Yesterday I wrosebudas 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.

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2 Responses to Happiness

  1. michael says:

    i clicked through the url on your letter to the times re suffering. your pov interests me. i was quite sick once (survival estimate in months) and went through complex times with my parents over what it all meant. now it’s almost ten years later (my onc says i’m a one in ten thousand pt) and still living an altered relationship with both my parents, who seem more likely now to predecease me.

    • Shelley says:

      Thanks for stopping by Michael. I’m really happy you are a one in ten thousand! I love hearing stories like this. Yes, how do we ever know what it all means. We just do the best we can, don’t we. x

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