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Friday, August 4, 2017

What Makes You Happy?

"What Makes Me Happy" - 9x12 pastel - Available
This is only a sketch, but painting it made me happy.
I really got into the drawing of the rocks.

The other day, I went for a walk in the woods.  Usually, I speed along to get my heart rate up—fast enough to scare every bird, squirrel and Sasquatch.  This time, I slowed down.  A downy woodpecker chopped away at a limb two feet from my head, scattering wood chips onto the mossy ground.  A red squirrel sat on a stump, chewing through spruce cones like a teenager at a pie eating contest.  Sasquatch—well, I never saw him, but I saw plenty of other things.  And I experienced them, too, with all my senses.  I never knew you could actually taste the flavor of spruce in the air.  I was truly "in the moment."

Once I disentangled myself from that moment, I realized that I had been supremely happy in the midst of these little things.

As I grow older and time becomes more precious, I want to re-focus my life on what makes me happy.  I'd heard that if I can find one, true thing that always gives me joy, and then make that, as much as possible, the center of everything I do, the time left to me will be rich and full and satisfying.

So I've been slowing down.  Paying attention to those moments when I feel happy.  Trying to figure out what it is that is most often responsible, some common thread connecting these moments.

Not surprisingly, it's painting.  But what is it about painting?  Is there a way I can understand the connection?  How, exactly, does it buoy my soul?

I did some analysis and came up with the following.  Please note that this is extremely personal; your experience will be different and unique.

  • I love solitude.  As much as people find me friendly and easy to get along with, I love being alone best.  
  • In those periods of solitude, I also love to be in the midst of Nature, with a capital "N," the way Ralph Waldo Emerson spelled it.  Although I certainly appreciate architecture and beautiful buildings and the well-painted cityscape, my architecture is maples and spruces and alders.   
  • When I'm in Nature, I love to simply observe, listen, experience.  Painting helps me do this.  I can trace the form of rock and tree, all the while learning a great deal about the history of each.  At the same time, I'm aware of literally everything:  From the color of sunlight on birch bark to the chitter of a bald eagle overhead, from the smell of alders getting ready for autumn to the taste of my own blood when I bite my tongue too firmly as I concentrate.  
  • Not to be too literary, but all this input becomes Dylan Thomas' "force that through the green fuse drives the flower."  I'm not just experiencing the moment and recording it in paint; I am also responding to the moment and its energy.  I certainly couldn't paint the tree the same way in the studio.  In the field, on location, in Nature with a capital "N," I am painting the tree in a completely different and very pleasing way.

And this makes me happy.  It's not the final product, the painting, that does that; the painting itself is simply an artifact of that happy moment.  It's the process of observing, responding and being in the moment.

Sure, there are other things that make me happy.  Reading a good book.  Taking a walk with my spouse.  Writing a satisfactory essay.  Getting a good night's sleep.  A piece of Ghirardelli Intense Dark 86% cacao.  But for me, the most consistent thing is painting.

Knowing this, I can focus on making more painting time for myself and be happier.  I can also build in more of those other happiness-inducing things.  But it is the painting that will be the focus.

What makes you happy?