What if this is it, Gerry? What if this is all there is to our life? We’re a married couple who own a limo company who may or may not have children. End of story.
Did you know there is an entire science around the subject? The Field of Positive Psychology. It studies why happy people are happy and shares the secrets with everyone else. It turns those secrets into tools that hope to help those who suffer even from clinical depression.
Somehow, not that surprisingly, I got the idea as a teen that Jesus-followers had no right to pursue this elusive thing called happiness. I was told through numerous sermons in no uncertain terms that it was downright horrifying to “follow your heart” because our hearts can lead us so astray. Then I got older, I had children, I faced the actual possibility of a much shorter life than I previously anticipated, and I read the journals of my favorite author – an author whose books to this day permeate my existence with happy whenever I am reading them – and I watched her struggle her entire life with an inner bent toward this happiness – the ability to glimpse near perfection in the world around her and the rich value in true relationships – and then her circumstances wore her down one day after another until she very likely ended her life early, unable to bear any longer the bent toward it but the impossibility to ever actually have it. And it haunted me – the sudden realization of life’s brevity paired with the possibility that one could have a beautiful inner life and external things I dream of and yet die unhappy. I no longer cared what the sermons say. We are here for a moment. I want it to be happy.
And here’s the thing, philosophers have studied happiness forever. And they all figured out long ago that happiness is absolutely married to virtue. Consuming, satisfying lust, pursuing instant gratification, (all perhaps better words for what the sermonizers meant by following your heart) – these don’t lead to happiness. Happiness, in fact, can not be owned in a moment. It comes from the culmination of a life well-lived, a life in which you exercised “activity of the soul in accordance with virtue”, or as I might say it, a life in which you found your strengths and you gave them away – always, in love, without reward, for the sheer deep down joy of it.
The tools for happiness have been simplified beautifully for the rest of us – you can find them all over the internet: Exercise, share your feelings with someone you love, love someone, find your flow (I love this one), and for goodness sake believe in something, find meaning. Sit around and think about it now and then:
Look for God like a man with his head on fire looks for water. (Elizabeth Gilbert)
Those are the tools. But I think the most important thing is to realize it’s a pursuit. You have to weigh it all the time against the things you do and are and get asked to participate in. And always, always realize that having the thing is not the achievement of happiness. Pursuing the thing is where the happiness happens. I am living for someone besides myself. I wake up each day. I try. I give whatever and whenever I can. I do. I do. I do. I don’t just dream or imagine.
I’ve been thinking about the line at the top of my post. I’m at a very weird stage of mamahood, I think. I no longer have tinies, as author Sarah Bessey calls them. They seem every bit as close to leaving me as to the day they arrived. There’s nothing settled about this stage. It’s sort of like I’m just about to the top of the highest point on a roller coaster, because God help me if we don’t do these last few inches correctly, they could drop the wrong way! You know? And we’re selling our house. We’re not cozied in and happy in it anymore. We haven’t actually sold it. We are selling it. A person could feel a little unsettled with that kind of thing going on in life. But you know what? I don’t have time for unsettled. This is it. This right now, is my life. And guess what? I scored 80 on the happiness quiz. They told me “you don’t need much guidance here” and sent me on my way. And that felt flippin’ awesome.
I am a girl who got married. I have three growing boys, which on Saturday meant that I spectated a dodgeball tournament. All day. I am selling a house I feel done with. I write. I survive cancer occasionally. I dream big but I’m grateful. End of story.
What more story do you want? That’s what Gerry asks her next in the movie PS I Love You, and that’s what I would ask you. What is your story, and what more could you want?