Happiness and choices

It might be misty moisty March with the realization that the time is about to change [I hate the spring forward thing] and the threat of taxes coming due [I hate all that calculating] or the worry that one final blizzard will come out of nowhere. But somehow I have this feeling of disorganization, a sense of waiting and wondering, and not feeling hugely productive. And then I read a post on Brazen Careerist and want to write about similar topics because I don’t sometimes agree with what I read or I have questions or things aren’t defined sufficiently. That’s always my big gripe about blogs… people don’t define what they mean and then communication is more complicated.

I was wondering what it is that makes me happy. And how do I feel about the extent of choices in my life? I have not spent years researching happiness. I guess I’m a little surprised that researchers spend huge amounts of time studying what makes people happy. Why bother? Aren’t there more urgent issues to study? Wouldn’t it be reasonable to be a little happy with some small things each day? Like lunch. How can you exist in some state of perpetual ecstasy? Is it necessary to love your job? Wouldn’t liking it a lot be sufficient? Why would someone think that liking a job instead of loving it would be incredibly sad? I don’t think that.

Am I too busy to worry about whether or not I’m happy? Does it matter? I really don’t think I’m too busy. I’m sitting here writing a blog; how can I be busy? But I’m a bit nervous about the times right now, because in the past it seems like whenever I’m in a calm period [a period where I have time to wonder about these things] it usually means that disaster is just around the corner. But that sounds pessimistic and cynical; maybe I don’t really feel that way. I so clearly remember the summer of 2001 — it’s even in the family photo album: that summer we’d had lots of nice experiences and the weather in northern Virginia was beautiful — and then September came and school started… and then 9/11 happened and everything fell apart for several years in a variety of ways. By the time we surfaced in Madison, Wisconsin, in the summer of 2004, there’d been a fair amount of depression, destruction, death, disorientation, disorganization and decompensation. But then things got better. Life is full of cycles and the best thing about being at the bottom of a pit is looking upwards, and realizing that things can’t get worse, so they must be about to get better! And they do. And they did.

Once, our son asked me if I was happy with my life and satisfied with what I’d done, where I’d gone and where I was at the moment. I was caught off guard into stunned silence that our son had asked such a question of me. He rarely asks those kinds of penetrating questions that require some thought to answer. But it wasn’t that hard. I answered “yes.” Because in fact, I’m fairly content most of the time. I don’t have a huge number of diagnoses — just ones that are manageable. I have what is likely the usual number of regrets, but nothing worth writing a novel about. There are no astonishing skeletons in my closet. Some would say I’m a bit boring, but then again… maybe not. Only to my kids, possibly. Happiness… what is it anyway? “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…” Is that what we’re always seeking? Is there anything I’m seeking right now?

OK, it’s not about what it is that makes me really happy. That’s not the right question. The real question is… what are the things that grab me? What am I obsessing about lately? Or rather, what do I love and who cares if it’s not something that makes money? That question is fairly easy and simple to answer, which maybe explains why I don’t spend much time worrying about what makes me happy. I can like my job — even like it a lot — and it helps pay the bills, so then in my free time [which I do have because I value free time] I can do things that intrigue me. Things that are interesting to me. Like listen to pandora and read about music and musicians whose sounds I like but who I’ve never heard of before. I really enjoy that. Or working on genealogy for my family. Or editing photos and getting them printed and writing about the events connected with the photos. I like that. Or reading novels. I read every day just before I go to sleep. Or walk on the treadmill and watch whatever it is that is next on my list. This week, I’ve been watching Empire Falls, an HBO mini-series from several years ago. We just read the novel for my book group. I enjoyed it a lot. And I love planning my next trip to Scotland. I sure hope it actually happens. The trip will make me very happy, and then I’ll spend 6 months working on the photo albums while listening to Scottish music on my iPod. I will be happy! Choices? I didn’t talk about choices in this post. I think I have lots of choices every day. Such as, which delectable item will I choose for lunch? And what can I talk about in my post?

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