It’s a question we get asked often. “How are you doing?” Most of time time, the asker doesn’t really expect a response, past “Fine, and you?” In many circumstances, it’s a social faux pas to actually answer the question. On those other circumstances, looking into someone’s eyes and clasping their hand for an extra split-second to convey you really mean it, you might hear an abbreviated version. “My sister is in the hospital.” “I’ve been really worn down lately.” Sometimes you still get a stoic “fine” which translates as either I don’t want to talk about it, or I don’t believe you want to hear it.
I’ve been reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Ruben lately, and it got me thinking about how I talk about my own state of being. She talks about how awareness and mindfulness of your own happiness — thinking of your blessings as you might call it — enhances and to some degree even creates your state of happiness. (Otherwise, I fear, happiness is rewarded retroactively. When things go bad you might recall that you were happy then, and didn’t even realize it.)
I’d been under the impression that I do a good job of acknowledging and being present in my joy. That’s how it seems to me, that when I am happy (which is not rare) I know my own happiness and hopefully radiate it back out to those around me. This has been a happy period for me, with unprecedented leisure (between jobs), a healthy fun family, small children in the most fleeting time of their lives, a good balance of things I do for others and things I do for myself, and an ample supply of coffee. I even set out to very intentionally NOT complain about how fast my break flew by or how it was still finite.
Then the other day my husband said to me, “You’ve seemed so unhappy lately.” WHAT? Really? Here I am, knowing that I am happy in my heart and thinking that it shows, and the person who knows me best is worried that I’m UN-happy.
So I pondered where this disconnect arose between what I know I am feeling (joy!) and what I am showing (stress!). There are a few things. I’ve been working on some challenges in my life where the only person who can really listen as I work through them is my husband, so he’s probably heard a disproportionate amount about those things. But perhaps mostly, I realized, it’s how I answer HIS questions about “How are you doing?”
With people I do not love dearly, I’m liable to give a very positive reply. “Fantastic!” or “Great!” But in the partnership of marriage? I get defensive about my happiness. On some subconscious level, I’m afraid if I tell HIM I’m happy or doing well, he’ll decide I don’t need his help and support. Even in the best of marriages there’s a certain jockeying for finite privileges, like getting to sleep in or who’s going to put the kids to bed when we both just want to collapse and/or do something fun. We handle these things pretty well, I think, but in my back-brain I’m convinced that if I tell him I’m feeling happy and well-rested, the logical conclusion will be that I should definitely do the tooth-brushing then. So instead I answer, “Well, I didn’t sleep well last night.” Or “I just got done doing another load of laundry” or instead of the “Fantastic!” a stranger might get, I reply, “Ok, I guess.” That “fantastic” is really the more true answer, but instead we get into a subtle competition about who’s more legitimately tired.
How sad. How wrong. My subconscious doesn’t even really have much to go on in this diminution of joy, either. My husband always does his share. But out of this defensive mechanism of mine, I’m hiding my joy in him and in the life we have built together. I’m not entirely sure how to resolve this, except to be more open and less defensive. To share more equally of my joys. To volunteer a little more brightly when I see or feel something that is good.
I am a happy person. I am living a happy life. I hope that the joy of it does not just lurk unspoken in my heart, but shines forth to my husband, my children and my community.
One of Gretchen’s blog posts that really struck a nerve was about the cost of being joyful in our society. She shared a prayer by St. Augustine:
So. How are YOU doing?