The mental geography of happiness

My happy place isn't really a place but a state of mind that can appear in lots of places. It's that moment of bliss when you turn off other worries and embrace where you are.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, it was the moment I decided there was nothing I could do to make a taxi appear at the Trunk Bay snorkeling trail on St. John. I exhaled and sat down at a picnic table. A local man nodded approvingly, "That's right, don't worry." And then a taxi magically appeared, so I didn't miss the last ferry after all.

In South Africa, it was lunch overlooking the penguin colony at Simon's Town. The trip had already been wonderful, coming soon after Nelson Mandela's election as president, when hope was an ever-present companion. I had marveled at the Dutch-inspired architecture and the wines of the Cape Peninsula. I had seen elephants and lions.

But it was that simple lunch that seemed to be the moment of perfection. I don't remember what I ate, just the feeling of sitting contentedly at an outdoor table, pleasantly satiated with food and wine, listening to the bray of the penguins, watching bikini-clad swimmers and tuxedoed birds coexist on the same patch of surf. It was good.

Every fall, it's the first sunset at a friend's beach cottage near Beaufort, N.C., where a group of women gathers at Atlantic Beach to celebrate ourselves just as we are. We might buy a $15 jacket or a $200 sweater, depending on the mood and the offerings in the local shops. Every now and then we might visit the local museum to see if there's anything new on Blackbeard the pirate.

One of these days we're going to get to the natural area where Venus flytraps grow wild. But first there's a sunset to see. In this part of North Carolina, the barrier islands run east to west, so every day has a sunrise and a sunset with ruby reflections. Put that together with a ruby red glass of wine on a balcony overlooking the sea oats and the waves, and it's hard to think that bliss could be missed.


Copyright © 2019, The Virginia Gazette