Happiness and the Visits of a Gazelle - Gretchen Rubin

From Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project, here's a beautiful essay on appreciating the good in life.

Several months ago, my book group read a wonderful book, Terrence O’Donnell’s Garden of the Brave in War. Because the book’s introduction compared it to Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa, I was prompted to re-read Out of Africa, which I hadn’t read in many years (a Secret of Adulthood: the best reading is re-reading). What a staggeringly good book—and all about happiness, in an oblique way.

Since I re-read it, I’ve been haunted by Dinesen’s beautiful, otherworldly description of a period when her household, on a coffee plantation in Kenya, was visited by a gazelle called Lulu (“pearl” in Swahili).

The years in which Lulu and her people came round to my house were the happiest of my life in Africa. For that reason, I came to look upon my acquaintance with the forest antelopes as upon a great boon, and a token of friendship from Africa. All the country was in it, good omens, old covenants, a song….

During my last years in Africa I saw less and less of Lulu and her family. Within the year before I went away I do not think that they ever came. Things had changed, South of my farm land had been given out to farmers and the forest had been cleared there, and houses built.…

Often, very often, in the quiet hours of daybreak, I have dreamed that I have heard Lulu’s clear bell, and in my sleep my heart has run full of joy, I have woken up expecting something very strange and sweet to happen, just now, in a moment.

The visits of a gazelle…

Periods in my life have included gazelles, of one sort or another. Not literal visitations of this kind, but times when a situation gave me a peculiar happiness, for a time, before ending—a situation that, in hindsight, marked a certain era.

The perfect coffee shop across the street from my daughter’s school, with great food, great music, a clean bathroom, great wide tables, and lots of electrical outlets; I spent so many happy hours working there – but it’s closed now. The year my husband and I both worked at the Federal Communications Commission, and whenever we wanted, we could visit each other’s offices during the work day. The first few weeks after each of my daughters was born, when my mother came to stay with us, so that while I was struggling to take care of a newborn, I got to be babied by my own mother.

It’s so hard to appreciate these situations, when they’re happening. It’s so easy to take them for granted and forget how quickly things can change. One object of my happiness project is to recognize and appreciate them when they arise.

By Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project. Buy The Happiness Project book here!