This is Poet Laureate Charles Simic's advice to people who want to learn to be happy, at the conclusion of his little interview with Deborah Solomon in this Sunday's New York Time Sunday Magazine:
Solomon: Have you noticed all these new nonfiction books on “happiness”? It’s an industry.
Simic: It’s really frightening. People need to read a book on how to be happy? It’s completely an American thing. Can you imagine people in Naples sitting on a bus or in a trattoria reading a book about happiness?
Solomon: What advice would you give to people who are looking to be happy?
Simic: For starters, learn how to cook.
Some simple things I think might improve the likelihood that you'll be happy: find something you like to do that there aren't too many barriers to doing--like taking a walk, going to the library, watching sports on television. Develop some kind of hobby or art, and give yourself over to it. Enjoy the people closest to you. Get enough sleep. And yeah, learn to cook.
I do think a certain modesty in what you want is conducive to happiness. I read somewhere in The Nation awhile ago an argument that aiming for happiness is unreasonable, given the state of the world. I certainly have felt that way. I have often thought that the steady state of the human condition is actually grief, and that happiness is lucky, infrequent, a blessing when you find it, but you shouldn't expect to feel happy all the time. On the other hand, how unreasonable is it to tell people that? Like, somehow advising people that coming to terms with misery, sorrow, and grief as your lot in life would be persuasive. I think I'll keep working on that cooking thing. And getting enough sleep.