Five Fonts of Happiness

Mmm… Chinese food…

Ahem.

Five things that make me happy. Very well.

First, that mention of Chinese food does indeed make me happy. Mentioning Italian, Asian, Middle Eastern, American, Indian and European food makes me happy, too. I love food. I adore food. I don’t consider myself a foodie, or a great cook, or even a discerning eater. But taste and scent and texture—and sharing that experience with others—is a great joy. I remember the immense pleasure of eating fresh cilantro atop carne asada for the first time. I can recall the sweet tang of fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, tossed with feta and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. My mouth waters over what I was served at an Indian restaurant in Salt Lake City, though I can’t tell you what it was called. The fried green tomatoes and chutney I ate in Charleston were a delight. Tarragon chicken. Burgers and onion rings. Cannelloni con asparagi. Moo shu. Noodles with butter, garlic and oregano. Sweet corn. Beef barley stew. Cheesecake. Naan. Fried mushrooms. Hummus. French fries. Marinara. Steaks. Oh, yes, steaks. Food makes me smile from the inside out.

Unless it involves fish, and then I really don’t want anything to do with it.

Wow, that was a really long paragraph. I guess I’m serious about that food thing.

Second, my son makes me happy. Not in that general I-love-my-kid way, but in specific ways. He has a sharp wit, and isn’t afraid to use it. He isn’t afraid to make stupid jokes, either, if the opportunity seems right. When he heard the recent Doctor Who news, he told me that, on a scale from one to ten, his bummer feelings rated an eleven. “Get it, Mom? The Eleventh?” Yes, my child, I got it. But what makes me smile most about that is… My son loves Doctor Who! On the more serious side, his maturity makes me happy. His assumption that women are of course his equals makes me happy. His willingness to work, his growing ability to talk through problems and feelings and fears, his devotion to friends and family, his courage in the face of bigotry—all these things make me happy.

Third, training karate makes me happy. I like knowing I’m strong. I like sparring and self-defense, and working to be better at both. Every now and then I have a moment when I can’t believe I’m doing what I’m doing. When I realize I’m in my forties, throwing and being thrown by teenagers and young men, and I’m less winded than they are. I did a very un-sensei-like happy dance on the mat last week, when I performed a few moves in kata properly for the first time after weeks and weeks of trying. It’s joyful, that moment when every part of the body suddenly understands what the brain has been trying to achieve.

Fourth, I find great happiness in teaching. Whether I’m teaching karate, wellness and nutrition, basic writing skills or fundamental cooking tasks, passing along knowledge is one of my greatest joys. With cooking, it’s seeing people realize the empowerment of transforming basic ingredients into a fulfilling meal. With writing, it’s enjoying the beauty of story emerging as talent is honed by craft. With wellness and nutrition, it’s watching people move out of illness and into the power of self-responsibility and hope. With karate, it’s seeing children develop the confidence, respect, and honor that comes from hard work and achievement, and adults uncover the poise and conviction that comes from taking risks and not giving up. I love watching people straighten their shoulders, lift their chins and say, “I can do that!”

Lastly, creativity brings me joy. Developing an entire world–from the broad boundaries of geography to the details of textile fibers–is a delight. Sharing a story, bit by bit, with an audience is awesome. Acting, which I haven’t done for years, was a thrill unlike anything else I’ve done in life. Directing live theater brought a sensation equal in pleasure, but deeper in satisfaction. In fact, directing was like a combination of writing and teaching. Yes, I controlled the parameters for the actors, but once the show opened, the actors had to take what direction I’d given them and make it their own.

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