On Happiness

I just read an article in Brain/Child called “Never Wish Happiness For Your Children” which basically said “you can’t guarantee your kids’ happiness, so you should teach skills instead.” Like, presumably, using scissors, accounting, turning tricks, you know.

I’ve got to say, I’m probably not their ideal reader, even though I’m sure they think I am (“The magazine for thinking mothers”). Their Facebook Page header says “Don’t Just Read it. Think About it.” My immediate response to that was “Fuck you, don’t tell me what to do.”

But, if I’m reading this correctly, I’m not supposed to tell myself “I just want them to be happy.”

Ok, I get it. I really do. How can you not get it if you’re living through sibling warfare, teenage drama, or the nuclear-level catastrophe caused by a pair of itchy socks or “dangerous” pants. Clearly happiness is elusive, otherwise I’d never leave my house even to buy paper products (note, one of my children was exceedingly happy today to find out that toilet paper, in Britain, is called “asswipe” — which I’m pretty sure was never a checklist item in any pubescent happiness studies). But I digress. Because it makes me fucking happy.

“Just let go,” the article says.

Of course! Now I can heave a sigh and not worry at all, because it’s all about me. Last I checked, love was all about wanting someone to be happy, regardless of whether this was in the cards or not. But, heck, if reality won’t comply with my desire for guaranteed product, then I guess I’m supposed to take it back and not bother. And pat myself on the back.

So why is this article being written? I always wonder those things. What’s the hook that caused an editor to bite? It’s somehow news, I presume, more grist in the mill of endless parenting articles describing how we’re messing up our kids by being involved, engaged, and part of their messy lives. Because we can’t deal with the grey area between intrusion and abandonment. Or, at least, that’s work — not news, and nobody wants to read articles that say “we’re all fucking up all the time, but it doesn’t matter, just love each other.”

Last time I said something like that at home, one of my kids said “God, mom, you sound like Jesus.” Which, if you know me AT ALL, is probably hilarious, and hey, kids, IT’S NOT LIKE I MADE THIS SHIT UP RIGHT NOW. HE POSTED IT ON FACEBOOK.

What’s the point, I guess, of wanting your kids to be happy if if they could end up on drugs, alcoholic, codependent, anemic, or rendered less perfect than any of the ills that befall oh…HUMANS. Instead, let’s downgrade our desperate, heartfelt wishes for them to some kind of vocational enrichment. Because that’s measurable, and we can take credit for it: “Yeah, Johnny wishes he was dead every day he comes home from the office, but boy can he do long division fast!”

Pulling back the general rant a bit, another thing that irks me is this: by “happy,” this article means eventually, as adults — as if happiness doesn’t matter or even exist in the meantime. Not only do we push off the concept of happiness to a later date, but we don’t even talk about it — like being happy now is a self-indulgence on the craziness order of hoarding cats or eating human flesh.

I have a feeling that if you asked most parents “is your child happy now,” their heads would explode. Similarly, if you asked them if they themselves are happy. This is not in our current vocabulary. Happiness, maybe, is what we might have if we weren’t so busy doing all the things we’re doing to be successful or socially acceptable, always looking toward the future.

The dictionary defines happiness as “a state of well-being or contentment.” I’d argue that basically this means having your vital needs met and getting to be yourself. It doesn’t mean getting all the jellybeans or the most pizza, or having a perfect life. When you look at it this way, happiness looks a lot like mediocrity with a side of self-awareness.

But how many of us live that way? And are my kids happy? At any one moment, sometimes yes, sometimes no. Will they be happy in the future? I sure hope so. But my biggest wish for them right now is that that they get to know who they are and what makes them feel like they’re in a good place.

That would make me happy.

Here’s a link to the article:

If you’ve been to Life Alive in Lowell, you’ll know they put this sauce on their Goddess bowls that I swear is liquid crack. It’s so good, it could make shoe leather taste good. Maybe.

Anyway, I scoured the internet for a recipe, and recreated the Goddess Bowl at home, with the “Special Sauce.” Here it is:

2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 inches of fresh peeled ginger, chopped
1 tablespoon of Tamari Soy Sauce
2 tablespoons of lemon juice (about 1/2 a lemon)
2 tablespoons of Tahini
1 tablespoon of olive oil
2 tablespoons of water

I cut up some carrots, beets, and broccoli florets, and sauteed some tofu in tamari, then put all of this over some brown rice and drizzled the sauce over it. Oh my gosh, it was good. Without it, it’s just, well, a bunch of veggies in a bowl.

So this made me think — because I’m a writer; I love a good metaphor, and I need a blog post — what other areas in my life could be made better by a “special sauce?” What if I brought something just a little bit special to what otherwise might be underwhelming and ordinary?

And even better — what if it doesn’t even have to be that hard? What if we already do this, but just don’t realize it? What if you entered every interaction with the knowledge that you have magic to bring, you really do? What would happen?

Try it.


Stay Warm

“Every athlete knows this: warm up before playing or you’ll pull a muscle. If I am warm, I feel I can do anything.”
–Twyla Tharp