As the sparks from the fire ran high to the trees, bathing my beloved and I in a warm glow, and the loons called mournfully from the lake, I declared, “I’m not sure life gets much better than this.”
I’ve felt that way a lot, lately. Thane is about to lose his two front teeth. He’s sweet and loving and full of the wonder of childhood (and fart jokes, since nothing can be too perfect without being sickly sweet). Grey is growing every day in the places I most yearn for him to grow, showing grit and determination and resilience I’d once despaired of ever seeing from him. My beloved husband is kind and funny and loving, and I’m going to get to spend 10 whole days with him alone, focused on him.
My parents have just arrived to kick off Camp Gramp. My evenings and weekends are filled with friends and adventures. I even have time to read.
All this happiness is bad for blogging, I tell you. I spent the time I should’ve spent writing this post this weekend reading fantasy novels in the back yard. It’s hard to regret! But no time needs more loving documentation than the happy times you will look back on when the road grows rougher.
So … I’m going to try to get a bunch of posts up in the next two weeks. Those of you who know Camp Gramp of old know I usually post my mom’s updates. She has quite a curriculum developed for the campers this year! I also have no fewer than three blog ideas lurking and ready to go. I’ll try to execute, instead of reading more novels, but… no promises.
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:
One of the blogs I enjoy reading is Slate’s Happiness Project. It is what it sounds like — a project documenting one person’s attempts to be happier in the living of their life.
I think if it were my project, I might pick the title the Joyfulness project. In my mind, there is a profound difference between joy and happiness. Joy is a deep emotion, which is not exclusive of pain or toil or struggle. In fact, joy is more likely in that environment than an easy one. Happiness, however, I see as a fluid and fleeting emotion; an easy-come, easy-go feeling. Joy sticks with you. Happiness is a gift, to be taken or given. Joy is won in the struggle.
Anyway, I appreciate the reminders I get from reading it to be intentional about my experience of life and to connect head-on with what matters.
The internet can be full of negativity. Twitter feeds and Facebook updates are often either a) inscrutable b) what’s happening at ComicCon or Blogher (what happens if you want to attend both?!) or c) complaining. I confess, I’m just as guilty of this as the next girl. Well, that and coffee-related posts. I had a few whiny posts playing around in my head. They involve having to schedule time to shower and the utter insanity of my next 7 days.
Instead, though, I thought I’d give a list of some things that please me, and continue to please me.
1) The great outdoors. Ok, this is no surprise given that half my posts this summer are OMG CAMPING! But I had forgotten or underestimated just how restorative and joyful it is to look at a horizon of mountains and trees and breathe an unhurried breath.
2) Lois McMaster Bujold What can this woman not write? And it all translates beautifully to audiobook (not universally true). This is how I’ve gotten through, uh, 6 months of pumping in the server room.
3) Sateen sheets. I already have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, but when my sheets are sooooooo soft and comfy it seems completely unfair. Then I get two boys bouncing on top of me, and I narrowly avoid a foot to the face and I get up. But man, those sheets are awesome.
4) My house/town. Every time I walk up the steps I’m happy. Every time I take a two block stroll to post some letters and make a deposit at the ATM, walking home past the crowds coming out of the local theater well… it’s an awesome home in a great location filled with the things I love best.
5) Northwest Art. I just love looking at it. It seems mysterious and ancient and reminds me of my long-childhood daydreams. Did you know that the NW was once called New Albion? If I’d known that when I was, say, 12, I might possibly have died from overexcitement. Two great tastes that taste great together.
6) Advice columns. I can’t get enough of them. My favorite was when two letter writers sent the same problem (from their opposite perspectives) to Anne Landers and Dear Abby on the same day.
7) The internet. It’s great time-sink, but it helps me feel connected and informed. Plus, I don’t think I ever would’ve written, despite wanting to, without the maybe-audience of teh intarwebs.
8 ) America’s Test Kitchen. Their recipe books are fantastic. I love how they not only contain really good recipes, but they define their criteria for good and explain the different things they tried to combat the different problems that arose. So now I have not only a great recipe but an understanding of what I can do if I ever want to branch out on my own.
9) The concept of tea. I still have this fantasy about the perfect pot of tea, the quiet moments, the stillness and listening, the poetry. Even when so many of my other daydreams have abandoned me, this one somehow remains.
10) Christmas. It never gets old. I never get past it. It is always a hallowed, golden time to me — full of light, possibility and the sensation of being set apart. I start wishing it was Christmas in about June.
What about you? What’s something in your life that continues to bring you pleasure?
I’ve been pretty euphoric the last week or so. I have reasons for it. I was just blessed with a healthy, sweet, handsome, perfect baby boy. I have physically recovered from the birth in what I consider to be record time. I’m frankly stunned that I feel as great as I do. Other than a certain paunch, not even I can tell that I gave birth less than two weeks ago. My eldest son has dealt with the transition phenomenally. He wants extra hugs and attention, but that I can handle. He clearly fell in love with his brother just as quickly as the rest of us did.
My choice for president won in a spine-tingling fashion earlier in the week and the air feels full of hope that this time it really will be different. The tarnish of cynicism has been polished off our souls — just a bit right now. It feels epic, or at least as though it might be epic.
My husband is home and my family is around us and I have enough of everything I need and everything I want. Thanks to the inlaw phenomenon and sleeping in until 11, I even have enough sleep.
The problems of the world — the economy, the war in the Congo, the sorrows of humanity — they all seem far away from me now.
I’m even doing a pretty good job of not borrowing trouble about how much harder this will all be next week when my support structure poofs away into the ether.
It’s a wonderful time for me. I just want to take the time to say that now. I am more than free with complaints when things are not completely perfect. I should take the time to be deeply grateful and acknowledge it when things actually are as close to perfect as they come.