’s only someone who is already pretty happy who has the time and mental space to start wondering if they are really, truly, happy.

Later this week, I’m going to share some thoughts out of Meagan Francis‘s book, The Happiest Mom. Before then, I’m wondering what you think about all this happy talk.