Valentine’s Day evening, leaving a late dinner after driving home in a blizzard from a hockey game with Whit. I was (t)here, and I was happy.
Happiness. I have to admit I have conflicted feelings about this word. I know most people would say that happiness is what they want in life. I think most people would also say that happiness is what they want for their child(ren). But for some reason that goal never sits entirely comfortably with me. I resonate more with the word joy, and even more, with contentment. I’ve written before that these days I feel a sturdy sense of joy that is both new and hard-won. This steady, difficult-to-dislodge feeling approaches what I think of as contentment. I’m comfortable saying that feeling this is what I have always wanted. I’m not sure what my reservation is when it comes to “happiness,” and realize it’s probably just semantics. So, for this month, back to happiness.
The question is whether being here has made me happier.
The answer is yes.
But here’s the thing: it has also made me sadder. There is no question that being present – a task which is at the core of the here year and which is also the central effort of my life – enriches my experience. But it enriches all of my experience. Remaining inside my own life, living in the hours I’m allotted, paying attention to everything that happens to and around me, opens me up to both joy and sorrow. I see more beauty and I see more heartache. I haven’t figured out a way to have one without the other.
Recognizing this unavoidable truth in my own life has had significant repercussions. It has changed how I think about goals for both me and for my children. I’m not sure I think of happiness as the be-all and end-all anymore. Happiness is a vital and meaningful part of my life. A big part of my life. But there’s also the reality I can’t get away from, the dark shadow that hangs over everything, the way that time moves on and pain comes and how the glow of morning light on bare branches makes me think of both exultant joy and heartbreaking loss. I think often – daily, at least – of Virginia Woolf’s statement that ‘The beauty of the world…has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder.”
I wish there was an easier conclusion, a simpler to-do: make this adjustment, look at the world this way, and you’ll be happier. Life will be smoother. Sadly, at least for me, that’s not how it works. I still think there’s huge value in being present, in being here, though, and I would never choose to live another way.