(Note: Several weeks ago, my blogger friend and fellow teacher, Pumpkin Delight, posted her answers to a questionnaire that had once been a popular party game around the turn-of-the-century. The writer Marcel Proust completed this questionnaire, twice, and his answers were published in Andre Maurois’ book, Proust: Portrait of a Genius. To this day, Vanity Fair magazine uses this set of questions in a regular feature.
The lure of thoughtfully participating in a game played by Proust is really too much for me to resist. My intent is to create intermittent posts out of my answers as I complete them.)
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
(Love) is the active outpouring of one’s whole being into the being of another. –Martin Luther King, Jr.
I’ve experienced perfect happiness, usually in fleeting moments, felt as a joyful connectedness to everything. I usually call it love.
Happiness is not an emotion that stands up to much introspection. I can examine my sorrow or anger, while remaining sad or mad, whereas happiness tends to disappear the moment I become conscious of it. That suggests to me that the state of being unaware of my own emotions is an essential element to achieving happiness. I’ve most often experienced what I’d call perfect happiness during those times when I was operating outside myself, connecting meaningfully with the other living things, forgetting me entirely. And as much as I sometimes fantasize that I might find contentment in withdrawing from the world, I know that, for me, happiness requires reaching out and engaging the rest of you. I usually call it love.
I’ve long been aware that one of the fundamental, selfish reasons I teach preschoolers, is that it takes so little effort for me to want to engage them. I easily lose myself in their world. Perfect happiness often comes to me when I’m lying on my stomach under the loft, taking dictation from a 3-year-old telling a sad story. Perfect happiness catches up with me in the middle of a song about a big ship sailing on the “Illy Alley Oh.” Perfect happiness is the hot and muggy co-mingled breath of a dozen kids engaged in the magnificent feat of an all-class group hug without anyone falling down or being squeezed too tightly. Perfect happiness is a child’s hot tears soaking through my shirt and onto my shoulder while she cries for her mommy. Every preschool teacher knows exactly what I’m talking about. I usually call it love.
In these moments, I’ve achieved a state of desirelessness, the Buddhist nirvana. It is enough to be there, with that person, or those people, helping them, or playing with them. I usually call it love.
The subtitle of this blog is “Teaching and learning from preschoolers.” The capacity for happiness is one of those things they teach me. Children innately know the answers to Tolstoy’s famous Three Questions and they remind me of them every day:
The most important time is now.
The most important person is the one you are with.
The most important thing to do is to be kind to that person.
Those, for me, are the conditions that produce perfect happiness. I usually call it love.