On the pursuit….and fear of happiness.

Last weekend I was awoken in the wee hours by the sound of my sobbing little daughter. I went to get her out of her crib and she immediately snuggled into my shoulder still gulping and hiccoughing in outrage. I shushed her gently and rubbed her back. As we walked downstairs, I inhaled her rose scent and stroked my cheek against her petal soft one. As we padded toward the kitchen, I  relished the feeling of her soft warm little body slumped against mine, slowly becoming more and more peaceful and sleepy.  She must have woken me at just the right moment in my sleep cycle, because instead of being bleary and upset at having to get out of my warm bed, I was able to be fully present and appreciate this fleeting moment of my baby being a baby.
I opened the dishwasher to get her a bottle. As I pulled out a warm clean bottle, I marveled at the fact that with the push of a button I could get clean, dry, sterile receptacles for my baby to eat and drink from.  This is a life saving privilege that so many mothers in third world countries do not have. When we lived in Swaziland, my older sister kept a baby whose mother could not nurse him alive and healthy for a year, by gathering up his bottles on her way home from work each day, taking them home to sterilize, and filling them back up with formula before she took them back to him on her way to work the next morning. There was no way to wash or sterilize bottles in his home, no plumbing at all.  The water from the rivers and even the municipal water was often contaminated  (as I once discovered when I got up in the middle of the night as a teenager and drank some un-boiled water..ending up with a severe case of dysentery which lasted for a couple of months and probably would have killed me, as it did so many others,  if I’d not had access to good medical care.)
Then I walked over to the fridge, I grabbed a full gallon of chilled, fresh milk and filled up the bottle. As I did so, I realized that I’d bought that gallon of milk without a thought. When it ran out, I would buy more. I have never worried that my children might starve or even go hungry.
Then I walked over to the microwave to heat it up (yes…baby is a princess). Before I could get to the microwave, I had to move the ironing board out of my way. Instead of being irritated as I usually am when things are out of their place and in my way, I  wondered why it was there. Then I realized that my sons, age 12 and 14 had set it up earlier that day, as they ironed their church clothes in preparation to go and serve at the Temple.  I had not been at home to instruct or supervise them in doing this, as Aaron and I had been busy throwing our daughter an over the top birthday party.
The boys had stayed home to take care of the baby which they had done, without complaint or discussion.  I smiled when I thought about the fact that 2 teenaged boys and one 8 year old boy had been completely responsible for themselves and their little sister for an entire day without me. I had left them no instruction before I rushed out the door in a frenzy of glitter.
They had taken care of the baby, they had taken care of themselves, they had even done their chores in my absence. They had ironed their clothing  themselves before they had given up the  rest their day and entire evening (and the opportunity to play soccer with their friends), to serve.
Suddenly I felt so incredibly blessed.  I felt like these people had my back. When Aaron and I were busy doing something nice for their sister, they stepped up, quietly and efficiently. Although my children are not angels and we have the typical struggles and arguments over cleaning bedrooms and not bickering with each other,  they are good people and I know that they have my back. For a moment I realized that I lived in this little house surrounded by people who cared about me and would do anything for me. I felt embraced. And that felt good.
The microwave ended the heating of the milk with a loud beep and I was shocked out of my reverie.  For a moment I caught myself smiling. And I consciously thought to myself, “I am happy.”
And do you know what I immediately thought after that?
“Whoah there, careful now”.
I am so afraid to let myself be completely happy.
I have had too many experiences in the past when I was extremely happy and then something bad happened (because..um…hi life!) and so I have now become almost superstitious about allowing myself to be too happy. If I find myself too content, too much at peace, even feeling euphoric for a moment, I immediately put the brakes on. I examine things cautiously. I quickly think of all the things that could possibly go wrong as if mentally preparing myself for them will make anything bad less likely to happen, and if it does, have less of a traumatic impact. I even wonder if perhaps I am in a manic state and depression will soon follow.
In retrospect and logically, the times when I was happy probably were not immediately followed by bad things, and I’m certain there was no connection to bad times following good times,  but I have become a victim of this thinking.
I allow possible catastrophes to rob me of the full joy of immediate realities.  Isn’t that tragic?
I was listening to this talk as I washed dishes today. It’s a good one. You should listen to it rather than reading it  (just because he has such a great voice and accent, actually just watch it-he is not hard on the eyes either) and it reminded me so much of myself.
‘Another regret of those who knew they were dying may be somewhat surprising. They wished they had let themselves be happier.
So often we get caught up in the illusion that there is something just beyond our reach that would bring us happiness: a better family situation, a better financial situation, or the end of a challenging trial.
The older we get, the more we look back and realize that external circumstances don’t really matter or determine our happiness.
We do matter. We determine our happiness.
You and I are ultimately in charge of our own happiness.”
Here’s another excerpt:
Doesn’t it seem foolish to spoil sweet and joyful experiences because we are constantly anticipating the moment when they will end?
Do we listen to beautiful music waiting for the final note to fade before we allow ourselves to truly enjoy it? No. We listen and connect to the variations of melody, rhythm, and harmony throughout the composition.
Do we say our prayers with only the “amen” or the end in mind? Of course not. We pray to be close to our Heavenly Father, to receive His Spirit and feel His love.
We shouldn’t wait to be happy until we reach some future point, only to discover that happiness was already available—all the time! Life is not meant to be appreciated only in retrospect. “This is the day which the Lord hath made … ,” the Psalmist wrote. “Rejoice and be glad in it.”
Yesterday, I was going through some photos from a few years ago, I found these and thought, “gee, I wish I was that fit now”.  And then I remembered, that day. I  remembered specifically being annoyed that my husband took that photo because I thought I was “so fat”. I distinctly remember feeling very unhappy with myself that day, even though I ran several miles, because I felt like I was not as fit or fast as I should be.IMG_6056IMG_6057
Now I look at that picture and see a slim, healthy fit young woman, who looks pretty good for having had four kids, and I think what a shame it is that I couldn’t have enjoyed that fact then. Was I as slim and fit as I had been maybe a few months prior to that? Well no, but I was still fine. I was still healthy, I was still out running in woods and the fresh air with my incredibly adorable kids. I had everything in the world to be happy about at that moment,  but I was too self involved and body dysmorphic to be let myself be completely happy.  It makes me sad.
Back to last weekend, standing by the microwave.  When I realized I was happy, I thought something vaguely along the lines of , “well sure, you are happy now but don’t get used to that. When she wakes you up 3 more times, tonight and you are so exhausted in the morning, none of this will seem sweet or wonderful”.  Well yes, sure, probably. But who cares? I was not very tired at that moment and I was enjoying it by appreciating all of my simple, yet profound blessings. Why would I get in the way of that? Am I crazy? Don’t answer that.
I don’t think I’m alone. Maybe most other people aren’t quite as nuts as I am, but I think many of us stand in the way of feeling happy in one way or another. I think most of us tend to think from time to time that better days are just around the corner. We’ll be happy when our ship comes, in, when our business takes off, when our baby starts sleeping through the night, when we finally have a baby, when we lose the weight, when our spouse starts appreciating us more, or works less, or works more, or learns to put the toilet seat down, when we get a bigger house, when we get a promotion, when we move to a nicer city, when the next episode of Downton Abbey is on….
It’s a trap. A life wasting, happiness sapping trap and it’s really sad. I’ve realized that kicking this way of thinking to the curb fits in really well with my goal of FEARLESSNESS this year. I will strive to no longer be AFRAID to be too happy. I will really, really try to allow myself to stop being scared of what feeling too content might tempt "fate” to bring upon me.  I don’t even believe in fate so… what the what????
Another quote from the talk says:
The Lord has promised, “He who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold.”
Sounds like a solid win-win plan to me.
I guess I will end this rambling with one of my favourite quotes. Since I was a child it resonated with me, perhaps because I have always had this tendency to stifle my own happiness and longed for permission to stop doing so:
If you want to be happy…be.~Leo Tolstoy.
Are you in?

I'm reading: On the pursuit….and fear of happiness.Tweet this!


Kim Hales said...

Thank you.

Thalia Randall said...

Awesome post. Love it!

Anonymous said...

I am sure you are not alone in this. Dad used to say to me that I am not happy unless I am worrying, which was not quite true, but sometimes I would feel guilty if I was not worrying, like I was shirking my duties, especially if I was meant to be worrying about my kids. Can you see, you did not stand a chance! But, I agree with Tolstoi 100%. I am in!!

Christa aka The BabbyMama said...

I read something today like worrying about what might happen is like paying interest on a loan you haven't taken. I, too, am a worrier but I'm trying to stop :)