If You’re Happy and You Know It…

I stumbled across an article this week on happiness, which is a topic of interest to romance authors.

happy little girlAt some point in the romance novel, every main character is presented with a choice: Stick with your old coping mechanisms, and go back to being half alive and lonely, or grow some courage, do as love commands rather than as safety or pride compels, and go for that Happily Ever After. (The villains, by the way, often get the same choice, and cling to their revenge, victimhood, and other baggage (until they get their own book, of course).)

It’s a fine theory–happiness through happy puppy and kittenmoral and emotional courage, with a big dose of hormones thrown in–but most of us aren’t living in the pages of a romance novel. What do we do to bring happiness closer? Turns out, little things mean a lot. Sunshine, sweet fragrances, a good night’s sleep, hanging with your pets, listening to your playlist, cultivating happy people, lending a hand to the folks around you, keeping your relationships real, ditching the miserable job, and simply being grateful all have a major impact on happiness.

happy beastsAnd yet, what’s the advice given most often to young people? Set goals, focus on your career or your education (not relationships), work hard, look sharp, and Amount To Something.

I did this. Worked through two college degrees, got the Washington DC 80-hour a week job (slept in the dark room at work when I had to!), and then charged into law school five nights a week while still working more than full time–and of, course, I worked out at least three nights a week and seldom slept more than four hours a night.

happiness-quote-05A few years of this, and I Amounted to Something called a mess (esquire variety).

Never did it occur to me to ask myself if I was happy. The answer would have been either “No,” or “What’s happy got to do with anything?” I didn’t know what else to do. I was exhausted, lonely, and scared. Not until those miseries resulted in some really dumb decisions did I stop, find a good therapist, and admit that I’d created a life that was killing me.

happy kid puppyThe good news is that most of us thrash our way clear of these cul de sacs of inexperience and ignorance. As we get older, we get wiser and happier. We eventually take notice that Life is Short, and we find the courage–the love of self and family– to make changes in the direction of happiness. We emphasize pansiesrelationships, we volunteer, we plant flowers, we get a dog or a cat (or a horse!), we hang out with nice people (on blogs, even), we read happily ever after stories, and bounce along to our favorite music.

It’s not complicated, but it is profound. Were you ever in danger of amounting to an unhappy mess? Why? Or is there somebody in your life who needs permission to be happier? For one commenter, I’ll send a spring bouquet FROM YOU to the person of your choice.

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27 comments on “If You’re Happy and You Know It…

  1. We do get wiser as we get older. One way is to realize we cannot please everyone and be what everyone else wants us to be. (Family, colleagues and/or society) I saw a quote once that helped me “The minute you choose to do what you really want to do, it’s a different kind of life.”

    • Spot on, Kathy. I heard Susan Elizabeth Phillips give a talk to aspiring writers. One of her first pieces of advice was, ‘You need to figure out whom to listen to about what, and whom to ignore. Your sister might be a critique partner, but have terrible taste in shoes. Get that straightened out.’

      And the longer you have to ponder it, the more sorting out you get done.

  2. Oh yes, work stress caused a lot of unhappiness in my life off and on over the years, especially since I was trying to do it all and have it all (well, on a modest scale) on my own. Not pretty. Even trying to choose to be happy, to accept what I could, didn’t help in the long run.

    Nowadays, my work stress is much more manageable, but I see my eldest nephew struggling as he enters his teen years and the pressures that school, peers, society all pile on him. I want so much for him to know that it’s OK to relax, it’s OK not to do everything, it’s OK to do something for himself and be happy. I hope he will, sooner rather than later.

    • I wish my 26 year old (“I’m almost thirty, Mom!”) daughter could spend more time with my “almost 100” parents. There IS time to get it all done, even time to back up, start over, and make a lot of interesting wrong turns.

      We can’t know that in our twenties, maybe, or even in our thirties. By about 35, some important light bulbs were starting to glow for me,, but that was a long, hard, first 35 years.

  3. My friend Jill went through a divorce this past year. She was dealing with that fall out and trying to help her young daughter cope with not living with her dad. My heart broke for her because she had to start all over. She is starting to date, but she is scared. I try to give her all the support that I can and talk her through her stress out moments. She is a wonderful friend and I only wish that she could meet someone that deserves her and will be what she needs.

    • Sheryl, the person she needs to meet who deserves her and will be what she wants is herself, stronger, smarter, more lovable and loving than she could be a relationship that wasn’t working.

      And yet, divorce leaves us so lonely… you’re a good friend, to be there for her, and to take her fatigue and fears seriously.

  4. What a nice post! Several years ago, I struggled with work-induced unhappiness. I’m not at that job anymore, thank you very much. When I’m at home and feeling a bit unhappy, I pray, garden, read and play with the grandkids. All are wonderful stress relievers!

    • Aren’t they though? And I read somewhere recently that part of the reason gardening is so good for the soul, in addition to the vitamin D you get from being outside (which can be much more effective than the pill kind), is a bacterium in the soil that gets loose in your system and combats depression.

      Might have to snopes that one.

  5. I was always a top achiever in school and at work. I was confident of my ability to handle almost any challenge, until my youngest child was diagnosed as “on the autistic spectrum.” At a meeting of special ed teachers and therapists, I had a meltdown when asked what my goals were for my son. “I want people to like him. I want him to have friends,” I said without thinking about it, tears streaming down my face. “I want him to be happy, to learn to do something he enjoys, something that’s useful or contributes something.” I’ve reflected on these words many times as I have seen my son progress small step by small step, with the occasional leap, to become the young man he is now, a friend to everyone, with his own accomplishments. I realized then how little we need to be truly happy. Those little goals are most of what I have wanted for my other children, too, and for myself.

    • Excellent goals, Maureen, and you’re right, for all of us, happiness, friends, and a way to make a meaningful contribution should matter. But I’m guessing this kid has brought you a TON of happiness and meaning. You take nothing for granted, you don’t give up, you have the patience of a saint… because of this kid’s “limitations.”

      Way to Mom, you!

  6. I don’t know if I’ve ever allowed myself not to be happy. There are times when work gets me down, but I’ve always been a firm believer that YOU make YOURSELF happy, no one else. No outside force can dictate how I feel about something.

    I guess my parents must have done something right, because I know my Sister believes the same thing.

    Either that or we’re too stubborn to realize it!

    • A LOT Of whether we’re happy is whether we decide to be, but not all. Some people get low cards, biochemicially speaking, and I had tremendous respect for the battle they have to fight against a misery they did nothing to deserve.

      And if you can’t always grab some happy, hanging onto some stubborn can get you over the rough patches.

  7. I like the idea of cultivating happy people. I used to hang around negative people, now a I don’t. It has made a big difference in my life.

    • Doesn’t it though? You feel sorry for the sad sacks, and want to help them, but there’s such a thing as an emotional vampire, too.

      I don’t have a lot of close friends, but the ones I do have are upbeat, pragmatic, constructive people.

  8. I am pretty lucky. The only time that I was almost a mess was when I was overworked so I know what you mean about working too much. Luckily… it was not for long and I bounced back.

    • I wasn’t so lucky. I took extra AP classes in high school, got two degrees in five years in college (while working), found the workaholic’s dream job when I moved to DC after college…piled law school five nights a week onto overworking… if that baby hadn’t come along, I’d probably have been one of those heart-attack-at-forty-two stories you shudder to read about.

      But the kid did come along, and THEN I was lucky. I’m still lucky!

  9. I’ve had my ups and downs over the years. I think I was in my early 30s when I started to wise up and realize I didn’t have to please everyone else. I’m actually at an age now that I feel like I have a little wisdom to share, but the young people (teenagers and early twenties) in my family don’t want to hear it. And you know what, when I was their age neither did I.

    That is the hardest thing about having children. Watching them make their own mistakes. All you can do is be a good example, be as supportive as you can and say a prayer.

  10. I love the “happiness quote” – just goes to show most teachers don’t know how to be happy either, that’s why they are grouchy. 🙂 I will share this with my teacher friends, they will enjoy AND understand.

  11. Congratulations, Grace! I just read that Darius (a 5-star read for me) is nominated for the Historical Romance RITA. What a wonderful, well-deserved honor.

  12. I could do “responsible, dependable and punctual” much more easily than “happy” until my grandchildren arrived. They’ve each spent quite a lot of time with my husband and I and we can just enjoy them and the way they see the world without all the pressure of parenting. I love my children dearly but I “managed” them a lot as they were growing up. From the grandies I’ve learned more about unconditional love – and that makes me very happy.

    • It’s a wonderful system, because your unconditional love makes them happy too, and provides something you kids can’t (and shouldn’t have to) add to the mix… until it’s their turn.

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