The Day I Accidentally Stumbled Upon Happiness
An unexpected lesson on the good life — courtesy of butlers, painters, and my Portuguese professor.
“Why are some people so much happier than others?”
This question didn’t come up in one of my philosophy seminars but, unexpectedly, in Portuguese class. We’d been talking about the pretérito mais-que-perfeito do conjuntivo (the past perfect subjunctive) and had discussed a few examples. My professor said the easiest way to think about it is to imagine a person who completely wants to rewrite their past. They tend to use the past perfect subjunctive quite often. Like this:
- “If I had won the lottery, I would be rich now.”
- “If I hadn’t accepted that job, my career would have flourished.”
- “If I had married her, I could have been happy.”
This awfully reminded me of my own thought patterns. I couldn’t help but think back to my life choices of the previous years: abandoning my engineering career, quitting a master’s in product design, trying to escape my problems in other countries, and finally returning to university to study languages and philosophy. Somehow, everything seemed wrong.
Had it all been a huge mistake?
My professor had hit a weak spot without knowing. My thoughts strayed. Why are some people — like me — stuck in this regretful thinking? Why are some people unable to find happiness?
The German sociologist Hartmut Rosa has an answer. In his book Resonance, he argues a well-lived life depends on our frequency of experiencing resonant moments. What are resonant moments? These are the instances where you feel like you’re on the same frequency as everything around you. You listen to a beautiful bird song, enjoy the walk to the office, and have nice chats with your colleagues. You, other people, and the world resonate with each other.
But, of course, you can also get out of sync.
It’s when birds sound like a mismatched school orchestra, the walk to the office is ruined by a car cutting you off, and you never liked your colleagues anyway. It’s only a natural consequence, then, that you’d want to escape to the past perfect…