Tuesday, August 01, 2006

What does it take?

I had just finished commenting on another journal where someone had posted their own pictures. When my comment posted I noticed the comment above mine. The person asked if that was her. She said it was. He commented again, saying that looking as good as she did she should be happy and with someone. That stuck in my mind. Just because she was pretty and had a nice body she should be happy and not alone. I couldn't get rid of the idea. People really believe that being beautiful or pretty, having a nice body, or money, or a better situation in life means you should be happy. The other side of that coin is that if you have a good portion of what is advertised to make you happy and you're not, what is wrong with you?

Most people keep hold of the wrong end of the stick when it comes to happiness. They believe that if you have enough money, property, beauty, clothes, toys, things, people around you and any number of material possessions you should be happy. Happiness isn't something you can buy, although you might feel happy for a little while when you purchase that big screen TV you've been wanting or a designer dress, coat, pair of boots/shoes or golden or silver jeweled bauble, but that isn't a lasting happiness. If that was all it took to be happy then people wouldn't need credit cards to keep shopping and buying for that fleeting moment of happiness that dissolves like soap bubbles in the wind. Happiness is a choice not an item.

Buying and acquiring material goods and services is an addiction, one that has grown to pandemic proportions in the past few decades. Where once it was enough to have a nice home and food on the table and to have enough comfortable clothes to wear for every day and something nice for Sundays at church or special occasions, now we must have the best and brightest and newest and most expensive advertised designer labeled whatever in order to be happy and satisfied, and we are neither happy nor satisfied. Happiness at its best is transitory even when it comes from accomplishment or achievement of a goal through struggle, hard work and study. The idea that happiness must come from outside is the problem. Happiness must come from inside.

I have been leery of settling anywhere for a while because every time I got comfortable and unpacked the last box and put its contents away something came up and I ended up moving. As I buy the things I need to stop camping here in my haunted apartment and begin to get settled a feeling of uncertainty nags at me. I was happy here when all I had to set my books and magazines on were empty boxes and I was sleeping on a borrowed feather bed on the floor. I was happy when I didn't have a television or sofa and chaise or a bed to sleep on. That doesn't mean I wasn't momentarily happy when my dishes and silverware arrived or when I assembled the inexpensive little table to put in the corner by the windows in the living room and arranged my plant and new little statue on it. I am happy every time a book arrives in the mail (even when I have to go to the post office to pick it up) or an author sends me a book to review. If I end up back on the road to somewhere else I will still be happy because I know the secret everyone else frantically consuming and buying hasn't learned. I choose to be happy.

Whether I live in a cabin in the mountains secluded from the rest of the world or here in my box filled haunted apartment I am happy because each day is a gift of possibility. As long as I have a scrap of paper and a pen or pencil to write, I am happy. I would be happy without even those things because there is joy in everything I see around me, from the ants determined to find a way in and make off with scraps of food to the oppressive heat making me sweaty and uncomfortable. If I were a hobo tramping the road or a wealthy writer traveling around the world, I would be happy simply to be doing what I want to do and being who I am.

There will always be people who won't like me or approve of my lifestyle and choices, some of them in my own family and among my friends, but I'm not living for them. I am living for myself. This is my journey, not theirs. I could attempt to convince them that I am not who they think I am to win them over, offer them explanations and justifications for my actions and words, but inevitably in the back of their minds they would still cling to those negative impressions and trot them out the first time I had a bad day or didn't act grateful enough for their acceptance. Nothing I say would ever change their minds and would be a waste of my time and theirs. Not everyone will like me just as I will not like everyone I meet. It's a fact of life and one I'm not about to lose any sleep over, just as I won't lose any sleep over people who pass into and out of my life. Instead I choose to be happy I met them and had a chance to know them at all because even the most negative experiences teach me something about myself and about the nature of people. As in nature, nothing is wasted or useless. Everything has a purpose and an effect.

When all is said and done, I am grateful to have known everyone I have met and happy to have shared whatever time we had together. There are some people I would have liked to walk alongside for the rest of my days, but they chose to take a different path, one that they did not wish to share or one I chose not to share. Like everything I have learned throughout my life, what they shared with me -- good and bad -- remain with me, as I hope some essence of me remains with them and hopefully, in some brief flash of memory, they will smile.

What does it take to be happy?

A choice.

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