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.)

Word of the Day: Sorry.

An apology is a powerful thing.  I wish it weren’t true, but my ability, or maybe it is my willingness, to forgive the smallest and the biggest things often depend on that little phrase.

I’m sorry.

After twenty three years of marriage, you would think that either my husband would have learned this or I would have gotten over it, but, no.  I keep wanting apologies, and he keeps giving me excuses.

An excuse is not an apology.An excuse is not an apology.

They are pretty much the exact opposite.

Whereas an apology diffuses the hurt I feel, excuses incite it.

An apology says I care about your feelings; an excuse says I only care about my own.

As I said, often, it is the most trivial things.

Yesterday evening, I came home at 5:30 to make dinner and discovered my husband and daughter had just finished eating.  We haven’t eaten before 6:30 all week, so I was surprised.

Since what they had eaten included some of the ingredients for the dinner I’d planned, I was also annoyed.  I asked why they’d eaten without us.  (My son had been with me.)

Now, this was stupid.  Upon reflection, I actually knew why my husband ate dinner so early.  He’d skipped lunch and was hungry.

He just couldn’t say that, though.  Nor could he say, “I’m sorry.”

No, he had to give me variety of excuses, like

  • I didn’t know how long you would be.  (Text me to ask?)
  • For all I knew you might be eating out.  (He knows I never do this.)
  • I thought I was doing you a favor.

I went from mildly annoyed to feeling truly hurt because his excuses all put the blame on me – which is what excuses usually do.

The pathetic thing is, in that way, they work.  I go from thinking, “That was rude,” to, “What is wrong with me that I keep expecting him to apologize when the past two decades have proven that he won’t?  How stupid am I?”

A triviality which could have ended with an apology and a kiss thus sends me into a little whirlpool of self accusation and doubt, because, really, how inane can I be?  Why do I keep wanting apologies?  It really isn’t that big of deal.  I should be able to forgive without signs of remorse or regret, shouldn’t I?

I think I should, and I beat myself up over this character flaw for a good part of the evening.

And I think that is ridiculous of me, too, so I chastise myself for that as well.

-sigh-

I owe myself an apology.  I’m way too hard on me.

I’m sorry.

(I also apologize for the song, which I do not like.  There really aren’t a lot of songs with the words “I’m sorry” in them.)

Am I the pot or the kettle?

Small kindnesses and small irritants can make or break a day or a mood.  I know that.  Why don’t I remember it more often?

Laundry is my favorite household task.  (In other words, I hate most housework, and merely don’t mind laundry.)  For the first too many years of my marriage, every time I would take the laundry out of the hamper, I’d grumble to myself about my husband’s balled up socks and rolled up sleeves.  “Why is he so inconsiderate?  It only takes a minute to unroll things before tossing them in the hamper.  Can’t he do this one little thing?”

KETTLEYears of that went by until I finally thought, “It only takes a minute for me to unroll them, too, so why do I fuss about it so much?  Am I that self-centered?  I can’t spare a minute?”

Pot, meet Kettle.

I decided to look on the unrolling of sleeves and socks as a kindness on my part instead of an irritant, and after a while, I found that it truly didn’t bother me anymore.  Unfortunately, there are plenty of other things that I still allow to irritate me, like dirty dishes unwashed or shoes not put away.

Like most people, I overestimate my own positive contributions, and overlook my own shortcomingsBlack kojoko teapot I see the mess of stuff my family leaves laying around the house, but my eyes gloss over my stack of unsorted papers.  I wonder why my daughter won’t replace a roll of toilet paper, while I put off going out to buy her school supplies.

Kettle, meet Pot.

Sometimes it feels like the only thing I get better at over the years is recognizing my own hypocrisy.

What little kindnesses have you experienced lately?

Before my husband left for his trip, he brought home individual Fage yogurts for my breakfasts and Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey for my evenings.  I’ll start and end every day this week thinking about how loved I am, and I’ll wonder why I ever let those stupid shoes bother me.

Do Opposites Attract? Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

I love this song, not just for Fred and Ginger, and not just because I’m terribly fond of the Gershwins, but because it reminds me of my interactions with my own family.  (The lyrics, not the dancing on skates.  We are not that well coordinated.)

We have similar disagreements on word pronunciation around here.  May I say how much I love the online dictionaries where we can listen to the audio?  Not that they always resolve the point, because there are often alternate pronunciations.  As I told my son over the Christmas holiday, “Oh, I’m saying it the British way; maybe it’s because I watch so much BBC?”

It’s a good thing my husband and I didn’t have to pass a compatibility test to get married, because we would have failed.  Obviously, twenty-three years later, we’re still married, and quite happily, so there’s more to marriage than agreeing on what to watch on tv, where to go for vacation, or how to say “homogenous.”  There’s even more to it than date nights, communication style, and common interests.

I like what Paul Newman said about his marriage to Joanne Woodward, “We are very, very different people and yet somehow we fed off those varied differences and instead of separating us, it has made the whole bond a lot stronger.”

Did opposites attract for you?

True love and cold feet.

I know that we are about to embark on a New Year, and there is talk of resolutions and new beginnings everywhere, but winter never feels like the start of anything to me.

It’s not the end, either, but the long dark nights and the biting cold make me want to hibernate.  But not alone.  I need to glom the heat off my husband; otherwise I might freeze.  I wonder if Mrs. Berlin warmed her feet by scooting them near her husband, too?

You know it’s true love when he doesn’t mind your popsicle feet.

WinterLove

The Sound of Silence

I love quiet.

My idea of background noise is birds and crickets and children laughing.  I like to read in silence, write in silence, daydream in silence.  I like to talk to my friends with nary a sound in the background.

If I feel like listening to music, I turn on the radio, but usually I don’t.  Not even in the car.

My husband always wants the radio or tv on, no matter what he is doing.  He likes a background of words, spoken or sung, even though he says he tunes it out and doesn’t hear the words.

I don’t know how he does it.  The words invade my own thoughts.  I find myself distracted by lyrics even when I don’t like them, especially when I don’t like them.

(One day he had the radio on while we were working on a project, and after about half an hour I asked, “Is every song this DJ plays about drugs?”  He had not noticed, but sure enough, several songs later, he concurred that, yes, it seemed to be a show entirely devoted to singing about drug usage.  He changed the station for me.)

In the car, I’ll be looking out the window, enjoying a feeling of quiet companionship, and he’ll turn on talk radio to fill the silence.

For me, talk radio is as pleasant as being seated next to a screaming baby on an airplane.  He remembers this after a moment and switches to a music station.

Most of the time, I’m able to tolerate background noise, which is what it is to me, noise.  I know to him, it is not noise.  It is soothing in a way I don’t experience, but I understand that it is to others.

If I find his selection abrasive, I’ll request that he change the radio station.  Sometimes I do sigh irritably and scowl as yet another youtube video invades my auditory space.  Sometimes I just leave the room and find a quiet spot.   Mostly, I try to ignore it.

The only time I find myself feeling indignant is if he walks into the room where I am reading and turns on the radio or tv.  I would not walk into a room where other people were listening to the radio and turn it off.  That would be startlingly rude, wouldn’t it?  But somehow, doing the opposite is accepted as normal.

Why?

I don’t believe his love of background sound gives him greater rights.  I don’t think my love of silence is more virtuous.  They are just different.

My husband and I have accepted that my preference for quiet is no more likely to change than his preference for life with a soundrack.  He’s willing to change stations or lower the volume.  Lately, he often asks if I have a preference in spotify stations; he gets the sound he craves, but I can make sure it is something that won’t grate on my nerves.

It’s a good compromise.  When he is away, I even find myself occasionally thinking that the house is too quiet without him.

How do you feel about tv or radio in the background?  Music or talk radio?

Culture Clash: Movies and Marriage

My husband and I grew up in the same state, only an hour away from each other.  He lived in the suburbs of one city, I grew up in the suburbs of another.  Yet we were worlds apart.

It was not socioeconomics, or religions, or race, or anything you could see by looking at us.  Our worlds were separated by film.

We both grew up in homes where the television was always on.  Always.

They were rarely tuned to the same channels.

His mom watched soap operas and family dramas.  Mine watched game shows and crime dramas.  Both our fathers watched the news, but mine also watched 60 Minutes, while his family watched the Wonderful World of Disney.

The difference that mattered, though, was what we ourselves watched.  What created the soundtracks of our childhoods didn’t matter.  The most profound impact on our marriage would evolve from the movies we chose.

My husband loved Planet of the Apes, Omega Man, Soylent Green, Logan’s Run, Silent Running, and others whose names I barely ever knew and can no longer recall.

I was watching Yours, Mine, and Ours; Cheaper by the Dozen; The Sound of Music; Meet Me in St. Louis; Seven Brides for Seven Brothers; and Life with Father.

He was internalizing the great fears of the 1970’s about the impending population crisis.

I was dreaming of a large family.

Culture clash.

I lost.  It hurt.

I blame the movies.  (And him for being selfish, and myself for not fighting with every ounce of my being.  But it started with those movies.)

When our sons were young teens, he wanted to share all these “classic” movies with them.  They’d seen most of mine when they were younger, because, obviously, I was watching child-friendly movies.  Since I blame those movies for my lack of progeny, I didn’t want to watch them with the guys.

I did say helpful things to my sons like, “That movie is the reason you don’t have more siblings.  It’s ridiculous!  Big families are wonderful, and the world has plenty of room for everyone if we all share!  Don’t let those movies brainwash you like they did your dad.”

They promised not to go over to the dark side.  They even told me my movies were better.

Athough this is painful for me (yes, present tense), I did learn from it.  Mostly, I learned about forgiveness.  It took a long time to get there, but I did.

I also learned to be very careful about what my own children were reading and watching.  I did not forbid them from things that did not reflect my own values, but we talked about it.  I taught them to look for its underlying message or presumptions.

I wanted them to see there is not a writer/movie-maker out there who does not have their own take on the world, and if you look, you can see it.  Then you decide whether you agree with it or not.  And you can enjoy the movie and still think the philosophy is rubbish.

(I also told them to actually listen to their wives and discuss their differences, and to speak up, and keep speaking if necessary.)

What about you?  Can you see the impact of your childhood viewing habits in yourself today?

Survival of the Knittest

My husband was assessing my survival skills the other day.  He came up with one: knitting.  If we lived someplace cold, and the world came crashing down, he thinks I would be able to keep us warm and maybe even barter knitted goods for some food or water.

Happy to hear that I have any survival skills at all, I pointed out that I’d need yarn because I don’t know how to spin, or keep livestock, but that if we had old sweaters, I could unravel them.  That is, if the end of the world happened to result in a lot of unused sweaters that I found before any of the cold people did.

Zombies don’t need sweaters, do they?

I think you should all befriend a knitter now, or at least next week, so if the earth loses power and/or the means of transporting warm winter wear from Chinese factories to your house, you will have a local contact for hats, mittens, and sweaters.

My husband was planning for our lottery win a day earlier.  In that scenario, I got a fabulous house and he got an airplane.  I hope I win the lottery before the infrastructure of the world crashes.  I think my knitting skills would be more marketable if I was living in my dream house.  Or, my husband could deliver my woolens to colder climes in his airplane.  Now that is a plan!

What are your survival skills?  I might need to move near you.

Anniversaries After the Half-Life

In Paris, middle aged lovers look sophisticated and glam,
or, maybe it’s just Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman.

My husband and I celebrated our 23rd anniversary yesterday.  Until recently, we’d never done anything special to mark the day we were married.  My husband doesn’t like special occasions or holidays, and when my children were little, I didn’t enjoy being away from them.  So, we got into a habit of not doing anything for our anniversary, and we were fine with that.

Last year, though, was my Half Life Anniversary.  Never seen a Hallmark card for it?  That’s because I made it up. It’s the anniversary that marks when you’ve been married for half your life.  Half!  Married as long as not!  Everything after that means you’ve been married longer than not. It’s a very significant date, in my mind, and I reminded him of it several times that year.

I really wanted to go to France or Italy for my Half Life Anniversary, like I wanted to go to Paris for my honeymoon.  It didn’t happen either time, but we did go away for a couple days together in July.  Alone together anywhere is lovely as it is rare.

This year, I decided we should celebrate our anniversary every year, on the actual day.  I feel like it is an accomplishment to be married this long.  I love my husband, but not all of the twenty three years have been easy ones.  Ups and downs, and knocked about by life.  Six out of the last eight years were outright hard, and there are days I still feel emotionally bruised and raw.  But we’re still together, still growing, still figuring out life together, still in love, and that is worth celebrating.

We look like Myrna Loy and William Powell.
Meaning we lounge around with our dogs.

I forgot to tell him about wanting to celebrate our anniversary every year for the rest of our lives.  I’m like that; I forget to talk out loud.  Then, about a week or two ago he was telling me about his upcoming travel schedule, including a weekend trip which fell on our anniversary.

“You can’t be away on our anniversary,” I said.

“That’s not our anniversary.”

“Yes, it is.”

“Our anniversary is the following weekend.”

“No, it’s not.”

This exchanged continued for a bit.  He had not forgotten the date we were wed; he’d miscounted the weekends.  Eventually, he realized that yes, our anniversary fell on the weekend in question.

“Were we doing something that day?”

“Yes, I want to celebrate our anniversary on the real day from now on.”

“We never do that.”

“I decided we should start.  It’s an accomplishment:  more than half my life I’ve been married to you.”

“Okay, I’ll reschedule that one for the following weekend.”

See why I am still crazy in love with him?  He may be lousy with a calendar, but he grasps the Half Life concept.  At least, he understands that the Half Life concept is significant to me.

Selfishly, I am also hoping a few little celebrations may lead us to somewhere big for his Half Life Anniversary.

(That is one of the really cool things about the Half Life Anniversary.  Unless you are the same age, you each get your own!  Then, later, if you are lucky, you each get the Twice-As-Long Anniversary, where you’ve been married twice as long as not.  I’m pretty sure I’m spending that one in a romantic European location.)