It’s January. It’s cold. It’s Michigan, so it’s also gray and snowy. The post-holiday blues, lack of sun and time outside (plus the new year hard reset on my diet and exercise that I neglected over the past few months) make this time of year difficult for me. I struggle to sleep, struggle to wake up, struggle to enjoy the days. Add in nearly 44 years, an aching, aging body, a heart that is wistful as the clock winds down to graduation and a spell of time where I actually have …. well, time … and I am restless. Not the kind of restless that smacks some 40-somethings upside the head, where they become immediately aware of the passage of time and the fact that youth has passed them on the left and they leave their wives, divorce their husbands, change careers and buy a new red sports car. Rather, the kind that finds me reflective, thoughtful. Even more so than usual.
I was talking with one of my dearest and oldest friends (old as in we’ve been friends since we had lockers in middle school — she is actually younger than me ;)) about searching for happiness. Not an unfamiliar topic for women (and men) our age, not an unfamiliar topic for memes on Facebook — I can scroll through my news feed at any given moment and find an inspirational quote urging me to seek happiness above all other journeys with the picture of a mountain … or a beach … or the stars. I gave her some advice that was handed to me by another friend a few years my senior. “Happiness is overrated. Life is not always happy. Constantly searching for happiness, will not lead you there.”
Our conversation got me thinking – and observing – over the past few weeks. I don’t question if I am happy – my heart is full, my life is blessed in more ways than I have worked for or deserve. I am not looking for any grand change in my life’s path, I am a grateful woman who gets to be married to her very best friend in the whole world and who is privileged to raise the sons we created. It’s not if I’m happy I began to ponder, but more a question of what happiness is, how I would define it. What makes me happy? What have I taught my boys about, simply being happy?
In yoga we often start our class with a scan of the body as we lay on our backs, or sit in child’s pose. Breathing in and out, really feeling and noticing where we are in the space of our body that day. So scanning my life and seeing when and what makes me happy seemed logical – except I found that I wasn’t, in fact, doing much that made me happy. What?
Paying bills does not make you happy. Sitting waiting for Aiden at baseball does not make me happy. Going grocery shopping, nope not that either. Vacuuming, laundry, getting the oil changed, picking up dry cleaning they all come up short. Everyday life isn’t … happy. I mean sure, there are moments in my days that are happy – watching my kids play their sports, going for walks, working out, reading a good book, days on vacation are almost always happy … but those are not the meat and potatoes of my days.
I was grocery shopping last week – not my favorite chore. I was smiling and walking through the isles, chatting with my fellow shoppers when I noticed … I was happy! The kind of happy I am when I get to take Lulu for a walk in the woods, or when Eric and I go for a hike, when Coop hits a bomb or when Jacko scores a goal. The kind of happy I am when Aiden comes home from school. How did that happen? And then – I looked around. I am pretty certain I was the only “happy” person in the store. Women walked past me dragging their toddlers, men rushed past me with lists they did not create and a scowl to match, one woman stocking shelves said, “Oh shit.” under her breath as I walked by – she was most certainly not happy. People were weighted down with their winter coats and their worries dripping from their faces. Kroger was sucking the life from these people.
It got me thinking about the advice I had passed on to my dear friend – happiness is overrated. But it certainly is important. Searching out a life of constant, creek bubbling, yellow smiley face having, rainbows and unicorns isn’t realistic. But having a life that gives you enough happiness to fill in the cloudy days — like a dollop of peanut butter on a piece of toast, enough that when you spread it around the peanut butter melts into all the nooks and crannies of the not so happy parts of your life. Sometimes there is more yuck than happiness, and there are seasons of our lives that we can do nothing about how happy we are — cancer, loss, money issues — are a part of life that we all endure. It’s not important to seek happiness as much as it is to create it. To create happy moments, to make enough peanut butter to cover the toast. Have I taught that to my kids? Is that why I become so restless in the dredges of winter (other than the obvious reason that nobody is really happy when the windchill is 0)?
When I was young there was one thing that made me happy. Being on the ice. The smell (anyone who spends time in an ice arena will tell you they love the smell!), the cold air, the sound of your blades slicing the ice. I loved it. It made me happy daily for most of my childhood and a fair amount of my adulthood. I haven’t been on the ice in a few years. Life – illness, kids, responsibility, what-have-you – all combined to pretty much erase skating from my life. Last week Aiden asked if I would take him to open skate – Sure! I said. We looked up the schedule and not many of the open skate times worked with our schedule. I did notice, however, that on Wednesdays from 12 – 1:20 there was open skate. So today I went, and found some happy.
My body is old. My knees don’t work as they should and the skill my muscles used to know without much effort took valiant courage to even try … but gosh was I happy. I was so happy. I even found myself giggling as I spun around. Sure, the rest of the day wasn’t “happy” – I ran errands, sat for an hour waiting for Aiden at baseball, and I’ll go home to laundry that needs folding and dinner that needs making. But I made some peanut butter today, enough to smooth out all the bumps of hump day. I sent a picture of me on the ice to all my boys – sharing my happy. I hope what they saw was a woman who loves them dearly and is happy despite the struggles of every day life, a woman who is happy in the life she is blessed with, a woman who is showing them that happiness is what we create and while it is overrated, it is important. Life can’t always be happy – but toast is no good without a little peanut butter.