Catbird Happy

Happiness is not always readily apparent. If someone you don’t know well is happy but exhibits no obvious symptoms of the condition, you probably have no way to know. If you know a certain person very well, you might be able to detect signs of happiness that others cannot. For example, John snaps the tip of his tongue behind his upper front teeth when he’s happy, irritating the daylights out of you but also displaying to you – because you know John very well – that he is feeling pretty happy at that moment. You are glad for him, but are also fed up with that stupid little noise he makes.

Some indicators of happiness are easily recognized. Humming or whistling seem to be universally accepted signs of happiness, or at least of contentedness. Smiling, laughing, chuckling, and giggling indicate a positive frame of mind, at least at the moment that those actions are taking place. Verbal expressions can also indicate happiness. “I’m so very happy today” is a phrase that, coming from a truthful person, might indicate exactly what is spoken. In a person known as a curmudgeon, it could mean just the opposite. The tone of voice is critical in cases such as these. The way something is said often means much more than the words themselves.

When I hear people chattering animatedly, I judge the chatterers to be happy. There’s an air of cheerful cooperation when people interact with one another on a friendly basis, lobbing cute little comments back and forth and making jokes on the fly. Participating in this banter makes me smile and often laugh, and just hearing others do it has the same effect on me. The process can bring about a wave of good humor through all those within earshot. We’ve all experienced this. The waves take place spontaneously when someone comments about something and others take the cue and join in. From there, anything can be said and anything can be heard. They are remarkable events, intensely enjoyable but gone before you have a chance to record them. Don’t even attempt to recall them, other than just a general impression. They seem to be meant for the moment they occur and have little purpose as specific memories.

This propensity for spontaneous chatter is not solely a human trait. I’m thinking, of course, of catbirds. Besides the fact that humans and catbirds are pretty far apart evolutionarily speaking, we have quite a bit in common otherwise. They chatter much like we do. Does it mean that they are happy? Can they be contented? Do they laugh and do they smile? I have no idea. But hearing their chatter makes me smile.

How about you?

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