The Here Year: Happiness


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.

It’s hard to believe this is the last month of Aidan‘s Here Year, in which it has been my honor to participate.  And this month’s theme is happiness.

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.

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  1. Posted March 4, 2015 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    I can’t believe you have been writing this series for a year! Perhaps that’s the secret to happiness- slowing down enough so that time doesn’t fly so quickly!

    admin Reply:

    Well, I joined a month or two in, so it hasn’t been QUITE a year. But yes … it has flown by! xox

  2. Posted March 4, 2015 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    Great post. I also have conflicted feelings about happiness. Happiness is, essentially, a mood. Whereas, joy and contentment and purpose and meaning are states of being. They seem more lasting and hearty. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there is an over-emphasis on happiness in today’s culture. Books like the “happiness project” and the like become instant bestsellers. While it’s great to *feel* happy and maybe even *be* happy, I think that this over-emphasis can sometimes make us feel like something is wrong with us if we aren’t happy all the time, or – god forbid – we’re sad or angry about something.

    Anyway, great post!

    admin Reply:

    I share your view that we as a culture are perhaps overly fixated on “happiness.” I think that that orientation misses something, honestly. xo

  3. Posted March 4, 2015 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    I hover in this same twilight, often painfully aware that I am between, neither fully solid beneath me. Joy and sadness are so fleeting in my life; like you, I try to sink in and listen.

    admin Reply:

    What beautiful imagery, the twilight, the hovering. Thank you. xox

  4. jj
    Posted March 4, 2015 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    I agree Lindsey, and have also been opening myself up more and more to the joy and sorrow in life, trying to accept both and also to accept they are often inextricably bound together — especially as I move through this “middle place.”

    While I love being happy and making others happy, happiness per se is not the only thing I strive for in life, nor do I think it is always the most important thing in life. Finding meaning, being connected, experiencing tranquility, peace, contentedness, a feeling of being on the right path, of walking one within oneself, of being of use to others, of doing work that matters, of appreciating the now – all are as if not more important to me than fleeting moments of sheer happiness. So while I love those moments and hope I will always seek them out and share them with others, they are not the only moments I value or live for. Not by a long shot.

    Thanks for writing so powerfully and personally about your struggles and epiphanies with these huge forces in all of our lives. I don’t think I could ever share such heartfelt emotions and realizations in quite the same way, which makes your blog all the more meaningful.

    admin Reply:

    Thank YOU so much for saying that. It means more than you can imagine. xox

  5. Posted March 4, 2015 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Happiness. Sorrow. Joy. Despair. Both, all, and yes yes yes. I am sure you know that I experience life in much the same way. And settling in to this awareness that both sides are real, true and unavoidable has softened my experiences with them. Love to you. xoxo

    admin Reply:

    Yes, I know that we are kindred spirits on this dimension. And thank GOD for that. xox

  6. Posted March 4, 2015 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Oh I love this! It would have been easy for you to make this a discussion about happiness or joy or contentment but you really went right to the heart of it – to be happy we also have to be sad. We can’t numb one without numbing the other.

    Thank you for this. I just got over an awful flu, one where I was just lying there in agony, with a fever, tears leaking out, and today, feeling better finally, I am full of the joy of being alive. I’ve never really been a moderate person. I am definitely of two edges. Thank you so much for writing so truthfully as you always do!!!

    admin Reply:

    Thank you so much! Thank YOU for being one of those people in the world who reminds me of what really matters, who shows me how important truth and authenticity are. I’m sorry about your flu. xox

  7. Posted March 4, 2015 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    I feel like that underlying shadow of all happiness, contentment, joy comes from a sense of time, a sense of fleetingness. Its almost like that sense of unease is the extra dimension required to make happiness truly take shape, or, the pinch of salt in the cookie recipe, which always used to surprise me when I was little.

    admin Reply:

    Oh, what a perfect analogy. Yes. xo

  8. Posted March 4, 2015 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    I too feel things so deeply – I too have never been a moderate person. When I’m happy, I’m HAAAAAPPPY. When I’m sad, I’m SAAAAAD.

    But, if anything, having children that watch me and mimic me has made me more aware of my feelings. This isn’t to say that I hide my feelings, or that I feel less – I’m just more aware of them watching me feel.

    Does that make sense?

    admin Reply:

    Makes total sense. 100%. Having children makes me feel more and simultaneously makes me aware of expressing those feelings. House of mirrors. xox

  9. Posted March 4, 2015 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Such a wise observation, Lindsey. We cannot have that awareness of the present moment and the joy of it all without being fully aware of the sorrow, too. I had not really thought about it that way, but it is so spot on.

    admin Reply:

    Thank you so much, dear one. xo

  10. Posted March 4, 2015 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    I think you’re onto something, and I don’t view it as just semantics. I’ve been pondering what wise people have written about joy and happiness, particularly Khalil Gibran (“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked… The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”) and Viktor Frankl (“Happiness must happen, and the same holds true for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.”) Maybe we should say, “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of meaning.”

    What you said, Pamela, about the joy of being alive is lovely. I will try to hold onto that feeling, that I know is somewhere in me, of the simple gratitude for this life we’re given, for health and energy and fresh air. Perhaps that is the great gift of living in the present, but you can probably guess that I agree with you, Lindsey, that the bitter must accompany the sweet for me as well.

    admin Reply:

    That exact Khalil Gibran sentence runs through my mind on at least a daily basis. Yes. xoxo