Gurney's Inn
July 25, 2007

Happiness Is . . .

On my bed stand is a book called Stumbling on Happiness. It sits on top of the Brazilian Bikini Body Program and 1,000 Places To See Before You Die. What the author Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard psychologist, brings to light is the unique human ability to imagine the future then try to plan for our happiness when we get there. But what about now?

Fully embracing the present is difficult, even when doing something as mindful as yoga. In Jimmy Minardi's surfer yoga class I thought I was fully present but then found my mind wandering to the fact that my mascara was clearly not waterproof, my coulie was incapable of lifting me into downward dog, and that my insurance agent had an incredibly fit body. Who knew? So if it's a challenge to even be here now in yoga what about the rest of life?

By projecting our personal happiness as a set scenario in the future we may miss present opportunities. This is especially true of relationships where people pass up their present life while waiting for some romantic ideal. So what if Prince Charming doesn't swoop in to marry you and spawn beautiful children and a mini van that doesn't mean you can't create your own family. At the Empire State Pride Agenda Hamptons Tea Dance the great single gay crowd also included many couples as well as their children, adding in recent years a playground by the dance floor. While the desire to find happiness in Mr. or Ms. Right was on full blast at the Parrish Art Museum Midsummer party where matchmaker Lisa Ronis was very busy seeking out prospects for her clients, there was also an interesting side conversation which had nothing to do with investment bankers — but sperm banks, frozen embryos, and adoption.

So if it's up to us to find our own happiness and create our own vision of the future, are we successful planners for ourselves? Not necessarily. With the ability to imagine the future also comes anxiety. In studies of people with certain head injuries which damaged the frontal lobe of the brain it was found that they lived purely in the present but without worry. The inability to plan came hand in hand with a sense of calm.

No wonder there is a collective angst of type-A personalities cruising the Hamptons on a Saturday night. It's what Gilbert calls "nexting." Next party, next girl, next weekend. When I lose those five pounds or when I go on that trip to Venice. That means happiness is never now or certainly not when I'm sweating with mascara running down my face struggling to get my gluteus maximus to behave properly while wondering about my homeowners policy.

However, as Gilbert points out, one thing which can get us out of our anxiety and root us in the present is surprise. I also had one of those moments when I stopped by a party celebrating Bastille Day. It was an arresting view of a tent on a gorgeous candlelit lawn aglow in a sunshine yellow-orange hue with great music being played by the DJ Paul Sevigny. My friends and I were escorted to a comfy couch where a cute guy with a great smile served us a cold glass of Veuve Clicquot. At that moment as the warm summer breeze wafted through the tent the conversation about relationships and jobs and environmentally correct shower curtains suddenly stopped, and we just looked at each other and smiled. Instead of worrying about where I'd been or where I was going I thought, you know what right now, in this moment, I'm happy. Good job, self.

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