“The broadly engaged mind is the source of a happy life.” Bromo in That Old Ace in the Hole by Annie Proulx

Once again, fine literature offers an answer so illusive to far too many.iStock_000008241677XSmall

Often people arrive in my office wanting happiness. I consider this a vague generalization that doesn’t have any substance. Just recently, I discovered it was Eleanor Roosevelt who said “happiness is not a goal, it’s a byproduct.”  I have been saying this for years without knowing who to credit. We have the ability to make choices in life and with a bit of luck we are able to be happy. In her novel When Heaven and Earth Changed Places, Le Ly Heyslip says that Americans chase after happiness “as if it were some kind of flighty bird that is always out of reach” while the Vietnamese are taught to protect happiness from the world because we are born with it. Watch a toddler play with a key chain is to have more respect for the asian perspective. There are so many things to engage with in life; reading the New York Times, finding out who won the ManBooker award this year, theatre, live blues concerts, driving to the Humana Festival, feeding the monks of Laos in Luang Phrabang, gardening, building mosaic walls with friends to make concrete more aesthetic if you live in the city, going to lectures if you worship new ideas, appreciate your young adult children, fun new t.v. shows like Glee, enjoy who your children fall in love with, having gatherings for people who are interesting, making lists of great books on amazon, helping to keep a progressive dinner list & make it work for the neighborhood, listening to Classic Vinyl or NPR on Sat.am, scoring tickets to a Steelers game, working hard, the atmosphere of a baseball game in the most beautiful stadium in the country, a friends’ creative thankyou note, sending Halloween cards just because, walks outdoors, reading a wonderful book with a character you’ve fallen in love with, life long learning classes, collecting great pots for plants indoors when Fall arrives, eating a great meal, following the work & artistic merits of directors in film, Fall or Spring weekend visits with best girlfriends, going to the symphony because it makes someone else happy and of course, writing a blog. Life is chock full of possibilities.

It’s so easy to interrupt happiness. I often hear “I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop” or someone can’t be happy without the love of a lifetime. If you figure out being happy in your own life first I guarantee that you are more attractive. People get stuck in their ideas of what happiness is supposed to be. Depression and personal tragedy are things that happen to you and  you have to fight to find a toehold on life to make it more bearable. You have to remember that things keep changing and will continue to do so.

I have seen 1/2 of a fragile couple change their attitude, get determined to be more understanding and solve problems instead of giving in to passivity. This kind of attitude shift creates greater moments of happiness for both people.

Happiness is a tricky business because it includes handling the whammys that are part of the deal in the process of life. I was lucky enough to hear Nam Le (the young author of the luminous short story collection The Boat) and he shared the story of his complete failure with his first novel. He went on to ask why we all want to cut off the peaks in the ocean of life and keep only the good parts. The valleys inform the peaks and his first failure was crucial to the success of his first published collection.

While it is true that being positive in job hunting is important, it is also important to examine how you’ve done poorly in an interview and how to improve as a prospective candidate. It is not authentic to be only positive, there needs to be a balance of honest self awareness and evaluation to improve your chances of being employed.

In has been widely reported that in 1972 women were happier than men and now they are not. Of course, feminists are being blamed. I think we’re still in the beginning of a transition where women may feel besieged by choices. It could be that women’s expectations of themselves, are too huge a burden to bear. No one can be wonderful at everything and on some level happiness is about deciding what are the parts of life that work for you, while remembering that no one gets all the pieces of the pie. For example; I accept I’m not the milk and cookies (I burn the bottoms) mom and I know I’m the honest, challenging mom. Happiness requires deciding and accepting what is worthwhile without the fantasy we can do it all. Happiness also requires knowing your wants. Women often get lost in focusing on other people’s wants.

Happiness requires that other people be a part of your life and that includes being up for the messiness that other relationships add. Happiness can not depend on someone else. Happiness is not about trite sayings or wishing for money to make it so. Happiness is holding onto the things that matter to you and being proud of the character within that your choices create. Happiness is a quilt built of choices in all parts of life.iStock_000008465987XSmall

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About the Rhoda Mills Sommer

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