On happiness

Earlier this week, I had this idea for a post about happiness. Because at the time — Wednesday or Thursday afternoon — I recognized that was exactly what I was feeling. I was putting words down every day, having sex with my husband all the time, making food my family liked to eat, and all hormones seemed to be in order (let’s not underestimate the role biology plays).

I have one friend who is worried about her mother’s cancer, two friends going through some level of divorce, my mom is lonely and won’t admit it, and when anyone asks how I’m doing all I want to say is, “Really good.” Because it was true — I felt happy, and I had felt that way for a while. I don’t recall feeling that way before, and I imagine it’s like falling into uncomplicated love.

I’ve had moments before — whole days, almost, or exquisite events like listening to my two girlfriends sing Janis Joplin as we hiked, hearing my daughter play ukulele, seeing my son’s face after making a three-point shot, that brought a surge of joy and tears (these things, tears and joy, are inextricably linked for me).

But daily contentedness? That was new.

I was afraid to talk about it — either because I was afraid my happiness would be an affront to my friends who were going through so much unhappy stuff, or because I’ve always been reluctant to talk about things like happiness and joy for fear the gods would hear me and everything would change. I knew it was in part due to the lucky combination of those outside factors I mentioned above, ability to ignore certain things (my weight, Trump, vacuuming, world news), and chemical alignment.

But I needn’t have worried.

I had forgotten how ephemeral happiness was. A dismissive gesture from someone to whom you’ve given the power to hurt you, a bad spate of work, a subtle change in the chemicals running through your brain, or something worse, and the light is gone. Life is quotidian again. That happened to me yesterday morning.

Then a friend posted something by Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal, and he explains the whole phenomenon better than I can. Matthew notes that he drew heavily from “How to Live Unhappily Ever After,” by Augusten Burroughs.

Here’s the other thing, though, that I need to remember. Sadness, or even despair, can be swept away too, if you allow it. I’m not saying clinical depression can disappear with positive energy, but rather that the ennui that settles in around the edges and saps the color from your rainbows can be as ephemeral as happiness, so you have to be prepared to let it go when the opportunity arises.

But for now, I have to go do the weeding. Literally, but make it into a metaphor if you like.

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