Sunday, September 22, 2019

Happiness is the Grail

Barrett found this rock here in Montana, and this morning I overheard the boys talking about it in serious tones.

"I CANNOT BELIEVE that you found a real fossil, Barrett."

"I wish I could see the real bones."

"Well Barrett, you would need a telescope for that."


“You know, Barrett, a real meteorologist digs up bones like those every day for real.”

Barrett inhales sharply. "William, it looks like a clam, but in fact--" voice lowered, "it also looks like a scorpion. See? See this part coming off? Like a tail?"

"Hmmm." William appears to give it some serious thought. "I don't know, Barrett. Clams lose their balls all the time."

A pause. Some thought. "Yeah," agrees Barrett. "It's probably losing its balls."

I laughed so hard when I told this later to Erin. 

These kids make me so happy. I love spending each day with them. One day they’ll be grown, and we will live apart, and I will look back to these years and be grateful I didn’t spend their childhood chasing my own distractions.

I recently read an opinion that people don't place a high enough priority on happiness. At first, I didn't agree; I thought of our culture, driven by the pursuit of the next thing to bring pleasure- another dopamine rush, another thing to buy, another thing to eat. I thought, “All people do is try to find something to make themselves happy.” I thought of myself, uncomfortable with any negative emotion, impatient to push it away. I thought about the things, experiences, and people that I’ve expected to “make me happy,” and the disappointment that’s followed. Nothing can make you happy. 

I see now what was meant. Happiness is not an external wind that comes and goes. It’s not “having fun” or “being in a good mood.” It’s not dependent on the people around you- how they treat you, or what they say about you. You make it. You find it in your surroundings. You bring it to your mind with a memory. Happiness is in you. 

Happiness, by that token, is in me, and I’m responsible to find it for myself, in my day-to-day, like a hidden treasure. Today I found it in many tiny bits of time- in Neva’s extra-long, impulsive hug, in laying next to Will and Barrett while they explained every scene of Cars 2 to me, in feeling Mac's passionate little kiss on my cheek, and in sitting with my own uncomfortable thoughts and becoming settled within myself. Yesterday, on my birthday, I found happiness in playing with the kids at the trampoline park, being with Erin and Kathleen, and holding Rosie after she ran up to me in the kitchen, excited to see me after several months. There were happy moments everywhere; I just needed to see them. 

So yes, after all, I agree. I haven’t placed enough importance on happiness, but I’m learning. I feel like I’ve been holding in my hands these imaginary scraps of paper upon which have been written all the reasons I can’t be happy. (Content, dutiful, peaceful, maybe, but not happy.) And today I envisioned myself climbing to the top of one of these Montana hills, and holding my hands out into the Montana wind, and seeing those disappointments whip away from me. And then with empty hands, I walk on, ready to hold all of this precious life. 

“What a fine lesson is conveyed to the mind – to take no note of time but by its benefits, to watch only for the smiles and neglect the frowns of fate, to compose our lives of bright and gentle moments, turning always to the sunny side of things, and letting the rest slip from our imaginations, unheeded or forgotten.” William Hazlitt

“I would like to live… open to time and death painlessly, noticing everything, remembering nothing, choosing the given with a fierce and pointed will.” Annie Dillard

“Change is an easy panacea. It takes character to stay in one place and be happy there.” Elizabeth Clarke Dunn

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