On happiness

One of the things I love about the place I work is that two of our guiding principals are Recovery and Resiliency. Recovery suggests that we seek to help people not only manage mental illness but regain vital functioning and resiliency refers to factors (both innate and augmented) which we help clients build such that they can face future challenges. The place I work is a reclaiming environment –reclaiming at-risk children and adults lost to trauma, mental illness and addiction. Of course not every coworker embraces the company philosophy with the enthusiasm I do but hey, it’s still a good set of values.

So why, might you ask, am I elucidating the internet about a mission statement I agree with? I am writing a manual to re-create the program I currently direct and I have been spending hour upon hour breaking down these ideas into manageable bites for new employees and potential directors. Fun stuff and oddly mind numbing, which allows me time to listen to Olive’s Sunrise Mix (love love love!!) and to reflect on the place I currently find myself in life.

 I find myself mostly filled with peace and excitement as I think about the babies residing  and growing in Joey’s belly. And I realize that I have been at this emotional place many times before although never with the same circumstances surrounding me. I am happy, really happy. Yet I have not recovered from infertility and certainly those scars will always remain on some level. So now I am thinking that I must be a relatively resilient person and I am reminded of the debates coworkers and I used to have back in the day when I worked inpatient psychiatric care with children. We saw some children who lived the most horrific lives yet who remained filled with strength and light and we saw children from the same circumstances who were clearly broken before their lives began in earnest. The children who really fascinated me were the children who had lived relatively “easy” lives with many developmental assets yet some of these children were just as broken as children living through the most intense trauma. My coworkers and I worked afternoon shift and we had time (after lights out) to discuss our theories about why some children were simply innately stronger than others. The best answer most of us could decipher was that some people are genetically predisposed to being fragile while others are just stronger. I know there is a shadow of truth in this prosaic theory but today I embrace a more strengths-based approach that pushes me to find more compassionate and all-encompassing answer.

In my musings I find a memory from senior high school English. We read several works about happiness ranging from Greek philosophers all the way up to current short stories. One short story (whose name and author have been eroded from my brain by time) introduced us to the idea that some people must work for happiness through constant vigilance while for others happiness is like the gift of a bird that lights on your shoulder. For some the bird flies away with little provocation and for others the bird. simply. stays. though most anything.  As a wide-eyed senior girl with every possibility ahead of me, I could not really grasp the idea that deep-seated happiness would have to be vigilantly maintained–  though trust me, I have learned that lesson with the passage of time. But something inside me connected with those writings and that story in particular (perhaps because I was an 85 pound anorexic causing myself rather intense misery?). And I connect with the story still although it is but a hazy memory. With time, I have added more complex thoughts about happiness. College added writers and thinkers such as Thoreau, Csikszentmihalyi, Bradstreet, Gilman and etc. In the ensuing years, I have added such thinkers as Thich Nhat Hanh, Gilbert and even Difranco! So I suppose my views on happiness are a bit eclectic and difficult to express in a clear fashion. But isn’t that how we all really manage to maintain happiness? We put on our rose-colored glasses and look over the uglier bits. We rejoice in the good parts of life and decide that the shittier portions are not so bad—or at least are less important than the happy moments.

Bringing me back to my initial question: is it resilience that helps me be happy now or it is a set of skills I have developed over the years to talk myself out of my focus on the harder parts? ……..Perhaps a bit of both.

  • Hard: Trust me, as Joey’s belly grows and we talk about the time when she will feel the first fluttery movements of our babies—the jealously and anger I feel at my life and my body is nearly tangible. I always imagined that I would be the first to know our babies in that way.
  • Hard: And sometimes I feel like an imposter as I talk about our babies on the way—maybe I am not really their mom too? Such ugly thought spirals these! I must admit that this one was rather my fault. I bought a Double Snap and Go stroller from a twin-mom on Craigslist and somewhere through the conversation I realized that she was a conservative Chris.tian—kind and nice but not a woman I will ever be pals with. In my mind, a $40 stroller was worth a bit of subterfuge with a woman I will never see again. As the caller and the driver, she assumed that I was pregnant with twins (presumably with a husband). No problem- I did not correct her. All was well as we chatted about twin pregnancy and twin parenting with Joey and I asking a ton of questions. But then, a four year old daughter came out of the house and the lady said, “This nice lady has twins in her belly just like Mommy did before __ and __ were born.” I smiled- hard- and for reasons I cannot fathom, the woman repeated her statement a couple more times before I could stagger an escape to the comfort of the car. Imposter? Yes! Proud owner of a lightly used stroller for a deal? Yep. Battle wounded? Certainly.
  • Better: But most days, I am just happy. I can look at pregnant bellies without envy.
  •  Also better: I can see all the reasons it is better for Joey to be pregnant with twins than it would be for me. For instance Joey can teach all her classes online next semester if she gets stuck on bed rest and her insurance is far superior to mine. Also Joey being pregnant has solidified her relationship into my family like never before.
  • And lastly: if I freaking could have gotten pregnant, I would!

 So maybe that is the real “secret” to staying happy as the “thwarted uterus”—accept what is and stop letting myself linger on what I wished for. This is my path and that path ends with babies so complaining and internal distress feels like a betrayal of my love for those little penguins—who if I am not mistaken are about kumquat-sized at present.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “On happiness

  1. lizzie

    Wow. I always learn from you.

  2. Great post!

    For me, happiness equals balance. I am balanced when in love, when bills are paid, and things are stable. When the balance is off, my happiness is off.

    I used to be the type of person that would be happy no matter what the circumstance but then I grew up and started to REALLY notice the world around me. When I would see someone hurt or see someone suffer, it was hard for me to be happy. I guess when I was younger the rose colored glasses were thick but somehow through ageing, I took the glasses off.

    Who says you have to be happy all the time? Is there really such a thing?

  3. Oh, Cindy, I’m so glad I found your blog. Smarts don’t grant every wish, but you can’t beat ’em for what they bring to resilience. Both might be worth more than wishes.

    So many things to comment on here.

    I thought your observations about fragile vs. strong and light-filled really interesting.

    I had an early lightbulb about happiness mostly being a personal choice. One that required serious commitment. Perhaps from observing adults who often seemed to actively choose the opposite. That lightbulb has served me well. Thanks for the reminder. And for reminding me of this quote:

    “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

    ~Victor Frankl

    Peace to you.

    XXOO

  4. tbean

    As someone who works really fucking hard at achieving happiness…I loved reading your thoughts here about happiness and resilience.

    The peace and serenity you feel now as Joey’s pregnancy progresses, surprise and teach me. They help me to see a world in which not carrying a pregnancy will not by my downfall, if that is my path. They remind me of the power of resilience and the potential of healing.

    I don’t disagree–as her pregnancy becomes more tangible and tactile–you are likely to have some rough moments. But overall, you just seem so at peace right now and that is a beautiful thing to witness. And very healing for me. So thank you for that.

  5. i loved reading this post, thanks for sharing. its interesting to witness how things change as you move from the daily IF struggle through pregnancy and into motherhood. those battle scars dont go away and it definitely takes work to put them aside and be present in the joy you have waited so long for.

  6. I can’t describe how happy I am to read your post – I am just so glad that you are feeling happy, finally happy. You are so thoughtful and smart and you have such an amazing perspective on life. Thank you for sharing some of you with us.

  7. Have you picked up Confessions of the Other Mother yet? Tam got it for me when we thought she was going to be the one trying. I enjoyed it.

  8. em

    Cindy
    I feel so connected to you and your journey and I have throughout my time here. I too have worked on an inpatient childrens mental health unit as a therapist and I too have worked in mental health.. I too sometimes revert to literature and music to help me find meanings in things… I did a degree in English Lit.
    Sometimes I feel blessed you have come into my journey as well. It makes me feel understood and not alone.
    I just wanted to share this.

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