In this country, the reality I grew up with was the ‘search for eternal bliss’, since Americans seem to dream of having their wishes fulfilled. I was always told that there was something wrong with a person who wasn’t happy, or with someone who wasn’t in a perpetual state of pursuing happiness. And so, I started my search.
I grew up a child of Norman Vincent Peale’s advocate of positive thinking. For several decades, I lived my life trying to gain control, both internally and externally…to practice happiness in my life. I didn’t realize that if you constantly pursue happiness, you may pass by a chance to actually enjoy it.
If happiness truly consists of physical ease and freedom from care, then I think we are all born happy. It’s when we begin to understand that there is a cost to that freedom that we begin our search. We crave happiness all our lives, but yet many of us remain a stranger to it. Even suspicious of it. How many times have you heard someone say they felt happy, only to wonder how long it would last? It is like longing for something beyond, like a piece of ourselves that can never be satisfied, that was not meant to be satisfied.
I remember one particularly sweet moment of happiness, when I made the decision to commit myself to sharing my life, my search, with another person. Marriage gave me continuing lessons about a completely new level of happiness, the faith and trust that endures through success and failure, boredom and frenzy. In this marriage, there was a more special, memorable time for feeling deeply happy…when I discovered a longing fulfilled…motherhood.
There are no parallels to creating a new life. Few things are more precious than an innocent, who binds you to them with unquestioning trust. From the first moment that baby looks at you, reaches out to you, smiles at you, you find yourself loving another in the most exquisite, unconditional way possible. It is more than a responsibility, more than an obligation or a duty. You find yourself vowing to help another in their search for happiness. And you realize that your own search did not start out a lonely one. Somewhere, long ago, another promised to help you find happiness. When did it become a lonely search? Was it when you started declaring yourself ‘independent’? Do we all do that?
How can you label happiness? Where does it come from? Financial success? Recognition in your career? For so long, I thought it was from a happy husband and children. All marriages, all relationships, are susceptible to the inertia of protected customs. Custom brings predictability, and predictability carries its own comforts, or its pains. And that first ‘twosome’ wasn’t working for me. After years of marriage, I had fallen into an illusion of security, that feeling of being safely sheltered inside a warm house on a stormy night. I found myself questioning my marriage, my life. Was I happy? Were we happy? Were my children happy? My marriage felt empty, with the only real happiness left in it for me being the children. I felt I had failed. It made me sad. Broke my heart.
What now? I needed to free myself from the encumbrances that had saddled me. I had stopped growing, stopped reaching. Stopped hoping. Suddenly I identified with all those millions of people who slip off their wedding rings, and pretend to be single, all those poor torn souls who break up their lives and the lives of those around them. What nagged at me like a fragment of a dream was the feeling of the danger, the threat to my well-planned life. My feelings reminded me of my teenager years in part because they were confusing, hard to understand.
I had to learn all over again, fifteen years later, how to be single. I decided to concentrate on changing the texture of my life, moving from a kind of dependency through recovery to self-fulfillment. Like an alcoholic. I no longer recognized happiness as a goal…just survival. So, I moved beyond the events that had brought me different types of happiness, like marriage and parenthood. I built a career. I was still a loving mother, but I needed to transform the empty places inside myself. What I didn’t realize was how vulnerable I was emotionally.
I fought for control and I lost it. I found myself dependent on a man who became my second husband. On our wedding day, I realized I was the victim of misguided faith. I found myself married to an abusive man.
I had stepped away from my search for happiness right into a gutter full of grief. That grief grew as dangerous as a live wire. Abuse can take many women away from what it means to be alive, or the act of feeling alive. Somehow, I realized I had to stay alive, and with the strength I found from my children’s love, I sloughed off my second husband as if he were sunburnt skin in need of peeling.
It was time to realign my goals again and adjust my thoughts. After a very hard lesson, it occurred to me that to find happiness, I needed to find an inner meaning to my life, find a reasonable satisfaction in leading a normal existence. I became somewhat grateful for the pain I had experienced. Our lives are a continuous learning curve, learning new things, unlearning and disposing of garbage. It’s not necessarily just what happens to you, but how you react to it, transforming it into something good.
Don’t escape experience, but embrace it, take what you are dealt and turn it into a winning hand. Keep examining the order of your life before you choose your next path. I was lucky. The relationships I had with my children was uniquely close, full of mutual respect and caring. I learned you should never expect to have complete control over your emotions, just your choices.
In the DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, we are guaranteed the pursuit of happiness, not its possession. It is as if seeking happiness is, on one hand, a national obsession, and on the other, proof of national failure. There are enough experts out there in psychotherapy, with well over 308 answers on Google to a person’s search for happiness. But I had to fail in order to finally succeed…several times. I tried marriage a third time, but that one failed too after many years. After much soul searching, I moved away to be closer to my daughter and her family. And to grow again to find happiness in a new life.
I grew up with an image of what and who I wanted to be. Today, I am very close to that image, a woman of deep inner calm and peace, whose life is nurtured by the love of her family. My days are spent in rich creation, writing stories I carry around in my head. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “I think, somehow, we learn who we really are and then live with that decision.”
Never give up your search for happiness. Find a balance internally and externally. Recognize the design of the variations that come into your lives, that give you depth to your emotional ranges. And appreciate the happy feelings as simple as a thoughtful gesture from someone you care about.
The title on this blog is from a song by Bobby McFerrin.
Thank you for reading another true story from my life. For more information on me, see my About Me Page.