Happiness surely is among the simplest of human emotions and the most spontaneous. There can be no one, however miserable the conditions of their daily existence, who has not at some time felt the joy of being alive in the moment; in the love of another, or the closeness of friends or fellow workers; in a baby’s smile, the satisfaction of a job well done or the first green in a winter furrow; or more simply still, bird-song or the touch of sunlight. But for the vast majority of men and women who have shared our planet in the long course of human history, these can have been no more than moments in a life that was unremittingly harsh.
Think of a medieval farmer as he struggled to keep body and soul together, at the mercy of famine, plague and the periodic arrival over the horizon of mercenaries in search of food or plunder; or women and children in the eighteenth century who spent fifteen hours a day hauling a truck loaded with coal out of a pit; or the African slaves who endured the Middle Passage to the Americas. Think of the millions, soldiers and civilians both, caught up in the wars and social upheavals of the last century, the invasions, evacuations, forced resettlements, the daily struggle to survive the horrors of Auschwitz-Birkenau or Belsen or Mauthausen.
–by David Malouf