Happiness - a work in progress
I became aware of Ben-Hur's talent when I watched the underground cabaret show "Kneidel Bar," in which she appeared with my friend, Anat Barzilai. Afterward she had a spot on a radio program I hosted, and we became friends. So I have a lot of good reasons for wanting to see her play, 'Are You Happy Yet?'.
For some time now, I have been meaning to go to the play "At kfar me'usheret?" ("Are You Happy Yet?"), written by and starring Varda Ben-Hur. I became aware of Ben-Hur's talent when I watched the underground cabaret show "Kneidel Bar," in which she appeared with my friend, Anat Barzilai. Afterward she had a spot on a radio program I hosted, and we became friends.
So I have a lot of good reasons for wanting to see the play. But the real attraction for me is the title. Because "Are you happy yet?" is a question that can foul the mood of each of us, when it suddenly dawns on us that we are not happy enough, in contrast, ostensibly, to the rest of the world.
"When will you be happy already?" - or in its less direct version, "Hey, don't I deserve for my daughter to be happy?" - posits the amorphous thing called "happiness" as a kind of goal with concrete coordinates, a distinctive essence and unquestionable objectivity. The question also implies that you yourself, the daughter who is not yet happy enough for her worried mother, are the last person who can determine whether what she feels is genuine happiness. Because the implicit assumption of the question "When will you be happy already?" is that only other people, particularly your mother, can determine whether you are not at long last happy. And, of course, if in her view you are not, then not only are you a miserable wretch, you are also a shit of a person, a disappointing daughter who denies her mother even the little bit she could do for her in return for years of suffering and sacrifice.
I remember the moment of shock I experienced on Gaza Street in Jerusalem, right in front of Yom-Tov's vegetable and fruit store, where I ran into the very woman on whom I had heaped largesse for two years, so that a psychologist would shorten my road to happiness (and greatly lengthen my road to riches).
A few years had passed since I had got through the obstacle course she had created for me on the road to happiness (crying, dredging up memories, reconstructing dreams and so forth), and my condition remained critical, but stable.
"How are you?" she asked me empathetically, next to the eggplants. "So-so," I replied honestly, to which she responded by raising an eyebrow and saying, "Isn't it about time you were happy already?"
It has to be said that I am way overdue for happiness, so it will come as no surprise that when I open this magazine every week and read my favorite item, "Family Affair," and the bit I like best, right at the end, I am immediately crushed by the weight of failure: I look at the "happiness quotient" there and discover yet another happy family, whose members rank their happiness at a level of between 8 and 9, even a perfect 10. Whereas I, again the odd person out, again godforsaken - oh, how shall I be happy, how shall I caper, when my "pods of happiness" - to paraphrase Bialik - are all still empty?
Here, indeed, we have another problem. How is it possible to grade happiness, which to the best of my recollection is experienced, albeit only for moments, as a feeling of utter wholeness? How is it possible to feel happy at the level of 7? After all, happiness, so we were taught to think, is not only the absence of suffering and worry; it is also an extra something, a great wave of emotion, a euphoric feeling of the kind that, in my experience, can be generated only by giving birth to a child, by crazy love, by creating a masterpiece or by fantastic boots that you got for a third of the price at comme il faut.
Aristotle believed that happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, and that the very use of one's talent is happiness (go tell that to Billie Holiday, Sylvia Plath or even Assi Dayan). Baudelaire thought that happiness is the accumulation of many small pleasures. According to Victor Hugo, happy people are those who can be born in an isolated valley, to live and die in their fathers' fields. Chekhov did not believe there is such a thing as happiness or a happy person, though we all aspire to happiness nonetheless.
The approach I like best is that of the writer Saul Tchernikovsky, who said that life is moments of happiness and years of suffering. In fact, if there is a feeling that accompanies every moment of happiness I have, it is the fear, the clear knowledge, that it is about to end. "Nothing threatens like happiness," Maeterlinck said. "Every kiss we give is liable to arouse the enemy."
Nevertheless, I must say: I have been happy and I have been miserable, and being happy is better.