Yana Sviatkina. Swimmers, 2020 / Instagram
Show me a person who wouldn’t want to be happy and have a state of consonance, harmony, spiritual and emotional well-being in their soul. The feeling that you are flying on wings, breathing deeply and achieving your goals with ease. You cherish sincere and mutual love in your heart. You travel freely, buy high-quality comfortable clothes, live in a warm and cozy home with your closest people.
For complete and unquestionable happiness, something is always missing. For some people, it’s one or two puzzles, for others, a dozen important components. In addition, we want to feel satisfaction that would last for weeks, months, years, but unfortunately, this almost never happens, because illness, troubles, misunderstandings with close and distant people interfere.
Fatigue, routine, natural disasters, and now the worst of all, the war, interfere. That’s why the idea that happiness is a short-lived process suggests itself. It is unlikely to last for six months, like a polar day at the North Pole, or a decade, like the TV series Santa Barbara.
Most often it comes in pieces, bright flashes, moments. After all, no one can remember a whole year of unlimited comfort and euphoria, but the whole family sledding on Christmas Eve is etched in their minds for ages. How later, wet and red-cheeked, we stomped in the corridor and warmed ourselves with a rosehip drink. We crunched cookies dusted with powdered sugar. We watched Katrusyn’s cinema.
I remember my first feeling of happiness, which happened when I was three years old. That day, my grandmother gave me a dreamy coloring book and a whole bunch of crayons. Before going to bed, I put the book under my pillow and checked several times during the night to make sure it was there. I can still hear the radio playing the national anthem in the morning, the wooden floor creaking, and the rooster crowing.
I can hear the yeast pancakes bubbling in the frying pan and the teaspoon dancing in the glass. Granny Dusia drank her tea only from a faceted glass. The next day we went to the zoo, so I still associate happiness with drawing, giraffes, and elephants.
Later, there were many similar moments. Every year on the first of September, my mother would bake an apple cinnamon pie, and in early summer, a strawberry pie. On her next birthday, she received a white coat (she dreamed of being a doctor), and her parents allowed her to set up an outpatient clinic on the balcony. I fell in love with the son of a local priest, and he responded in kind and asked me out. I lost my ring and found it five years later.
My aunt often recalls the moment of the birth of her long-awaited son. For some reason, she stopped having contractions, and to get the process going, a nurse came with a miraculous injection. In a few minutes, she was gone, and the birthing woman was as good as new. She reads the book with curiosity and makes fun of me: «Your injection is complete nonsense. Zero effect». Fifteen minutes later, the aunt could no longer find a place to sit, so now she was being mocked in a good way: «Raya, why are you fussing? Better lie down and read a book».
It was snowing heavily outside. The air seemed muddy, as if the entire space was covered with beet pulp, the snowdrifts had already reached the windowsill, the frost had stung to minus twenty, and the woman in labor had only one plea: «Let me go for just a minute, I’ll dive into the snowdrift, cool down a bit, and come right back». When the baby screamed, she still claims that she had never heard better music as long as she lived, although she had the honor of listening to Vivaldi and Chopin concerts at the philharmonic.
Another aunt’s memory of happiness is her husband’s return from fishing. He proudly opened the gate and held up a net full of silver carp. The fish were dancing, flapping their tails, and Leonid’s face was shining with great triumph and satisfaction. What fun it was in the house. The catch was sizzling in the pan, the potatoes were bubbling, and they were sitting around listening to fishing stories with interest. It would seem that this was an ordinary breakfast for an ordinary Ukrainian family, but it was not. It is still special to her, even though Leonid has passed away ten years ago.
My colleague recalled a unique morning in Odesa. In the height of summer, she and her mother arrived by morning train to South Palmyra. The sun had already risen, but the city had not woken up yet. Only the porters and station workers were wandering around. There were no women wandering around with signs saying «room for rent by the sea».
They took the tram to the beach. They bought hot coffee and a bar of chocolate, took towels out of their suitcases, and sat on the beach. It was unforgettable. The morning ironed sea, the sun like an overripe peach, the taste of salt and dark chocolate on our lips, and a long and cheerful vacation ahead.
Her friend remembered that New Year’s Eve for the rest of her life. While her grandmother was diligently entertaining her, her mother took out soft slippers with a rabbit on them. The slippers had just gone on sale, and none of her friends had them. When she started to try them on, her foot stalled because there was a chocolate egg with a surprise inside, which she had only seen in advertisements before. Since then, I have started to believe in miracles unquestioningly.
It turns out that everyone’s moments of happiness are different in both form and substance. I tried to interview my closest environment, and this is what came out of it:
«I often recall the moment when I was a child and there were scheduled power outages. The whole family would crawl under the covers and play «words». We ate black bread with thin slices of general lard and washed it down with sweet tea. More than thirty years have passed since then, and I still feel the unforgettable taste».
«My parents were offered watermelons at reduced prices from work. They were brought from the Kherson region, and the berries were bursting with sweet juice. The truck would drive right into the yard, and we would skillfully line up in a chain and pass the giant striped heads to each other. Dad to mom, mom to me, and I to my younger brother. He rolled them under the beds and tables. In the afternoon, they would cut open the biggest one, and the «syrup» would run down to our elbows. My brother and I always got the middle one: The “watermelon soul”».
«Once I was given a voucher to Yevpatoria, and I went to Crimea for two long months. All that time I missed my parents immensely! Every day I wrote them short, meaningless letters, like: «I am doing well. Today they gave us pancakes for breakfast, one to one — paper napkins. So we didn’t eat, we just wiped ourselves off.» Or «I’m fine. Our unit is in quarantine. Everyone got dysentery». When they finally met me at the train station, I was screaming: «Aaaaa» for half an hour, and for a few more weeks I followed my parents around. It was then that I realized that living at home is the greatest happiness».
«I have been a volunteer since 2014. Every Saturday I visit a retirement home and read books to the old people. From time to time, I invite one of the old ladies to the opera house, but I hardly ever look at the stage. I admire the delight with which the old lady listens to Verdi or Gulak-Artemovsky, and I feel very elated because I was able to give another person pleasure and comfort».
«For my father, a moment of pleasure is a walk in the November forest. The temperature should be close to zero, there should be a sharp flicker of light from the sky, and the leaves should be like rags: heavy and wet. It is on such a day that he puts on a raincoat and rubber boots and goes to the spruce forest. He admits that he gets a lot of pleasure because it’s a good time for thinking and different philosophies. He also recalls how one fall everything suddenly turned to black, and he and his mother went to the forest. Everywhere they went, there was a loose leafy pillow. They sat on it like on a featherbed and contemplated the blue for a long time. They said goodbye to autumn, and in the morning it snowed».
«My grandfather had a big mole on his ear. I would press it like a button, and he would make different sounds, like a doorbell or a phone call. He quacked like a duck, hooted like an owl, and yowled like a little puppy. Every time it was unexpected and very funny. My grandfather was the only one who could make me laugh».
«In our village, there was a woman who was a midwife by profession. She worked in a hospital during the day and performed illegal abortions in the evenings at her home. Those were difficult times, post-war, and such a procedure was punishable by law, but the standard of living desired to be better. Mothers with many children realized that they could not raise another child, so they turned to her for help.
She did not refuse, charging five karbovanets for her services. Time was running out quickly. The midwife retired, sincerely believed in God, and decided to atone for her sin (she began to give all her former patients five karbovanets). The women were embarrassed and refused, but she insisted: «Please take it, it will make me incredibly happy».
«I loved spending winter vacations at my grandmother’s house. Making princesses out of plasticine (my grandfather always brought several packs from the grocery store), listening to «The Swan Geese,» eating pies with buckwheat porridge and liver. Warming up by the stove. Making a snowman and putting an enamel bucket on his head. Once, for the New Year, I was given a pair of white skates. I spent the whole vacation skating on the pond and imagined myself as a famous figure skater, like Oksana Baiul».
«I became a mother at the age of forty and finally understood my mother. Her tiredness, irritability, and busyness. Before that, I thought she was just a nervous woman, but when my child confused day with night and started to organize «fun starts» at midnight, everything fell into place. I remember one of the warm April mornings. I was pushing a stroller, yawning incessantly, and talking to my mom on the phone. It was during that conversation that I sincerely thanked her for everything. For treating colds, knitting scarves and gloves, sewing New Year’s costumes, inventing exotic breakfasts, listening to my music scales, helping me write my essays, and doing a lot of other important things. We both cried then, and it was real happiness».
«In tenth grade, I saw mountains for the first time. I felt so excited that my nose started bleeding».
«I dreamed of a bicycle for several years. Finally, we bought it, and it started… I traveled everywhere: to neighboring villages, to the pond, to the forest. I rode under the frame because I couldn’t reach the pedals while sitting on the saddle, but I covered tens of kilometers a day. I still have the bike today. My children ride it when they visit their grandmother on vacation.
My best friend and I came up with this idea. She had a bike made by the Minsk Motorcycle and Bicycle Plant (MMBP), and I had a bike made by the Kharkiv Bicycle Plant («KBP»). We deciphered these abbreviations in our own way: her MMVZ stood for «Mini Marten deliVery Prohibited» and mine for «Skinny Bringing Prohibited».
«I experienced a moment of great happiness last night. My son and I are from Mariupol, but we have been living in Germany for the last year and a half. We have nothing left, our apartment was destroyed, our house was razed to the ground. Where Cheremushki used to stand, there is now a wasteland. All the time in a foreign land, my son’s ears are tinnitus. It is obviously the consequences of stress.
We have tried everything: lotions, drops, and folk remedies, but the discomfort is like diving from a stable platform. It irritates him, interferes with his life, and he has to wait for an MRI until January. Yesterday I could not stand it and sent him to the hospital. He left (it takes two hours by bus from our village to the nearest city), and when he wanted to return, he found out that there would be no more buses, and it was raining and snowing, cold and dark outside. Mountains and forests everywhere, and to top it off, my phone was running out of power. I’m in tears. What to do? He’s all alone, a hundred and fifty kilometers from home.
I fell on my knees and started praying. Forty minutes later, there was a knock at the door. My happy child with a red nose was on the doorstep. As it turned out, he decided to walk home. On the way, I saw a bicycle (Germans often put used things near their homes, in case someone needs them), so he got on it, although the brakes did not work. He put his pocket flashlight under his hat, because there were few streetlights along the way. At home, he warmed up, drank a liter of tea, and concluded that he was saved by a ribbon with the prayer «I live in the help of the Lord.» He has had this prayer with him since Mariupol».
«My mom was taken into captivity in May 2022. Until then, she was in the middle of hell at Azovstal and occasionally wrote SMS. I received touching ones: «I love you» and «I will definitely survive, because I dream of becoming a grandmother». To my friend — truthful ones. Once she told me about a bombardment. The five people next to her were dead, and she was fine, as if an angel had covered her with a wing. She complained that she was desperate for bread, to wash her hair, and to wash herself. Later, she noticed that they were running out of drinking water and food, and the boys’ knees were swollen and wouldn’t bend.
That day, a soldier knocked on the door of the apartment and said that for her good behavior, my mother was allowed to call her family (she was in a camp in Olenivka). God, what a blessing it was to hear her voice. At first we cried in a choir, then she told us that she was working in the garden. Sometimes she gets some fruit or vegetables.
My cellmates stopped having their periods and their faces turned yellow. The soap is the same for everyone, but she has a real treasure — a pre-war hair balm. At the end, she sobbed: «More than anything, I want to hug you, and also celebrate the victory, put on a dress, pumps and walk along the waterfront».
«My mom returned five months later, after one of the first prisoner exchanges. This moment of happiness cannot be expressed in any words».
«My four-year-old son has a speech delay. The boy is smart, intelligent, but still has no words. Recently, he came to me, clapped my knee and spoke clearly in a sentence: «Mom, I want an orange». Our happiness was beyond limits. My husband and I cried, hugged, kissed him on the cheeks, and then hurriedly got dressed and ran to the supermarket so that Artemka could choose his own best orange in the world».
So, human happiness is diverse and different. For one person, it is reading «The Thorn Birds» for the first time, for another, it is seeing the sunrise in the mountains. Someone is happy to have been able to grow watercress in the lunar soil, and someone is happy to have sown Shabo carnations in ordinary black soil.
To me, true happiness is manifested in the simplest things, such as admiring a rainbow or the northern lights, tasting a mango or jaboticaba fruit for the first time. Having a Saturday breakfast in your pajamas. Receive a call from a classmate with whom you haven’t spoken in over forty years. Finding out about pregnancy or vice versa. To visit a large stadium and cheer for your favorite football team.
To hear the news that a person who was considered missing is actually alive. To take the first step after a long time in a cast. Plant a garden or build a bathhouse. Finish an important project. Visit holy places (places of power). Play the Pathetique Sonata on the piano. Swim across the Bosphorus. Embroider a towel. Find your grandmother’s wedding dress in the closet. To defend a dissertation. Grow hair after chemotherapy. Find a five-petaled lilac flower and make a wish. Enjoy baked milk like in childhood.
Open the window and breathe in the early autumn, soaked in the bitterness of chrysanthemums. Take off your soldier’s boots and change into sneakers. To hear for the first time: «Mom». Because everyone has their own unique happiness. With a different flavor, formula, and meaning.
I remember how I treated children from a troubled family to Easter cakes. At the time, they were playing in the sand, building forts and tunnels. When they received the pies, they began to eat them greedily. The pies fell out of their hands, the children did not even shake them off, and you could hear the sand crunching on their teeth. For me, those few minutes are associated with utter despair, but for them, it was a kind of grace.
Everyone’s happiness is different and differs in size, sound, and color. It is different in volume and structure. Still, we shouldn’t expect a complete picture of a long-term feeling. It is better to «weave» it from short fragments, excerpts, arabesques. From memories, dreams, the present. This will create a unique but very warm life panel.