Very little is needed to make a happy life: it is all within yourself in your way of thinking.”
I sometimes think of myself as an old soul. I wasn’t born that way. It was thrust upon me. Like so many I took all of the blessings bestowed on me for granted. I believed that life would always be the same. I had a handsome brilliant father and a beautiful loving mother. Together they created an environment for me and my brothers that was comfortable and secure. Mine was a world of books, trips, celebrations, adventures and always a routine in which I might flourish. I was unaware of poverty, hate, dangers. Those were concepts so foreign to me that I rarely gave them a thought. My extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins enriched my existence even more. My parents had good and loyal friends who often filled our home with laughter.
It was as good and happy a life as anyone might ever want. In many ways it spoiled me. I had friends who were facing challenges who spoke of their envy of my seemingly perfect life. I was a child who did not have to endure hardships or fear. Everyday seemed wondrously perfect. Of course we all know that life is rarely so. Each of us face moments of tragedy and pain. We never quite know when they will happen, but happen they will. In my own case the death of my father rocked the world that had always seemed so safe. The little cocoon that had sheltered me from all harm was cracked wide open and I was quite suddenly required to face realities of which I had been so innocently unaware.
I had not known scarcity or privation. I had been protected from sadness. My days had been marked by comforting routines including ample food and a more than adequate lifestyle. It had not experienced death or suffering. I was as innocent of hurt as a newborn child. When my father died all of that changed.
For a long while I was consumed with worry and an overwhelming sadness. I felt sorry for myself, an emotion that I had never before endured. I found it difficult to refrain from comparing my seeming bad luck with the perceived good fortune of my friends. I wondered why God had chosen me and my family for this unwanted situation. Even as my mother found the strength to pull herself together and forge a new and different life for us I still felt afraid in the night. My confidence plummeted at the same time that I understood that I must set my childhood whimsy aside and become responsible and mature so that my mother would have one less thing to concern her. I was not ready for this challenge but I willed myself to undertake it. With time my new role became easier and easier and I soon enough had a new found contentment that I had at one time believed would never return.
Just when I thought that my mother and brothers and I had mastered our fate a new wrinkle appeared. My mom’s strong facade fell as surely as a cardboard building might melt in a driving rain. Her mental illness burst forth with a vengeance and it would never again go away. It was always lurking just behind her efforts to be well and whole again. The challenge of caring for her fell to me, an obligation that I would have gladly run from if given even a slim opportunity. Unfortunately I understood that I was the person who had to become a full fledged adult even though by age I should have still been exploring the world and finding my way in it. The die was cast for me and at least until my brothers were older it would be my lot to again and again watch over my mother and get her the care that she needed.
It took me several years to realize that the very instances that had seemed to ruin my life had in fact been the catalysts to make me a far better person than I might have been. I became a far more selfless and compassionate person. I gained a confidence that had always been inside of me because I had no other choice than to be courageous. I learned to appreciate my life as it was rather than to dwell on what I had lost. I was able to find beauty and serenity in the smallest pleasures. I took advantage of every wonderful moment because I understood the fragility of daily life. When people came to me in pain I was able to help them because I too had known those dark moments when everything is overwhelming. I understood and loved myself just as I was. I saw beauty in every person no matter how different they were.
Of course I had and still have imperfections just as we all do. I get angry over silly things. My frustrations sometimes get the best of me. I have to quell jealousies from time to time. I am a competitive person and I don’t like to lose but I know that I sometimes will. The years have helped me to calm the negativity that sometimes haunts me. I still worry too much, especially when someone that I love is troubled.
Still, I consider myself to be a happy person. It takes very little to make me smile inside. Sitting by a campfire listening to my grandchildren tell silly stories is delightful. Walking for miles with no destination in mind makes me grateful that I still have the energy and the health to enjoy such excursions. Laughing with Mike as he gives me nightly injections of Forteo to build my bones is a treat that I don’t take lightly. Spending time with my relatives and friends is something that I value more than earthly treasures. I have learned the importance of forgiveness, especially for myself. I know that I will make mistakes and lapse into hopelessness when the challenges overwhelm me. Life has taught me that it is okay to be human as long as I eventually pull myself from the depths of despair.
People are good. The world is good. We only have to look around to find the love and the kindness that we need. It is always there. I have experienced the generosity of both friends and strangers many times in my life. When I have been at the lowest points there have always been those who have shown me how to smile again. I have learned that the best medicine for the blues is inside. When I learn how to forget myself and focus on those who have less (and there will always be those who have less) I gain more appreciation for the many blessings that are mine.
It is true that happiness is a state of mind. It can’t be purchased with power or gold. If we decide to look for it we will soon learn that it has been waiting for us right before our eyes. I we decide that it is so, we will be joyful. It is all in how we choose to bear the challenges that are sure to come our way and how we agree to love ourselves and each other every moment of every day.