Later today I shall do something which often (not always!) makes me happy. Inexplicably so.
It is a summer routine which usually leaves me with a feeling which does not easily come. Helen goes to the local market and buys enough apricots to make the stall holder and other customers ask: ‘What are you going to do with all those?’ Helen poaches and bottles them and squirrels them away for winter months.
All I do is cut the apricots in half and remove the stone. And that’s it!
When I say it makes me ‘happy’, I don’t just mean ‘content’ or ‘satisfied’ or ‘pleased’. I mean ‘happy’. Capital H. Verging on ‘joyful’. I don’t understand it. It is entirely inexplicable to me.
As a not very practical man, I get satisfaction from doing this simple, repetitive, useful task. That is true.
As a man with a sweet tooth, I anticipate the pleasure of a sunshine dessert in mid-winter. That is true.
As one who, since retirement, has learned some of the joys of cooking, I enjoy a sense of working on a tasty joint venture. That is also true.
But none of these quite explains it. What is it?
The apricots themselves are beautiful natural objects. That distinct vivid orange-yellow often has some brilliant red flecking in it. And the stones are often a deep, warm brown. The apricots are good to the touch. I usually sit in the garden to do it. That adds to the experience.
But still. What is it?
I fear now, having written about it here, the experience will not come later. You cannot arrange this simple happiness. You cannot plan joy.
I remember once I happened to be in Cambridge. I went to choral evensong at King’s College expecting to experience the same spine-tingling that I feel when I sit and listen properly to one of the choir’s recordings.
But, inexplicably, with the stage all set, not a single tingle! I left the city disappointed even though I had done the business which I originally went to do.
I think it's worth asking myself the question: what is it that makes me happy, really happy to the point of joy? Not entertained. Not diverted. Not amused - but happy!
Some people will say special moments with their grandchildren. Some will say it’s certain pieces of music. For others it may be the theatre or acting. Dancing. Singing in a choir. Gardeners may say that it’s about fingers in the soil. Helen would say, 'just watching the sea'.
Another member of our family would say, 'Just being in the mountains.'
This happiness may well not endure for long. The mundane quickly forces it out. But once you have had it you know that there is something deep in you which other pleasures do not reach.
Maybe it does not do to think about it too long. Maybe we must just allow ourselves to be ‘surprised by joy’, to use C.S.Lewis’s famous phrase. As and when.
Lewis was surprised by joy on top of a bus. It can happen anywhere. Anytime.