Zeroing in on happiness

This is a pretty tangible expression of happiness

As a mom, and as a person, I’ve been needing to improve my tangible level of happiness. Which is something I’m used to thinking about as quite intangible, vaguely based on my state of mind, but quite vulnerable to the outside world.

My inner sense of contentment gets lost more often in recent years. I’ve noticed a certain deadening inside, a gradual loss of enthusiasm as I just push to get through each day. Not that I was ever even close to what a friend of mine calls a “bliss-ninny”. But more often than not, unless I get myself in hand, my inner dialogue can get so worried, put upon, and over-responsible that by day’s end, the results can be ugly.

Our family faces plenty of challenges, but no more than many.  I want to show my kids how to be happy in the face of any circumstance, which is a basic tenet and teaching of every spiritual practice I’ve ever paid attention to. It apparently can be done and people have done it: stayed content and accepting even in the worst possible circumstances.

So is this one

But right now, we are not in extreme circumstances and many, many things are wonderful. So, I’m zeroing in on the strange conundrum of when events that cause barely a ripple in the calm of some people, create cumulative tsunamis in others (read: me).

Some moms and I were recently having one of those comfy, long-ranging discussions about parenting, with all its peaks and valleys. One mom remarked how important she found it to remind herself that it is her job — and only her job — to be happy. And as a corollary, it is very important to teach this to one’s kids. Her right to say this is hard-won and impeccable – she has been through it all and writes a blog on women’s partys.

I’ve always filed this observation under my mental “Of course, but” folder. “Of COURSE I am responsible for my happiness, blah, blah, blah; but if x, y, or z disaster happens – then I can’t POSSIBLY be happy.” The folder just got bigger when I got kids. Qualifying events for happiness-busting have included chronic illness, years of poor sleep, financial difficulties, learning disabilities, tantrums, house remodels, marital differences, putting toddlers into snowsuits…. Hmmm, sounds like many families.

So, I’m just not quite sure how to manage this trick. There’s a difference between just swallowing resentments and gracefully letting things go. It’s hard difference to discern, because they can look and feel the same at the beginning. Simply putting calm and pleasant back into my voice after my husband has irritated me or when a child is throwing a fit over homework merely feels like I’m driving a tractor over myself.

Sadly, within days of our lovely happiness conversation, my friend’s apartment literally went up in flames. She cut short her vacation and went home to find that most of her home was lost. Biggest relief:  the photos of her kids were not touched. Remarkably quickly, she announced the news on Facebook, spun the mess into a positive light and required that the only response to her post be fire jokes to make her laugh. Here’s her blog post on it.

This blew me away – I think it would take me months, or at least weeks to get to where she’d gotten, and it’s entirely possible I would lurk in catastrophe-mode for much longer than that. But I took it to heart – how can I do this and really create emotional health?

Our latest anti-pollution manifesto

Like a good mother lion, I’ve built a thickly-walled world of safety and protection for my small children without necessarily feeling safe and content myself. But now as the kids gain an interest in newspapers and elections and wars and pollution, I’ve got to figure out something with more emotional truth. This requires much more mental discipline – learning and conveying, for example, what is worth being concerned about in our lives and how to let go of what isn’t. That’s a day-to-day minute-to-minute practice, watching my mind, catching myself and moving my inner dialogue through the chatter to contentment.

Which, of course, doesn’t feel very happy. It feels like work. I have enough work. At times, I stamp around inside myself roaring “Where’s my happy place!!” But the effort is worth it. When I do find a happy place, it’s like surfacing from the bottom of a muddy lake into the sun. And it gets a little easier the next time.

I’m being forced to evolve, which I will be grateful for once I get over the fact that I hate it. I don’t like the way I’ve been feeling, and I know what I’m aiming for – the agile, center current of a river that flows around obstacles. Not the lines that smash into boulders. Nor the sides that get stagnant in circling eddies. I don’t do it very well, but I do it better than I did.  My kids are going to need this ability more than I ever will, so I’ve got to keep trying.


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9 Responses to Zeroing in on happiness

  1. Tonia says:

    So eloquent. So true. You are a jewel, Cynthia. Thank you for being so transparent. I cherish your friendship.

  2. This says it all- “There’s a difference between just swallowing resentments and gracefully letting things go.” I feel if you can figure that one out you are on your way to happiness 🙂
    Beautiful post!

    • growingmygirls says:

      Thank you Molly. Yes, and I’ve found that if I can do it once, or twice, or for a while, I still may not be able to do it if I’m tired, or the event falls into my “unacceptable, have to be miserable” category. So more learning and stretching, stretching, stretching!! Feeling good these days, though.

  3. Christine says:

    I relate so well to your words. I, too, am looking to be happy. Most important to me is to pass it on to others and help make sure my children are finding their happy place. Peace to you.

    • growingmygirls says:

      Thank you Christine. Yes, it’s so important to pass it on to others, but to do it in a way that doesn’t deplete you. A constant balance. Tell me your tricks!

  4. JK says:

    You are such a beautiful writer! And you share so genuinely, openly, and honestly with us — making our lives richer and more reflective and, well, happier! 🙂 Thank you, my Friend!

  5. Talie says:

    Cy, I found this from John Lennon yesterday and it made me think of you. “When I was 5 years old my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” Here’s to the long wondrous sometimes exhausting always confounding often joyous contemplative journey that is life. What a rich map you’re creating for the girls. (-: Thanks for your writing. xo

  6. growingmygirls says:

    Thank you Talie — that’s a good quote and it’s good to hear from you. Here’s to this wild ride…

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