It's not a word you hear very often these days: happy. Sure, how could anyone be truly happy right now?
For living in the shadow of Covid-19 means precisely that - living in some kind of shadowland, not knowing what next week or next month will bring. Will there be a spark of light at the end of the next restrictive tunnel, a spark that might allow us to sit inside a restaurant or a theatre again, or wander joyfully around a museum or an art gallery, or will we go straight from one tunnel to another, thundering along like a runaway train, maybe finding ourselves in an even longer and darker shaft than the particular tunnel we are currently travelling through? Who knows?
As our lives are measured out, not by J Alfred Prufrock's coffee spoons of TS Eliot fame, but rather by news bulletins, political addresses to the nation, and wall-to-wall Covid coverage, we find ourselves these days in a kind of netherworld: a place where numbers are king and are calling all the shots. Cases per 100,000 of the population, daily 'positives', deaths, hospital admissions, ICU patients...numbers, numbers, numbers…
Unless you truly understand what those numbers mean, however, unless you can process it all, in big-picture and scientific terms, then surely this numbers game teeters dangerously on the edge of a too-much-information cliff face. Plumbers, journalists, hairdressers, teachers, lawyers - we're all consultant virologists these days. And look at the result: it is dragging us down.
Happiness, meanwhile, as represented by pure unbridled joy for joy's sake and moments of euphoric spontaneity, is all but a distant memory as we pull ourselves through the Groundhog Day of this never-ending year of 2020 as best we can.
And yet, every single day of this ongoing, life-sucking, viral nightmare, I am lucky enough to be spending my time with someone who is truly happy. Yes, genuinely, life-enhancingly happy.
In the past few days alone people have commented on the unmistakeable joie de vivre of my companion. "He's so happy, isn't he?" a neighbour said to me yesterday as she parked her car, while a complete stranger passed me by from a distance while I was out walking on Tuesday morning and shouted in my direction: "Would you just look at the big, happy head on him!"
And they are absolutely right. Dudley, my dog, is having a great pandemic. He is delighted with me, with himself, with life, with the constant company, with all the extra walks, with running along the beach or through the forest, with being allowed (for the first time ever) to spend the odd night curled up on my bed.
And also, I suspect, he is delighted because somehow, in his doggie psyche, he recognises in me an additional neediness. He has always needed me; he's a dog, after all.
But now, more than ever, I need him. We are bound together. And he couldn't be happier.
Dudley's not alone in his canine joy. I have never witnessed so many happy dogs. There they are, striding down the street ahead of their owners, heads up and tails dancing; or on the beach, racing in and out of the water in pursuit of a ball or a stick or just simply for the sheer joy of feeling the rush of sea-water under their paws.
Perhaps it has ever been thus, but human-versus-canine demeanour has now been thrown into such stark relief that I see it everywhere: dispirited people and ebullient dogs.
Dogs live in the moment. And if ever there was a time when we all needed to live like that then surely it's now. With an uncertain future making forward planning redundant, the moment is all we have.
Dudley knows that. Moment to moment is how he lives his life. So I am learning from him, from the pleasure he takes in the now. And it's so humbling to witness this little dog of mine as he shows me, from morning to night, day in and day out, just how easy it can be to be happy.