. . .showing or causing feelings of pleasure and enjoyment, favored by luck or fortune (“happy coincidence); notably fitting, effective, or well adapted (“happy choice”); enjoying or characterized by well-being and contentment (“happy childhood”); expressing, reflecting, or suggestive of happiness (“happy ending”); glad/pleased (“happy to meet you”); or having or marked by an atmosphere of good fellowship.
As far as I can tell, life’s not designed to make us happy. There is no promise that if we hold all the right cards and marry the right fellow and have the right number of babies and eat enough kale, happiness will follow. Is anyone actually happy eating kale? We should instead all eat dark chocolate salted caramels, except those make our blood sugar spike and food can be our comfort which leads to weight gain and depression. Maybe Gwyneth is right and kale is better.
But somehow there is this myth floating around – it starts about high school – that one should do whatever it is that makes one happy. Like if theatre gives us wings we should move to California and live on stale pita bread, slumping around drinking bad coffee with wispy hair in audition lines. Or if writing is our passion we should quit our long, boring, corporate day jobs (so we can pay our mortgages) and write. Life bold. Live free. Love who you want and do what you want and smoke what you want.
But that lesson doesn’t always pan out. We turn around one random Monday when we are 40 wearing ill-fitting jeans trying to find the teacher who said it to us years ago, like “Wait! That’s not what you promised!” But there’s no one there: just a trail of smoke in the distance behind. We have lingering pain that we can’t seem to numb with narcotics. We have jobs with bosses. We have toilets that break over Thanksgiving and enchiladas that taste like cardboard and spouses with drinking problems and tumors that sprout up out of nowhere and end up lodged in our cortex. What once gave us great joy is now a burden. What was once a dream is now crushed, and we all feel like failures with raging sinus infections.
Because sometimes, life is not at all happy. Our fairy godmother has a case of rheumatoid arthritis.
So we roll up our sleeves and seek answers where we can – our pastors and friends, leaders and teachers – and compare the reality of our situation to some ethereal and unrealistic fairness standard the world sets. After all – THEY are happy. You know, those people. Celebrities with waistlines. Mothers in carpool. Men wearing suits. Oprah. They live a full life and have a Range Rover with tan leather interior. They have spotless kitchens and blond grandkids with smocked dresses. Why can’t I? How can I get what they’ve got? Why do they get that life and I get this one?
How the hell should I know. For dinner tonight my kids ate macaroni and canned peaches.
What I DO know is that the most interesting and fascinating people are those who have been through many trials. Who have learned that struggle is not just a necessary part of life, but a valuable part. They see deeper, beyond the current reality. And these fighters roll up their sleeves, look at their tattered lives full of holes and damage and failed relationships and past mistakes and 1980’s coca-cola t-shirts, and think “Well, hell. I can teach yoga. I can start a school. I can instill in these kids a sense of wonder. I can bake cakes. I CAN GIVE WHAT I CAN IN THIS TINY SMALL SPACE WHERE I’M PLANTED TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE.”
They aren’t actually shouting, despite the all caps. But in essence they are. Shouting to the teachers that they were all bald-faced liars. Shouting to God that sometimes life hurts. Shouting to their student loans and their dislocated marriages. The most interesting and blessed people have very little to give, and it’s not fair that whats-his-nuts got a promotion when they did all the work. But they are hell-bent to keep on keeping on, pressing on, marching on, regardless.
Amen to you brave warriors. Applaud your own courage, and strength, and will. Your bold, bad-ass spirit is not unrecognized.
So on one leg or one eye or one bruised heart, rebound. Go teach yoga and start schools and raise kids and bake. Raise up those kids and march toward that job and smile when it’s hard. Then vow to give up Diet Coke or start running or keep your closet neater. And small things build to bigger things, and before long you’ll be volunteering at the animal shelter or finding a dollar a week for someone else and laughing, of all the nutty things. And out of nowhere like a wellspring rising there is an amazing amount of joy to be found in the surviving. In the community of people who walk alongside. In a God who teaches us to serve, and dig down deep. After all, we are more than our circumstances.
We are standing inside of a brilliant, amazing life that we have weathered.
Be that. The person who survives. Who laughs. Who is grateful for the hard. Ask God to help you find the brightness even in the failures, so that you can look back and weave it into your patchwork. And in the end, I hope you say with a shocked expression that you actually found happiness. The true kind that survives and doesn’t wilt. That perseveres through the drought. The one that rises up strong and bears fruit.
The kind of happy that matters.