I had a breakthrough in therapy today: I am, at my very core, happy, and I am setting myself up for continued happiness.
The latter is shocking because I have had just about the worst role models for a happy, productive adulthood that it’s possible to have. I love my parents, but I don’t pretend for a second that they’ve been content with their lot, and seeing that unhappiness has affected me. I didn’t consciously know I could pick a career I would like–my mother never had that chance, and my father focused on the wrong things for so long that he squandered his. I took so long to decide on a major because I hated the thought of the short-term: going forward in that major, doing that scholarship. I forgot to connect that to the work I would find after until I got a good, revealing look at something I thought was going to make me happy. And now I am connecting it to the examples I had growing up. I can get a job I will want to keep, and I can even keep it. Imagine that!
The former… well, I don’t talk much about the sordid past, at least not here, so let me assure you that it was grim, and let’s leave it there. So today, at some point, we made our way around to “It’s over, and I survived. I’m doing well.” We spent a lot of time with that concept. I’m happy now. Huh. By which I mean I am more often happy than not; nobody’s life is perfect. But I appreciate mine.
Then Nicki Clyne Tweeted this article (How To Land Your Kid In Therapy). More connections. Is it possible I can appreciate what I have because I didn’t always have it? My parents weren’t perfect, and I did get hurt–and now I’m better. I didn’t have happiness handed to me; I had to work for it. (I also had to learn how to function in groups, deal with my own failures, and keep going even without endless praise. Kids these days, oy.) I’m proud that I showed up to play the game on some pretty daunting fields. I went to the National Spelling Bee! I got a free week’s vacation in DC and all I had to do was stand up and spell a few words. By that point, even if you don’t win, who the hell cares? I went home without a trophy, just (just!) some incredible experiences, and I didn’t need anyone to pat me on the head and coo at me. I was briefly sad I’d lost, sure, and that’s natural, but I already knew how to appreciate every tiny bit of joy I could find.
Contrast this with the do-it-all-have-it-all push that was high school. By the time I was a senior, I had no idea which college to pick, or what I wanted to take. Certain choices were forbidden me because they were “below me”, which was a crock. I’d have ended up just as fulfilled if I’d gone to vocational school first, since I pretty much wasted my senior year on study halls and one or two remaining required courses. I did wind up at my local community college. I recently threw away a whole crate of expensive-looking brochures from expensive-looking colleges, none of which appealed to me then, none of which appeal to me now. What was the point of the deluge? I drowned in it. I had all the choices in the world and none of them won my heart as thoroughly as my community college.
[ . . . ] Then, in a second part of the experiment, the researchers had the kids pick one marker from their set to keep as a gift. Once the kids had chosen, the researchers tried to persuade them to give back their marker in exchange for other gifts. The kids who had chosen from 24 markers did this far more easily than those who had chosen from only three markers. According to Schwartz, this suggests that the kids who had fewer markers to select from . . . committed more strongly to their original gift choice.
And now, something as simple as a foam star makes me happy. Something as intricate as the prospect of an ethnographic study in graduate school makes me happy. Watching cartoons; my very own cheese plate (fontina, asiago, parmesan) with honey and sparkling red grape juice. Two words: Lady. Gaga. Who is complicated and simple all at once.
We can’t just turn our species into a mass of placid, pampered lumps. I told my therapist I was finally living, and that at times it was terrifying, but I’d rather feel terror sometimes than feel nothing at all. I think I will take this philosophy forward with me.
(And a p.s. from the Twitter trenches: Keith Olbermann declaring that Countdown was going to go back to the standard hour because he’s hurting Rachel=sheer AWWWWWWW. Yes, with seven Ws.)