Yesterday I was thinking about happiness. I thought I’d write about it, but then just got busy and forgot about it. But there have been quite a few sad moments in the last week or two, probably because my son’s 5 year death day anniversary is about a month away. This kind of anniversary is hardwired into my body. Even if I could forget the calendar, my body won’t.
“How come you’re always so happy in the morning mom?” my son asked me on the last day I ever saw him. We’d stayed up all night watching a presidential debate. He loved that I woke up at 1:00 am to watch it with him. I’m not a night person. But this was important. We had such a good time that night, our last night together. At about noon I went into his room to see if he wanted breakfast (he had his own apartment not even a mile away, but loved coming home for weekends to what he called his summer home, my flat in London). He was just waking up and I smiled at him, one of those big smiles that seem to go on forever. I always smiled when I looked at him, and especially in the morning. He was always a little grumpy when he woke up, and could never understand how I could wake up so happy. I couldn’t help it. I loved being his mom. I was happy. How could I not be?
Yet, I think that I’ve always been a happy person. Lots of hard things had happened in my life up until that point. I’d get stressed, and even had some big heart breaks. But I was still mostly a happy person. I knew that in my heart. But what made me so happy? Was it only because I had my son from the age of 19 and from then on my life was truly complete? Was it because I had a single mission – to take care of him and to make sure he had a great life? Or is/was my happiness due to something else?
Maybe being happy has something to do with cultivating those happy moments, planting seeds and then watering them. I think there is definitely some choice involved in being a happy person. Even after the worst thing happened I still try to find things to do that will make me feel like life is worth living, to find things that I can truly engage in. In the early months after Shaka died, I went to work every day to keep my company going, to make sure that what we’d built together continued and, I didn’t want to let my employees down either. When the company later went under I started a writing group, made a documentary… This is how I’ve survived the last 5 mostly heartbreaking years – I cook, I babysit, I write, I try to help people who need a shoulder or some encouragement. I do not let myself sit alone in the quiet. I avoid thinking about my missing son; I don’t look at his photos, I try not to think about him at all. It is an act of will that takes all of the energy I have. I put myself wholly into whatever I am doing in the moment. This might have been what I’ve been doing all of my life. I needed to pay private school fees, or college, or rent… and all of those grown up things.
This morning I was reading op-ed pieces in the New York Times and I stumbled across an article “Looking to Genes for the Secret to Happiness.” It refers to a study that found ““our genes can tell the difference” between a purpose-driven life and a shallower one even when our conscious minds cannot.” It goes on to say that purpose is pretty elastic and only needs to be something greater than immediate gratification. Being a mom gave me the greatest happiness, and the greatest purpose. Nothing will ever compare to that. I don’t have a big purpose any more. But each little mission I have in a day gives rise to the chance of moments of happiness. I may not be able to choose when I’m going to be happy. But I can usually choose to do something, to take some action, to be purposeful about something. And in doing so I am relieved to know that there is a good chance that some happiness will blossom.