I STILL wonder how things might have worked out if Rachel and I had stayed together. I have never (and expect I never will) met anyone with such a unique intellectual outlook on life. Amid the sweet, soft-focused, heady harmony that defines the early days of romance I remember feeling a rare sense of beauteous bliss, consummate complacency. I was awash with happiness. I felt compelled to ask if Rachel felt the same, if she too was happy. So I did. Nothing could have sent my contentment crashing more cacophonously than her response.

“Happy?” she asked with a look that I would soon come to recognise as “Rachellian”. I repeated the question: “Yes. Are you happy?”

She averted her blue-eyed gaze from mine, looking up at the ceiling. She exhaled. It was the sort of exhalation made heavy in preparation for a downbeat thought.

“Happiness is a transitory state of being. You can be happy for a moment and then it passes. People that are always happy are clinically described as manic. So to answer your question, I don’t believe in happiness.”

That was me telt; pure telt.

I am reminded of this exchange because Thursday is Nirvana Day. Unfortunately this isn’t the day to celebrate unwashed hair and body and listen to dirty guitar music that erodes any hope or joy you have in the world. No. Quite the opposite. This is a Cobain-free day. A day to celebrate bliss, joy and happiness.

Nirvana Day (Also known as Parinirvana) is the Buddhist celebration that commemorates the death of Shakyamuni Buddha, to give him his full name. Apparently in the year 483BC, at the age of 80, Shakyamuni finally reached the highest state of spirituality possible for a human being, a state defined as complete purity of mind, body and soul. He had achieved Nirvana. And then he died.

Maybe it’s the guilt-induced Jesuit education I had, coupled with the west of Scotland Calvinism, but that it seems a tad unfair that as soon as you get to your happy place you pop yer clogs. But then again, where do you go after achieving complete purity of mind, body and soul?

Nirvana is one of those words that we readily use without always being fully aware of its meaning. This may be down to the music movement called Grunge and its temporal Messiah, Kurt Cobain, combined with the modern yoga-driven obsession with self-defined “spirituality” influenced by Eastern mysticism.

I found three useful definitions of Nirvana.

1. Freedom from the endless cycle of personal reincarnations, with their consequent suffering, as a result of the extinction of individual passion, hatred, and delusion.

2. A state of complete happiness and peace.

3. A goal hoped for but apparently unattainable.

For my money, definitions 1 and 3 amount to the same; and I think I have to agree with Rachel when it comes to definition 2; happiness is transient.

I have a funny relationship with the notion of happiness; I am not altogether sure what my personal happiness achieves for the benefit of the wider world. Bizarre though this may sound, I think happiness is the domain of those on the political right; it’s about the individual, the self; it is disconnected from a wider sense of society.

On the odd occasion I am asked these days about my level of happiness I tend to respond that for anyone with a social conscience, a sense of social justice and a desire to see a better world, happiness feels like “a goal hoped for but apparently unattainable”. How can I be happy when there are thousands of weans going to bed hungry in my hometown? How can I be happy when there are folk sleeping rough in the world’s sixth richest economy? How can I be happy when women are still being treated as second-class citizens? And how can I be happy when Mrs. Brown’s Boys wins awards as well as commanding massive viewing figures?

For me happiness and its attainment are all about the journey and nothing to do with the destination. I’ll never attain "Nirvana". I’ll never be “happy”. And the perverse thing is that I am happy enough about that.