Monday, September 13, 2010

Do We Have the Right to Be Happy?

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

According to the Declaration of Independence and my good friend TJ, we're all entitled to it. But how far will you go to get it?

"Happiness" is a common buzz word, often used by those looking to justify their less-than-stellar actions.  A guy leaves his wife after 20 years for his office assistant. Why? Because he wants to be "happy." A mom leaves her kids to move in with her new boyfriend? It's all in pursuit of happiness, don't you know? Just last year, I got into it with Ryan Seacrest after he, with no real understanding of the situation, told a caller (a father of four) to walk out on his wife because he "deserved to be happy."

But what exactly is happiness and how do we even know if and when we've found it? Society certainly doesn't help. Calling one's wedding day "the happiest day of your life?" Sure, the day Jeff and I were declared husband and wife, celebrating among friends and family, was wonderful, but it certainly wasn't even close to the happiest day of my life. (Was your wedding the happiest day of your life?) And don't even talk to me about the days I gave birth to the boys or was united with my daughter. While they were momentous for sure, it's those ordinary days that followed where family time just clicks and Jeff and my eyes meet over the sounds of the kids belly laughing together. That is pure happiness.

I can imagine there could be a rush of pleasure after leaving a long-term committment to start a new, exciting relationship. But is that happiness? We all know, after time, even that excitement will dissipate–what happens then? Is happiness something we should continue to chase, no matter how fleeting it is or how serious the consequences?

Maybe it's actually the term "happiness" that needs to be redefined.

Like many of you, I'm a parent. I have three kids who test my patience every single day. I juggle a full plate, overflowing with work, bills, issues and responsibilities, just like everyone else. I'm up to my eyeballs with deadlines, IEP meetings and extracurricular activities. Am I happy every second of every day? Absolutely not. (In fact, sometimes I am certifiable.) There has been more than one occasion where I've thought about running away to hide out in a hotel room, order room service and make someone else clean up after me. I've had moments when I've questioned myself, and days filled with wonder, "how the heck did I get here?"

It's easy for me to judge, right? Because when push comes to shove, I am truly happy. I'm happy that I have been blessed with three beautiful children who are sweet, generous, smart and spirited. I'm happy that my husband still looks at me with interest and sometimes even listens to what I'm saying when rambling about my day. I'm happy that at night, when I glance into the mirror while washing the day off my face, more often than not, I actually feel good about who I see looking back at me. I'm happy and I'm lucky and I'm blessed.

But it hasn't come without a lot of hard work.

I'm not saying that there aren't relationships that need to end or circumstances that are so unique, anyone on the outside could never understand. I'm just saying that maybe happiness is actually a state of mind, directly connected to one's self esteem. And if that's the case, you can make huge life changes til the cows come home, but you'll never truly be happy within when you're disregarding and disrespecting those you supposedly love.

How do you define happiness?

The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun


Melissa said...

I think, as you mention, that a good portion of the time happiness for me is when family time just clicks... Like Saturday at the aquarium petting stingrays and giggling.. or, and this is gonna sound weird, having a FANTASTIC pediatrician appointment with a doctor who really GETS your kid, Little moments, not even BIG MOMENTOUS OCCASIONS.. because those tend to overwhelm.

MelissaS said...

I agree with Melissa (and not just because we share the same name!). Those big momentous occasions are usually fraught with stress and although they generate cherished memories, may not be the happiest. Was I happy on the day of my son's birth that I was suddenly a high risk delivery and ended up in ICU, unable to see him for 2 days? Or the birthday of my second son that ended in an unexpected c-section? Not really.

However, when I see the two boys rolling around on the floor together in giggles, I am HAPPY. When my husband grabs my hand while walking, I am HAPPY. When I sneak away to do something for myself for 30 minutes in peach, I am happy. Happiness is something that happens and that you experience in the little moments. I don't think it is something you can create.

Ms B said...

All in the terminology I suppose but I've always thought of there being a difference between happiness and joy. I think of happiness as circumstantial -wedding day, birth of child, job promotion, etc. Happiness can come and go on a whim. It is self-centered. But joy, I think of that as a conscious state of mind, a decision to be content and appreciative of what I have, who I am, how I am loved and blessed, and how that affects those around me. I have the "right" I suppose, to pursue happiness. I could find it. Or not. And hurt others along the way. Or I could choose joy. Screw happiness, I'll take joy.

Unknown said...

1. What a great post and I really needed to read something like to help me think about things that are affecting our family right now. So I'm glad you're back!
2. To me happiness is the little things that make you smile and say, "is this my life?" Like you said, sometimes your kids and husband and life may drive you crazy, but at the end of day you wouldn't change them.

Maci Miller said...

Hey! Great to see you back! What a great essay on happiness and so true. I feel it is a state of mind for sure and something we actually can CHOOSE when we are not just blinding going through our days. (And by we I mean ME, LOL). But it truly is those little moments...the touch of a hand, your child's sweet smile, sometimes even the feeling of AAAHHHH when they are finally off to bed...and also the feeling you get when you stop to appreciate all that good stuff.

essays said...

Great post! Thanks for sharing!

momwithfaithandhope said...

I define happiness as being content. At peace, and with joy in my heart. And that includes all of the not so fun stuff that comes along with being content as a mom, a wife, and an individual. Happiness means having lots of laundry to do, because that means there's lots of people in this house to love. Happiness means sleeping less, because there's always a little one to wake you up. Happiness is MY Life. . .

Can't wait to see you!!!!!