Anticipating Happiness

I am a big fan of happiness.

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18A few years ago, I had to work hard to regain my sense of happiness, and during that time, I embraced this verse:

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

It reminded me, again and again, that wanting to be happy is not selfish.

I do not believe that happiness is the purpose of life.  Nor do I believe it is a guarantee or a right.  I don’t believe that the pursuit of happiness is an excuse to put your own desires above the needs of others.  That would be selfish.

I also know that life is full of grief and sorrow and times when joy seems impossible.  The Bible also tells us that there is a time for weeping and mourning.  “Sad things are sad,” I tell my children.  “Grieve over them.  Give yourself time to be sad.  Then remember to be happy again.”

When we’re ready to be happy, I believe that it is something we can cultivate, and that it is closely tied to a sense of gratitude.

There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy.  Robert Louis StevensonI agree with Robert Louis Stevenson who said, “There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy.”  Moods are contagious, and I’d rather spread happiness.   I’d rather bring out the best in others than drain them or drag them down.  I don’t advocate being artificially chipper.  That’s not my personality, but I am quietly joyful and content.

In a greater sense, I have so much for which to be thankful, and delighting in life is the best way I have of expressing my gratitude to God.

Happiness isn’t always easy.  Sometimes, we slip into grumbling and focusing on the negative.  We develop patterns of behavior and thought that promote discontent.  It happens so subtly, that we often don’t notice until the habit has become engrained.  So when Middle Sage announced that they were going to devote July to assessing habits that might be interfering with happiness, I knew I wanted to follow along.

On Monday, the featured habit was Waiting for the Future.  When I took the initial assessment, this isn’t one I thought applied to me.  I am happy right now; I’m not waiting for something to change to be happy.  However, they included this quote, from Eckhart Tolle:

“Waiting is a state of mind. Basically, it means that you want the future; you don’t want the present. You don’t want what you’ve got, and you want what you haven’t got. With every kind of waiting, you unconsciously create inner conflict between your here and now, where you don’t want to be, and the projected future, where you want to be. This greatly reduces the quality of your life by making you lose the present.”

Am I doing this?  Yes.  What is that future I want?

An empty nest.

I love my children, but teens are not my thing.  I love them.  Usually, I like them.  Sometimes, I even enjoy them.  Mostly, I want them to grow up and move out.

There is a part of me that wanted to delete that, because I think it sounds harsh, but there it is.  I don’t find parenting a teen any more fun than I found being a teen.  I want my kids to grow up and move out, the same way that I spent my own teen years wanting to grow up and move out.  Then, I looked forward to independence.  Now, I look forward to being alone with my husband, who is my favorite person in the entire world.  I daydream about it, and in my dreams, we are Incredibly Happy.  Sometimes I shop online for our retirement home, the one that doesn’t have enough bedrooms for anyone to stay with us for more than a weekend, the one we’ll never buy because I really do want my children and future grandchildren to be comfortable staying for a week or two.

For the past couple days, I’ve been pondering this – this that I would have named anticipation, but which Tolle has named inner conflict.  Is it interfering with my happiness right now?

Would I enjoy my last teenager more if I wasn’t looking forward to her leaving me one day?  It seems like I should say yes, but I don’t think so.  I don’t think the eye-rolling would bother me less, or I’d have more patience with the know-it-all-sass.

I would not be more tolerant of the mess.  My younger son is here for the summer, for the longest visit since he moved away three years ago.  I forgot what a slob he is!  No, that’s not quite right.  I forgot how much I dislike living with a slob.  I miss him; I don’t miss living with him.

For me, anticipating an empty nest is more than escapism, although it is that.  It enables me to remember that this phase will only last a few more years.  It reminds me that I do miss my children when they move away.  It reminds me to not snap at every stomp and door slam, because this temperamental teen is not too many years away from being a young woman whose company I hope to enjoy.  When she visits my empty nest.

(Please, know that I do not believe, not even a smidge, that people who suffer from clinical depression are ungrateful or spiritually lacking or that depression is a personal failing or an improper response to God.  My desire for you is that you will find a treatment plan that works for you, one that enables you to regain both health and happiness.  If you would like me to pray specifically for you, I would be honored to do so.)

Optimist v. Pessimist v. Realist

I’ve always said my husband is a pessimist; he says he is a realist. A couple years ago, I was reading a book which cited a study finding that optimists are more delusional than pessimists. Pessimists have more accurate perceptions of events.

I told my husband that meant we’ve both been right – being a realist and a pessimist are the same thing.

Reading the research, lab studies that tested the subject’s perception of the odds of winning a game, it seemed plausible.

Thinking about my husband and I, it seemed less so.  Although in some things he is more realistic than I am, in others he is not.  In some areas, I am much more perceptive and pragmatic than he is.  In others, he is.

Winston Churchill, Optimist and RealistAnd then, there is Winston Churchill.

Was there a more perceptive and realistic world leader of his era?

Did he delude himself about the threat Hitler posed?  No, he was one of the few voices warning of it for years before the world took notice.

Did he delude himself about the cost of war?  No, blood, sweat, toil, and tears were his promise.

Optimism is not ignorant delusion.  Often it is a pragmatic assessment of the present, choosing to see the best possible outcome, and working like a madman to achieve it.

That might not be an advantage in laboratory games of chance, but in life, I believe it is.

Do you consider yourself an optimist or a pessimist?

Reading makes me look bad.

You probably recognize this Nat King Cole classic.  Did you know that John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons wrote the lyrics, in 1954, to go with an instrumental piece written by Charlie Chaplin for his 1936 movie Modern Times?
Failure is unimportant.  It takes courage to make a fool of yourself.Chaplin really was a genius, wasn’t he?  I’m a fan.  Have you seen any of his movies?

I’m not actually a believer in hiding every sadness.  Sad things are sad, I say, so let yourself be sad over them.

However, I also believe in choosing happiness whenever and where ever we can.  And I believe that when we fall down, the only thing worth doing is standing back up, laughing at ourselves, learning from our mistakes, and moving on.

I am an essentially happy person, yet, I have to admit, I’m not a smiley person.  My “normal” expression is more dour than I feel.  I never knew this until I had a daughter.

What does this have to do with reading?

Thank goodness she’s outgrown this stage, but we spent a year at the beginning of adolescence where this conversation took place regularly, when my girl entered the room while I was reading:

“Nevermind, you’re angry.”
“I’m not angry.”
“You’re frowning at me.”
“I’m not frowning.”
“You look angry.”
“I’m not angry.”
“You have lines on your head like you’re angry, and your mouth…”
“I’m not angry.  I’m old.  When you get old, you get wrinkles and your mouth droops.’

Apparently, I knit my brow when I read, so I do have prominent vertical lines between my brows, making me look cross.

I don’t know what to blame for the droopy mouth.  I probably need to laugh at myself more often.