The Idler Magazine

Ah, is this not happiness

Posted in Idle Pleasures on 7 September 2012

We are introducing a new web project. It is based on a wonderful piece of Chinese writing called Chin’s Thirty Three Happy Moments. Chin Shengt’an was a 17th century playwright who once found himself stranded with a friend in a temple for ten days because of a rainstorm. While thus secluded, the pair compiled a list of the truly happy moments in life. The wonderful thing about Chin’s Happy Moments is their lack of piety. Material pleasures are not rejected in favour of loftier ones.

Here we reproduce a selection of our favourites from your nominations and list Chin’s full 33 Happy Moments at the bottom of the page.

To submit a happy moment send us an email The form is simple: describe the happy moment, and then add: “ah, is this not happiness?”

After once having an unhappy but well paid 60 hour a week job, to be home, showered, fed and ready for the rest of the day by 4.30. Ah is this not happiness?

Walking out of the bar, slightly inebriated but not nearly enough, on a cold, crisp and sunny day; and realising that most of the day and all of the night is still ahead of you and your closest friends. Ah is this not happiness?
Paul C

Dawn. Wraiths of mist steaming off the water. Kettle on. Optonic screams, the rod goes up and you`re in, tench on. Ah, is this not happiness?

Walking to the train station on the way to work on a Friday morning in January after it’s been snowing all the previous night. The sun is out, the air is crisp and much of the snow is undisturbed. Passing a primary school on the way and observing the children as they arrive at the gates to be greeted with the sign “School closed due to bad weather”. Children scream with glee and throw snowballs at each other whilst trying to be calmed down by the mothers who are frustrated at having had to get out of bed unnecessarily. Arriving at the station only to find enough trains have been cancelled to justify not making the journey to work. Seeing a friend on the way home and hitting him full in the face with a snowball before heading to a Cafe for a Full English before the pubs open. Ah, is this not happiness?

To turn on your computer on a Monday morning and see that you have no e-mails in your in-box – “Ah, is this not happiness?”
Chloe Alexander

Camping in a cove Find my stove is broken, so I gather wood and cook as the sun sets before me,
ash is this not happiness…
D Parker

Having a flextime system means that you can calculate how much you’re being paid to spend on the toilet ‘being productive’ during working hours – ash, is this not happiness?
Nigel Parkes

At four in the morning, after six hours of twisting and squirming for comfort in the glare of the orange streetlight, I give up and dress for the day. Going outside with a glass of tea, I light a cigarette and, disturbed by the flare of the match, a bird starts to sing. For ten minutes before I go in and return to bed and finally sleep, the dawn chorus erupts around me.
Ah, is this not happiness?
John Prudhoe

I broke my leg in 2000 – it didn’t hurt a bit but it sounded impressive as it cracked. As I lay there I thought ‘I’ve now got months and months stretching ahead of me where no matter what I say, do or think I’ll still be paid by my employer’ Ah, is this not happiness?
Nigel Parkes

I am woken from my slumber about 11ish to the sound of the letterbox clanking. Leaping out of bed to find another job rejection letter and a giro, the sun begins to shine. Ah, is this not happiness?

1. having spent a summer day performing an irksome though not entirely unsatisfying task such as mending a fence or bicycle – the first sip of a cold beer – a feeling made more exquisite only if it is the first taste of beer for a few days. Ah, is this not happiness?

2. upon finally entering the first physical embrace with the object of ones affections – discovering their arousal – while still dressed and proper, a dizzyingly gratifying sensation. Ah, is this not happiness?
Phil Watson

I am poor, having spent all of my money this afternoon, but looking at my wine rack I realise that it is now very full. Ah, is this not happiness?
Matthew Fallaize

Someone stumbling and bearly hanging on to their balance in front of you. Ah, is this not happiness?
Dan Turner

It’s a cold, frosty night in January around 6 pm. Orion is rising in the eastern sky as I wheel out my pushbike from the garage and put a bottle of orange squash in the cage. I’m snugged up against the wintry chill in my Gore-Tex jacket, tights and gloves.
I pop an ear plug into each ear and push a minidisc that has Tangerine Dream’s “Force Majeure” encoded on it into the player. Just as Edgar Froese’s mellotron is stabbing into my brain, I nose out of my drive up the road into the dark Yorkshire Wolds.

The snow is falling gently as I gain altitude and enter the hills proper. The absence of street lights throws the stars and planets into vivid relief. Jupiter and Saturn hang in the sky as the odd scary meteor flashes by, unseen by the city dwellers of Hull barely a dozen miles away.

I’m flying along at 25 mph as another Moog sequence starts up. Just then I remember there’s a live football match on Five Live tonight. I press the radio button on my remote attached to my jacket and the 1512 kHz preset Radio Vlaanderen’s French service barks in my ear. I smile as I null the signal out by pointing it at the transmitter in Wavre, Belgium and retrace
the line back to my own position in Yorkshire.
I flick past the presets set to the Voice of Russia and the BBC World Service until I reach 909 kHz just in time to hear the rousing tones of the “Sport on Five” theme tune start up.

After a little over two hours have gone and 30 miles are under my wheels, I head for home gently glowing. I return to the sauna in the garden shed and turn the stove on. Putting my bike way, I fill the sauna pail with fresh cold water and add a few drops of Siberian Fir essence.

I open the large fridge and collect an armful of bottles containing Keighley’s finest ; Timothy Taylor’s Landlord ale. Also in the fridge is a pack of Bratwursts, so into a sheet of foil go a couple of Thuringian sausages and on the hot stones they go.
A plate of rye bread, German mustard, pickled dill, beetroot and red cabbage is prepared. The sauna now is a cube of tropical heat in the winter chill. I turn on the radio and return to the match and relish the sting of heat as I pour some water onto the hot stones. The first slug of beer hits the back of my parched throat as I smell the first waft of cooking Bratwurst. Ah is this not happiness?
Simon Mason

To walk round Safeway and find that everything you intended to buy is on special offer. Ah is this not happiness?
Eugenie Aperghis

To wake up after 6 months with your new girlfriend after a late boozy night to see you still think she’s the most beautifull thing you’ve ever seen, and then to
find her inniating sex, even though she’s got to go to work. Ah, is this not happiness?
Neil Evely

Sitting on the toilet at work I slump forward and realise the loo roll holder is close enough to the pan to rest my head against. Ah, is this not happiness?
Dave Wigley

It’s 9.30 in the morning and having just lost my job, I now have the whole day to myself. Ah, is this not happiness? Alex Bowen

To see a small tree growing from a chimney, high on a building. Ah, is this not happiness?
David WIlson

It is warm and arid day, and my hands are dry, I run my hands under the cold tap. Ah, is this not happiness?
Dave Britton

To sit, slightly drunk, in a pub by a river in summer with the responsibility and littleness of adulthood still ahead, hearing Janis Joplin for the first time. Ah, is this not happiness?
Chris Coates

Going back to a game previously thought impossible and completing a few levels. Ah, is this not happiness?
Mark Isaacs

I am completely skint until pay day. I receive a belated birthday card from my sister. Inside is a scratch card. I win ��17 – I can go to the pub
after all. Ah, is this not happiness?
Cath Harris

To hear how badly the company I hated working at is now doing, and about the financial destitution of my ex-boss who, with her sadism, irrationality and prattling stupidity, once made me miserable on a daily basis. Ah, is this not happiness?

The pub’s lavatory door will lock and toilet roll is plentiful. Ah, is this not happiness?
Claire Bradshaw

The sound custard makes when you put a spoon in it for the first time and you lift it and it makes a ‘farting’ sound. Ah, is this not happiness?
David Sydenham

To put on a jacket you haven’t worn for about a month only to find a ��10 note in your side pocket. Ah is this not happiness?
To take a shit and then to find out that one wipe is all that is needed. Ah, is this not happiness?
Vinnie Brownlow

To be cut up by a leering driver in a poncey flash car on the M6 and then to watch in delight as he gets well and truly done by a speed camera. Ah, is this not happiness?
Steve Best

I came home from work and she popped into the hall, her ponytailed hair tussled, her face dirty. She smiles, says “Hi Daddy, I love you” and disappears into the garden to play. Ah is this not happiness.

To smoke my pipe and strategically plan the Golden Age of the Mankind. Ah is this not happiness?
B. Tiraplosky

I broke up with a lover and he threatened me with suicide. But he seems to be ok now and I no longer feel guilty. Ah, this not happiness?

Finding an empty toilet where you can let out the fart that you’ve been holding in for the last 20 minutes because you’ve been in a meeting and don’t want to offend anyone. Ah is this not happiness?
Steve Bowler

The split second when you realise your hangover has officially ended. Ah is this not happiness?
Craig Deeley

It’s Saturday afternoon, it’s grey outside, pouring with rain and the wind is buffeting the windows. The house is empty except for me. I have a new
dvd to watch, a fleecy blanket to wrap up in, a selection of Marks and Spencer’s finest nibbling items and a new bottle of port. I don’t need to
leave the house for at least 36 hours, unless I run out of cigarettes (what’s that? flatmate’s duty free Marlboros on top of the fridge?) Ah, is this not happiness?

Sitting behind a table with your legs stretched out in a warm and friendly pub at 5 minutes to 11 o’clock, you hear the landlord announce that there is no need to rush for last orders because the door has just been locked and this merry evening can carry on for a good while yet…..Ah, is this not happiness?
James Mann

To seek fulfilment at the bottom of a pint glass, and find it. Ah! is this not happiness?
John G. Wilford

To be losing an argument with someone only to see them step in a dog turd. Ah! is this not happiness?
Clive Clasby

Saturday evening. Cold beer. Hot food. Hotter woman. Manchester United defeated. At Old Trafford. Ah, is this not happiness?
Droog Robinson

To introduce your next to your ex. Ah, is this not happiness?
Paul Dixon

To arrive home from a long journey abroad, have fish and chips and then go to sleep in your own bed. Ah, is this not happiness?

To wake up at Seven O’Clock in the morning to get ready for work … and then realise it’s Sunday. Ah, is this not happiness? Jennifer Phippard

To wake up still mischievously drunk on a Saturday morning, find a crumpled 5 pound note and a solitary fag left in your packet…and then be brought a cup of tea and a lighter. Ah, is this not happiness?
Eddie Dodds.

On a cool, clear summers day, letting go of a helium balloon and watching it drift higher and higher into the sky. Seeing it slowly shrink then vanish into the air.
Ah, it that not happiness?
Dave Heffron

To wake up with a stinking hangover, wander into the kitchen and stumble across half a pizza still in the box from last night. Ah, is this not happiness?
Tania Oozeerally

Chin happy moment and Crap Town nomination:
As I turn left onto the Bristol road, look in my rear view mirror, and see Bridgwater retreating into memory. Ah, is this not happiness.


1. It is a hot day in June when the sun hangs still in the sky and there is not a whiff of wind in the air, nor a trace of clouds; the front and back yards are hot like an oven and not a single bird dares to fly about. Perspiration flows down my whole body in little rivulets. There is the noonday meal before me, but I cannot take it for the sheer heat. I ask for a mat to spread on the ground and lie down, but the mat is wet with moisture and flies swarm about to rest on my nose and refuse to be driven away. Just at this moment when I am completely helpless, suddenly there is a rumbling of thunder and big sheets of black clouds overcast the sky and come majestically on like a great army advancing to battle. Rain-water begins to pour down from the eaves like a cataract. The perspiration stops. The clamminess of the ground is gone. All flies disappear to hide themselves and I can eat my rice. Ah, is this not happiness?

2. A friend, one I have not seen for ten years, suddenly arrives at sunset. I open the door to receive him, and without asking whether he came by boat or by land, and without bidding him to sit on the bed or the couch, I go to the inner chamber and ask my wife: “Have you got a gallon of wine like Su Tungp’o’s wife?” My wife gladly takes out her gold hairpin to sell it. I calculate it will last us three days. Ah, is this not happiness? (note from ed: that’s nearly two bottles of wine each per day).

3. I am sitting alone in an empty room and I am just getting annoyed at a little mouse at the head of my bed, and wondering what that little rustling sound signifies – what article of mine he is biting or what volume of my books he is eating up. While I am in this state of mind and don’t know what to do, I suddenly see a ferocious-looking cat, wagging its tail and staring with its wide-open eyes, as if it were looking at something. I hold my breath and wait a moment, keeping perfectly still, and suddenly with a little sound the mouse disappears like a whiff of wind. Ah, is this not happiness?

4. I have pulled out the hait’ang and chiching (flowery trees) in front of my studio, and have just planted ten or twenty green banana trees there. Ah, is this not happiness?

5. I am drinking with some romantic friends on a spring night and am just half intoxicated, finding it difficult to stop drinking and equally difficult to go on. An understanding boy servant at the side suddenly brings in a package of big fire-crackers, about a dozen in number, and I rise from the table and go and fire them off. The smell of sulphur assails my nostrils and enters my brain and I feel comfortable all over my body. Ah, is this not happiness?

6. I am walking in the street and see two poor rascals engaged in a hot argument of words with their faces flushed and their eyes staring with anger as if they were mortal enemies, and yet they still pretend to be ceremonious to each other, raising their arms and bending their waists in salute, and still using the most polished language of thou and thee and wherefore and is it not so? The flow of words is interminable. Suddenly there appears a big husky fellow swinging his arms and coming up to them, and with a shout tells them to disperse. Ah, is this not happiness?

7. To hear our children recite the classics so fluently, like the sound of water pouring from a vase. Ah, is this not happiness?

8. Having nothing to do after a meal I go to the shops and take a fancy to a little thing. After bargaining for some time, we still haggle about a small difference, but the shop-boy still refuses to sell it. Then I take out a little thing from my sleeve, which is worth about the same thing as the difference and throw it at the boy. The boy suddenly smiles and bows courteously saying, “Oh, you are too generous!” Ah, is this not happiness?

9. I have nothing to do after a meal and try to go through the things in some old trunks. I see there are dozens of IOUs from people who owe my family money. Some of them are dead and some still living, but in any case there is no hope of their returning the money. Behind people’s backs I put them together in a pile and make a bonfire of them, and I look up to the sky and see the last trace of smoke disappear.Ah, is this not happiness?

10. It is a summer day. I go bareheaded and barefooted, holding a parasol, to watch young people singing Soochow fol-songs while treading the water-wheel. The water comes up over the wheel in a gushing torrent like molten silver or melting snow. Ah, is this not happiness?

11. I wake up in the morning and seem to hear someone in the house sighing and saying that last night someone died. I immediately ask to find out who it is, and learn that it is the sharpest, most calculating fellow in town. Ah, is this not happiness?

12. I get up early on a summer morning and see people sawing a large bamboo pole under a mat-shed, to be used as a water-pipe. Ah, is this not happiness?

13. It has been raining for a whole month and I lie in bed in the morning like one drunk or ill, refusing to get up. Suddenly I hear a chorus of birds announcing a clear day. Quickly I pull aside the curtain, push open a window and see the beautiful sun shining and glistening and the forest looks like having a bath. Ah, is this not happiness?

14. At night I seem to hear someone thinking of me in the distance. The next day I go to call on him. I enter his door and look about his room and see that this person is sitting at his desk, facing south, reading a document. He sees me, nods quietly and pulls me by the sleeve to make me sit down, saying, “Since you are here, come and look at this.” And we laugh and enjoy ourselves until the shadows on the walls have disappeared. He is feeling hungry himself and slowly asks me, “Are you hungry, too? Ah, is this not happiness?”

15. Without any serious intention to build a house of my own, I happened, nevertheless, to start building one because a little sum had unexpectedly come my way. From that day on, every morning and every night I was told that I needed to buy timber and stone and tiles and bricks and mortar and nails. And I explored and exhausted every avenue of getting some money, all on account of this house, until I got sort of resigned to this state of things. One day, finally, the house is completed, the walls have been whitewashed and the floors swept clean; the paper windows have been pasted and scrolls and paintings are hung up on the walls. All the workmen have left, and my friends have arrived, sitting on different couches in order. Ah, is this not happiness?

16. I am drinking on a winter’s night, and suddenly note that the night has turned extremely cold. I push open the window and see that snowflakes come down the size of a palm and there are already three or four inches of snow on the ground.Ah, is this not happiness?

17. To cut with a sharp knife a bright green water-melon on a big scarlet plate of a summer afternoon. Ah, is this not happiness?

18. I have long wanted to become a monk, but was worried because I would not be permitted to eat meat. If, the, I could be permitted to eat meat publicly, why, then I bold heat a basin of hot water, and with the help of a sharper razor, shave my head clean in a summer month! Ah, is this not happiness?

19. To keep three or four spots of eczema in a private part of my body and now and then to scald or bathe it with hot water behind closed doors. Ah, is this not happiness?

20. To find accidentally a handwritten letter of some old friend in a trunk. Ah, is this not happiness?

21. A poor scholar comes to borrow money from me, but is shy about mentioning the topic, and so he allows the conversation to drift along on other topics. I see his uncomfortable situation, pull him aside to a place where we are alone and ask him how much he needs. Then I go inside and give him the sum and after having done this, I ask him: “Must you go immediately to settle this matter or can you stay awhile and have a drink with me?” Ah, is this not happiness?

22. I am sitting in a small boat. There is a beautiful wind in our favour, but our boat has no sails. Suddenly there appears a big lorcha, coming along as fast as the wind. I try to hook on to the lorchas in the hope of catching on to it, and unexpectedly the hook does catch. Then I throw over a rope and we are towed along and I begin to sing the lines of Tu Fu: “the green makes me feel tender towards the peaks, and the red tells me there are oranges.” And we break out in joyous laughter. Ah, is this not happiness?

23. I have been long looking for a house to share with a friend but have not been able to find a suitable one. Suddenly someone brings news that there is a house somewhere, not too big, but with only about a dozen rooms, and that it faces a big river with beautiful green trees around. I ask this man to stay for supper, and after the supper we go over together to have a look, having no idea what the house is like. Entering the gate, I see that there is a large vacant lot about six or seven mow, and I say to myself, “I shall not have to worry about the supply of vegetables and melons henceforth.” Ah, is this not happiness?

24. A traveller returns home after a long journey, and he sees the old city gate and hears the women and children on both banks of the river talking is own dialect. Ah, is this not happiness?

25. When a good piece of old porcelain is broken, you know there is no hope of repairing it. The more you turn it about and look at it, the more you are exasperated. I then hand it to the cook, and give orders that he shall never let that broken porcelain bowl come within my sight again. Ah, is this not happiness?

26. I am not a saint, and am therefore not without sin. In the night I did something wrong and I get up in the morning and feel extremely ill at ease about it. Suddenly I remember what is taught by Buddhism, that not to cover one’s sins is the same as repentance. So then I begin to tell my sin to the entire company around, whether they are strangers or my old friends. Ah, is this not happiness?

27. To watch someone writing big characters a foot high. Ah, is this not happiness?

28. To open the window and let a wasp out from the room. Ah, is this not happiness?

29. A magistrate orders the beating of the drum and calls it a day. Ah, is this not happiness?

30. To see someone’s kite-line broken. Ah, is this not happiness?

31. To see a wild prairie fire. Ah, is this not happiness?

32. To have just finished repaying all one’s debts. Ah, is this not happiness?

33. To read the Story of Curly-Beard (who gave up his house to a pair of eloping lovers then disappeared). Ah, is this not happiness?

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