What is happiness? It’s a question that has been asked since the dawn of time and one that many of us have sought to answer for ourselves. But, according to award-winning author Helen Garner, the answer may not be as simple as we think. In her latest work, Garner delves into the complexities of happiness, exploring the idea that it is not a tranquil, sunlit realm at the top of a metaphorical ladder, but instead something that is often fleeting, evasive, and out of reach.
Garner encourages us to instead settle for “small, random stabs of extreme interestingness” – moments of intense awareness of the things we’re about to lose and of gladness that they exist. She uses examples such as a hand-lettered sign, a quote from a book, a footy coach’s offhand remark, and a family’s two-word tribute to their father in the Age death notices to illustrate her point.
Garner also speaks of moments of intense awareness, such as when gardening, or when sitting shoulder to shoulder with someone, or when listening to music. She speaks of her grandsons striding down the stairs into her kitchen, of gospel shouters and Aretha Franklin, of the theatre nurse gripping her hand at the moment the anaesthetic knocks her out.
Ultimately, Garner states that happiness is something we can’t strive for or earn, but that it does exist, and it will be given to us. It’s something we must be open to, something we must accept and be grateful for. Garner encourages us to take notice of the small moments in life, to appreciate the beauty in the everyday, and to be open to the idea that happiness is something that can be found in the most unexpected of places.