…(Hmmm, have you ever made a list of what you need to be happy?)
Today I was re-reading an interview with the late actor Taylor Negron in which he said, “By letting go of what you thought was going to happen in your life, you can enjoy what is actually happening.” It made me realize my happiness list needs a #11: To be able to let go.
No one likes to give up, to feel like they’ve been defeated, but I don’t think that’s what letting go is. Letting go is more like shedding a skin (a situation/a goal/a desire) that just doesn’t fit anymore. Letting go is a phrase ripe with possibility; if you let go your hands are free to be refilled. My Pastor says (and you can see it throughout the Bible) that God never asks you to sacrifice anything without giving you something better in its place and I truly believe that, even if the “better” is simply a new perspective on a situation.
I’m working on letting go of having natural children, of getting married, of having a big publishing career with a huge readership. I realize this is the kind of thing that causes people to start patting your arm and telling cheery stories about their friend who didn’t get X until they were 50 or 60 or one foot in the grave. But letting go isn’t to me the same as giving up. For one, it’s an acknowledgement that there are just many things that are out of my hands. Letting go is also a bone-deep acceptance that not having those things–marriage, kids, whatever your thing is–may be disappointing and even, sometimes, heartbreaking, but there’s no checklist for a happy life that says you have to have all or any of those thing. I mean, as far as I can see, I don’t actually need any of those things to be happy and, quite honestly, I’ve been doing pretty well without them. Maybe tomorrow I’ll write a better list of what I need to let go of… maybe… cause who doesn’t love a letter that suddenly turns into a listicle?
To be continued…
… I’ve stopped looking at disappointment as an inevitable downswing triggered by happiness and have come to understand that sometimes disappointment follows happiness not because I don’t deserve happiness but because life is ups and downs, and we have limited control of when those ups and downs fall. The relationship between happiness and disappointment is not one of causality; they merely throw each other into relief.
My friend sent me this link to a teaching her church did on happiness. It includes a list Pope Francis made of ten things that we need for happiness. So I thought I’d share my own list of what I think I need to be happy. I am, of course, a little terrified. What if I list the wrong things and appear shallow? What if I forget the most important things? But I’m going to go with the theory that this isn’t an exhaustive list nor is it written in stone. It’s just the 10 things I can think of right now at 8:29 pm Eastern time on Tuesday, January 13.
What I Need to Be Happy
Time by myself on a regular basis. While I’m a particularly social introvert, I’m an introvert nonetheless. And I need alone time to recharge.
Time by myself without an agenda. See reason #1. Also, so much of my life is about output and schedules and what I have to do, that it starts to feel oppressive. I think it’s part of my hidden perfectionism. (I say hidden cause I continually tell everyone I’m a slacker, and far too many people are like, uhm, you’re actually a perfectionist. Sigh…) And I can make myself crazy trying to hit all the deadlines and follow all the rules and arrive places on time because my natural state is chaos. So I guess actually #2 should be I need time by myself to just be chaotic.
A room of my own. Are you sensing a trend? I’m a nester. Always have been, always will be. I’m grateful to have a whole big apartment to myself filled with books and “my treasures,” but even if I really only did have a bedroom, I’d need to feather that one-bedroom into my own safe little nest.
To be able to put things in perspective. It’s not about being a Pollyanna or always seeing the silver lining. It’s just about right-sizing things. It’s easier to be happy when you’re not letting yourself be overwhelmed by all of the overwhelming stuff.
To feel connected to people. Not in a barnacle on a boat kind of way, though some times that’s nice though eventually that comes into conflict with #1. But just having a general sense that I’m loved and cared for. That there are people in my life with whom I share a love of Benedict Cumberbatch, for example, or emotional and physical DNA, or a deep understanding of what it was like to attend a soccer party at BU between 1987 and 1991. I’m being a little flip with my examples but the point is that I need to affirm that the pitch lake doesn’t exist inside me, that I am someone people want to hang out with and on those days when I can’t find anyone to hang out with it’s about circumstance and not about who I am as a person.
To laugh every day. There’s nothing like laughter to put things in perspective and/or to help you feel connected.
To write. In my journal. Poems. Lists. Texts to my sister. Just to somehow put language around whatever I’m experiencing. And as a corollary, to read.
A relationship with God. This list is not in priority order but if it were, this would be at the top. I know, I know, religion is the opiate of the masses. But really, if you’re looking to be anesthesized through a relationship with God, then you’re not doing it right. Because it’s about relationship not religion. It’s about having that one friend who never ever ever EVER lets you down. And that’s something.
Money. I don’t need to be a millionaire, but anyone who says money isn’t important is lying. It’s not just about buying stuff for myself, though I do enjoy that—at the most basic level (rent and groceries) and at the indulgent level (a million different types of mascara till I find one I love, more art to hang on the wall). But it’s about being able to support my local theater company, to treat a friend to dinner, to buy people I love gifts that will delight them, to help out my mom.
To make a difference in someone’s life. I don’t think I’ll cure cancer, and I may never have a wide readership as a poet. But if one person gets something out of something I’ve written, or if I make a stranger smile because I compliment her outfit, or if I help a friend get an interview for a job or if I make someone laugh or as the poet Karen Craigo put it on her blog today, if I practice “focused kindness,” then what’s better than that?
In other words, I had a very happy day.
The other week you told Melanie Lynskey, “I don’t know if I’m happier but I’m older.” Why are you afraid to be happy? And why do I feel like I have to justify having the exact kind of day that makes me happy? I understand why happiness scares me. It’s still that kid protecting herself. Childhood happiness meant exuberance, an explosion of all that joyous energy that kids are expert in. It generally only lasted a moment, however, before I got told, “Don’t get carried away.”
And then there were those times that I thought I should be happy—I earned one of the lead roles in my high school’s production of Guys and Dolls or I was accepted to every college I applied to or I was in the top 10 of the 746 students I went to high school with. But when those moments were met with a “meh” or scant acknowledgement, I was plunged into disappointment. So not only did I learn to associate happiness with disappointment, but I learned to mistrust happiness and to not think I deserve it. Happiness became a quagmire of, “What’s the right way to respond?” with the underlying fear that no matter what I just wouldn’t solve for the right answer.
And perhaps that’s what you were talking about with Melanie Lynskey. It’s hard to have perspective on happiness for those of us for whom it’s a little bit of a shape shifter. But as I’ve grown older I’ve grown more comfortable with the idea of it. I will even admit to joy, which I think of as even deeper than happiness, a sort of bone-deep contentment and perspective even in the midst of struggle. I can revel in happiness and feel safe. I’ve stopped looking at disappointment as an inevitable downswing triggered by happiness and have come to understand that sometimes disappointment follows happiness not because I don’t deserve happiness but because life is ups and downs, and we have limited control of when those ups and downs fall. The relationship between happiness and disappointment is not one of causality; they merely throw each other into relief.
To be continued…
….I think maybe that it might not even be because you or I are particularly broken—though we are broken in a particular way. For all of us, maybe, there’s some lesson we need to learn over and over again and maybe we are still learning even as we transition to the next life. What do you think?
I don’t know what to write next. And really what I want to do most right now is make a cup of decaf, pop some popcorn, and then lose myself in a movie. Today I read most of Michael Cunningham’s Land’s End: A Walk in Provincetown. And I watched Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. And I washed dishes. And I figured out that if I didn’t do laundry tomorrow—a chore I’ve put off now for a couple of weeks—I would have absolutely no clean clothes to take to New York next week. I also texted my sister a bunch of times to wish her happy birthday. I also put a bunch of silly things on Facebook to make my sister laugh. I fixed my shredder and did some filing and picked all the clothes off the floor and hung them in my closet though I’ve yet to do anything about changing the flickering lightbulb in said closet.
I didn’t call my stepmother. I didn’t figure out what to wear to my father’s memorial service next weekend. I didn’t shower. I didn’t count calories (Greek fries and chicken wings from my favorite take-out place were on the menu), I didn’t exercise (most likely cause I’m ashamed that I’m so out of shape that a 30 minute walking tape sets me panting). I didn’t comb my hair though that could probably be inferred by the whole not showering. I didn’t do one single thing that I didn’t want to do with my whole heart.
In other words, I had a very happy day.
The other week you told Melanie Lynskey, “I don’t know if I’m happier but I’m older.” Why are you afraid to be happy? And why do I feel like I have to justify having the exact kind of day that makes me happy.
To be continued…