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Holding on to Happiness

Posted in: Blog by admin on September 23, 2010

June 17, 2010

It happened once again. The amazing energy of the world. The irony, the coincidence, the affirmation that all is connected.

I opened up my laptop just now to write about happiness and my thought that we have so much control of this very concept which directs most of our goals and decisions throughout our lives. Isn’t that precisely what we all want from our days here? To be happy?

Before I started writing, I read my brother and sister-in-law’s blog in which they keep their family and friends updated regarding her battle with cancer. There was a picture of Sara standing there proudly showing off the baby in her tummy. She looked beautiful. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the picture. She looked happy. And maybe, amidst all of this pain and fear that she is enduring daily, she has some powerful moments of true happiness. Maybe she is happy that the chemo didn’t leave her feeling as nauseous as she thought it would. Maybe she is happy to have a husband so loving and supportive. Maybe she is happy because her beautiful two-year-old girl made a silly face that made her smile.

I, of course, don’t know what moments are joyful for her, but I do know this: There are those moments to be had. And, for many of us, that ability to feel happiness is not only relative, it is also within our control.

Holidays have always been very difficult for me because, as I’ve previously mentioned, I often think of those who are suffering at a time when we are told to celebrate. My perspective was improved when, on one day before Christmas, I went to my therapist feeling so much sadness. I told her that I felt guilty being happy as I thought about all of the children who were going to wake up so sad on Christmas morning because they were beaten the night before. (Yes, warning to those of you who feel happy because you successfully avoid some of life’s most painful realities: this writing is sometimes a bit heavy! But, keep reading — I’m an optimist, and it will get lighter!) Back to the therapist:

I told her I felt guilty knowing that homeless people were waking up freezing throughout our city. I felt guilty, as I was surrounded by cabinets and refrigerators overflowing with food, that people all over the world have hunger pains so severe that they cannot move. I felt guilty knowing that Americans were off fighting a war for us, away from their loved ones, while I sit comfortably in my home.

How and why, I asked, should I feel joy? So many are suffering, yet, I should smile? I should be happy? And, what kind of person am I? I have this fortunate life, yet I go to my therapist’s office to analyze my trivial struggles while others walk around this world hoping to stumble upon a loaf of bread or a hand that won’t strike them.

Her response to me has remained with me for years now. She said, “Amy, what makes you happy is not necessarily what makes someone else happy. Do not project your desires and needs onto others. Maybe a man who is homeless is happy today because he found a warm shelter that took him in. Maybe a little girl who is parentless is happy today because she received a little doll from a charity.” Our discussion continued as my eyes opened to this reality: Happiness is relative. And, despite horrible suffering in the world, it is also oftentimes within our control, thanks to the power of perspective.

Another monumental night for me philosophically was when I went to see The Diary of Anne Frank at Steppenwolf. There the family sat, hiding in the cold attic. They were scared. Their lives were threatened. They were hungry. Yet, they couldn’t feel more blessed to be sitting beside one another. For that is all that mattered. They were together. They were holding on so tightly. And, for that moment, they were happy. I’ll never forget how I felt sitting in that theater, reminding myself that I will be more grateful for what I do have, not sad for that which I do not.

It’s a challenging concept. Perspective. Happiness. I suppose it’s two concepts! And, both fascinate and amaze me.

When my 52-year-old dad died suddenly, my amazing Grandma Flo was crushed to lose her only child. When my Poppy Frank died 12 days later, Mama Flo also lost her husband of 60 years. It was “too much.” How could Mama Flo go on and ever experience joy again, many wondered. She just lost her only child and her life mate.

And, now, here is all I probably ever needed to say about happiness and perspective:

Mama Flo felt blessed every remaining day of her life.

This lovely woman, who had lost her only child and husband within days of one another, still radiated such palpable joy and beautiful energy and abundant peacefulness for the following seven years of her life. We spoke every single day. And every single day she hung up the phone telling me this: “Oh, Amy, I am so very blessed to have you three girls.” She also would tell me on many occasions how blessed she was to have my mother and my Uncle David in her life, as well. Yes, she was “blessed.”

And, she had friends. And she had cousins. And she had wisdom. And she had purpose. And she had her own brilliantly beautiful perspective.

Her words have never left me.

Her attitude, I hope, flows throughout me.

Her perspective, if I may have inherited a sliver of it, is a true gift in life.

It is enough to make me feel truly happy.

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