Mocha caramel with sea salt—salt and sweet, just like life. I am sitting in Peets in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. Jeff has gone to GE for a meeting and I am writing. I have the best life. I have time to write and drink coffee—what could be more enjoyable? Well lots of things really: swimming in a warm ocean, or diving the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland. Walking along the cliffs of Cornwall watching the mountain goats sit on the rocks barely noticeable until they move. Lots of things are better than what I am doing. And lots of things are much worse.
Sitting in a jail cell for the rest of your life; that would suck big time. Or being so fat that you can’t get out of your front door. Or dying in hospital of cancer. Or worse, have your kid dying in hospital of cancer. There are always much worse things in life than what we are going through. But I don’t want to think of worse things or better things. I want to be just where I am.
I have come to realize that all this time—make that years and years—I have thought that to be happy is the utmost goal of life. So whenever I am not happy, I have felt I have fallen short of the goal. My big hairy audacious goal to be happy will never happen because it’s impossible. Once I figured that out—I became happy. You see, I thought that to be happy, happy, joy, joy was the goal. What I realize now is that to be happy is a moving target. It can be lost in an instant. Then the happiness turns to frustration, anger even?! I wanted to be happy. I had it for a moment, and now it’s gone. Bad girl. Bad, bad girl. You are not disciplined enough. Maybe if you meditated more, or prayed more, or had faith in God you would have made it. You would be happy. But that is not possible.
Furthermore, God has nothing to do with happiness. Happiness is an elusive emotion. We feel it whenever we are doing something that we enjoy—but can we really enjoy doing the dishes. Yes we can—but not all the time. What if another member of our household is not doing the dishes, and you are doing them all the time—then it feels like you are being put upon. The happiness of having a clean dish is surpassed by the unhappiness of someone taking advantage of your cleanliness streak.
And what about anger. That can arise in an instant. One moment happy. Kissing and cuddling with a loved one and the phone rings. Your friend has died. Or your accountant has stolen all your money. Or your beloved has been cheating on you. Happy one moment. Really angry the next. Discipline, fortitude, or grit are not enough to withstand some of life’s truly shitty things from happening.
This is what I learned. It’s not about being happy, sad, angry, frustrated or cheated. It’s about choosing how long do I want to be this way? How long do I want to be angry. I was being angry in the kitchen the other day. It’s such a silly thing. We have our office in our home and a co-worker wants to sleep over some nights, and take a shower in the morning. And I felt it was too encroaching. Too familiar. I didn’t like the idea of waking up in the morning—going downstairs in my PJ’s and seeing my co-worker in her PJ’s….or with wet hair…or whatever state she wakes up in the morning. I just didn’t want to deal with it and I was being angry about it in the kitchen. Telling my daughter, “I am just really angry about it.”
She said, “Mom how long do you want to be angry?” It hadn’t occurred to me that I had a choice. I looked at the clock and thought, ten minutes? Five minutes? One minute. No–one minute was not long enough to dissipate my anger. “Five minutes!” I said.
“Okay,” she said, “GO!” So I started being consciously angry. I swore and bitched and moaned, all the while watching the seconds and minutes tick by until the clock told me my five minutes of anger was up! “Okay” she said, “DONE!?”
“Done!” I said. And I felt great. It was like dumping the anger outside of my body. It didn’t belong to me like anger usually does. It was a widget. A product that I could dispense with. I had control of it. I was being given permission to be angry for a certain amount of time and then stop.
That’s my awareness now. Life will encroach on happiness. Something will happen to dump all over my happiness like a turd on a snow cone and I get to choose how long I keep looking at the turd! As long as I want and as short as I want. Happiness is not the choice my friend. The choice is how long do I want to be unhappy? How long do I want to be angry? How long do I want to be depressed. Answer: as short a time as possible–how wonderful is that? Bloody fantastic!