The pursuit of happiness … or should we?
A brother-in-law texted with family news. I didn’t see his message until several hours later. “We’ve been camping/fishing/kayaking all week,” I explained.
BIL: “Are you sure that having that much fun isn’t a sin??!” (Smile.)
Dan and I spent this past week at Lava Lake high in the Cascade Mountains. Camping. Hiking. Fishing. Kayaking. And wildlife-watching: ducks, geese, ospreys, an eagle, blue herons, a mama deer with speckled triplets, a young bear. Even a dumpster-diving chipmunk.
Back when I was still single and had dated a couple different men, I had an email exchange with that same brother-in-law. We were discussing the
frustrations merits of my dating again.
Ever the logical thinker, he pointed out that many widows were looking for financial security or to be taken care of. “But you’re not in that position,” he reminded me.
And then he asked, “Where would you rate your happiness on a 1-10 scale?”
“Definitely a 10,” I answered. Because I was truly content as a widow.
BIL: “A husband isn’t going to move the happiness needle if it’s a 10 now, and a good chance he’d drop it some.”
His concern was simple. Since I didn’t need the financial security of marriage, I might regret being tied down after enjoying a few years of free-spiritedness, of picking up and going whenever and wherever I pleased.
His ‘happiness meter’ comment stayed with me.
And then I met Dan while interviewing him for a story about the shower truck that provides hot showers for the homeless in our community.
He is kind, and thoughtful, and funny, and wise, and adventurous, and goes about fixing broken things for people, and drives the shower truck.
It’s been so much fun as our friendship developed and morphed into courtship, which twirled into marriage.
On a scale of 1-10, my happiness meter is right around 100 (think of it as new math), although that wasn’t the motivation for opening my heart to this good man.
Joanna Gaines, of Fixer-Upper fame, offers this perspective about when happiness becomes the sole pursuit of our daily lives:
I can’t help but wonder what we might be missing out on in the process—the potential to learn more, through our failures, through our sadness and grief, about who we are and all that we can offer this world.
Ironically, the long, barren wilderness years—those years that included a live-in mom sinking into Alzheimer’s, job loss and financial setbacks, cancer, and eventually widowhood—taught me gratitude in the middle of the losses.
Those years shaped me to look more like compassion and empathy.
They provided opportunity to grow and learn and be stretched, which was rather painful at the time.
Dan would say the same as he walked beside his first wife through those long weeks and months and years of cancer. “After the loss of love,” he said to me recently, “when you start to regain it, you appreciate it so much more.”
So, how does heartbreak lead to happiness?
If, in our losses, we allow God to shape us into new purpose … and if we practice that purposefulness to help make a difference for others going through hardships … then happiness shows up and adds beauty and color to our dry places.
This thought from the ancient book of psalms: “You [God] turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.”
What if—instead of pursuing happiness—we chased down gratitude?
What if we lived intentionally in every moment that we’ve been given with our people? What if we noticed our surroundings and the simple pleasures that make up a sweet life?
And what if we focused outwardly to see where we could lighten the load for others, maybe raising their happiness meters a bit?
Would that cause joy to spill over into our lives?
From experience, Yes.
This thought from Nanea Hoffman:
Note to self: Anything you have ever wanted to be good at, you’ve had to practice.
If you want happiness, practice being happy.
Keep these handy tools in your backpack to help along the way: gratitude, observation, presence, and perspective.
Maybe also a candy bar.