Essays, Memoirs, & True Stories  July 2015 | issue 475

Small Happiness

by Sparrow

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Sparrow lives in Phoenicia, New York. One of his hobbies is making lima-bean soup for his ninety-eight-year-old father. His latest book is How to Survive the Coming Collapse of Civilization (And Other Helpful Hints).

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Happiness starts small; learn to recognize it. It’s like a weed we see every day but cannot identify.

Small happiness is generous. If you win $12 million, you’ll hide it from your friends, but if you’re given a free pizza, you’ll share it with everyone.

If you want big happiness, take drugs. If you want small happiness, wake up early. At 6 AM the world hasn’t had time to make trouble. The birds tentatively sing. The sun tentatively rises in the sky. The day starts small.

When you get tested at a doctor’s office, the results may be a “false negative”: the test might say you don’t have Lyme disease, when actually you do.
If you believe your life is tragic, pointless, and wasted, remember: your “test” may also be inaccurate. Beware the philosophical false negative!

Last night I sat on the sofa during a thunderstorm, flossing my teeth. Every minute or two lightning would flash, and through the glass door in the kitchen I could see the backyard brilliantly lit. The bushes and trees were illuminated as bright as afternoon, but with an eerie light, cold and white. It was like a horror movie without characters.

We all search for happiness, but we rarely succeed in locating it. It’s much better to sit completely still and let happiness search for you.

To avoid disappointment, some people advise, “Lower your expectations.” For example, if you’re going to Cape Cod for five days, don’t expect everything to be perfect. Plan for torrential rain every day, thieves to steal your car, and waiters to curse you. Then, when you have a couple of sunny, trouble-free days, you’ll be overjoyed.
I go further. I say, on your next trip to Cape Cod, loosen your expectations. Travel with no fixed ideas. Expect neither bliss nor misery. Notice how life feels without a future.

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