I've been giving a lot of thought about what it means to be "happy" lately. You hear a lot of snazzy little quotes about happiness everywhere you go, and some of them are pretty interesting. It seems to me a lot of them are about something trying to take happiness, dampen it, keep it away from us.
“For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
“People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”
― Mother Teresa
“Sanity and happiness are an impossible combination.”
― Mark Twain
I find it odd that something so simple as happiness is such an elusive and hard to hold thing. It reminds me of those dreams we all have where we are desperately trying to hold onto something and it keeps simply slipping through our fingers.
I had a situation arise with my mother yesterday where her own actions caused not only her own unhappiness, but my daughter's as well. In some ways, I am lucky to witness events like this with my mother, because her illness (advanced MS) makes all of her actions, motives, and thoughts simplistic and easy to see. Most people are more complex and harder to untangle, but the problems are the same underneath it all.
My mother and my daughter had made plans, and my mom had this vision of how it was going to be all perfect. When she awoke and saw the snow had all melted away, even though there were back-up plans in place, my mother felt everything was ruined, and cancelled those plans because her vision had included snow (and a couple other things I won't go into, but were entirely impossible anyway at any time - just outright delusional as I found out later) and without everything being perfect, it wasn't worth even trying for. I tried to hold her off from that decision, but she was insistent. It was only later, after the damage had been done, that she realized it was a mistake.
We had a long talk last night, and it was about letting go of the imagined fairytale and accepting and enjoying the reality as it comes. It's important to envision a good outcome of your goals, but you can't pepper delusions into those visions without inviting misery. My mother has trouble understanding some concepts and I found myself giving this example:
"If you imagine this perfect image of something that isn't actually a real possibility, then whatever you achieve will always feel like a loss. What if I was dieting and exercising so hard so I could take this body to a small size and able to wear a bikini on the beach in Jamaica, but in my mind I'm seeing a supermodel in that bikini? What happens when I work that hard, get fit, lose all the weight, actually make it to Jamaica and I'm standing on that beach, and I realize that even with all that work I will always have stretch-marks? I will always have the sagging, dimpled skin even if I'm thin. I will be wrinkled in places, have scars, be almost 40 years old instead of 19, and still be me. If I work that hard always envisioning a Sports Illustrated model, and then achieve what is a great body for me, and then find out I'm still going to look like me instead of that fantasy - I'll forever be disappointed. What a loss! I just worked that hard and achieved so much, I should be proud! I'll be disappointed by something that was never possible in the first place, when I should be happy that I achieved my goals!"
I realize that happiness and feeling a sense of accomplishment is frequently attacked by others. It's something I have witnessed so frequently that I realized that it is easier to keep your happiness to yourself than to share it with others because it's like painting a bullseye on your head when you do. However, I think the greatest threat to our happiness is ourselves. Self sabotage, whether in the form of self-punishment and thinking we don't deserve happiness (something I really struggle with), or fantasies of what happiness and success is without taking into account the realities, is perhaps the biggest hurdle we face.
I realize you have to fight to be happy, whether it be with others or yourself. You have to watch out for the traps set in your path, and you have to get past them. I envy those with a sense of Zen-like peace and happiness, but it's because it seems so simple when you look at them from the outside. From the inside, they're still making choices like whether to share what they're happy about or not, whether to want more or less, how to stay out of their own way. No matter how calm the surface, I realize now that happiness is a battle to maintain. Often what you are striving for that results in a side dose of happiness is a battle in and of itself because it requires growth and determination and a steadfast presence.
Happiness isn't easy. Happiness is brief, hard won, and easily lost. But in the end, I think it's worth fighting for, even if it means fighting with yourself.