Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I'm not good at Happiness

I'm not good at happiness. I think that is why I am always studying it...reading quotes about it...trying to gain some new perspective on it. Sometimes during arguments, Robb has KO'd me with the big, "You're never happy." He's pretty much right, really. I am not a categorically happy person.

I've written before about how I am convinced that God is an optimist. Why wouldn't he be? I am not an optimist. I would like to be. And sometimes, I have great moments of faith-induced optimism, but as a general rule, I tend to fall on the negative side. I think I'm better than I used to be...and the reason I know this is because my son is just like me...and he is TRULY never happy.

I'm just so fiercely practical that I sometimes have trouble seeing the point of happiness. I mean, seriously, it can't last. The minute you let your guard down, something will jar you back to reality...poopy pants, chastising phone-calls, dvr malfunctions,annoying ebay customers, upset church members, accidents, loss, crime, world hunger, poverty...I don't know how to live in that tension most of the time. I'm afraid to feel happiness because I cannot own it.

As you might guess, this Nietzsche-like tendency can lead to some blue days. Lately I've been swimming in this question....If it's true that managing our money is a godly thing to do, and we blew that budget by spending a day at the craft fair, then doesn't that mean that enjoying ourselves as a family on Saturday was a sin? (Hey, I warned you up front in my profile..I think about things WAY too much.) Now before you throw your hands up in the air in disbelief, understand that this is the exact question I've been swimming in for over a month, with different contexts: wine, the wedding, etc. Basically it is a question of how do you measure the value of happiness?

They say that all parents urge their children to be one of three things: Be good, Be successful, or be happy. Be good, I've got. Be successful, I get. Be happy? I have absolutely no construct for that. You should be good because that affects other people. You should be successful because that is being a good steward of what God has given you. But why should you be happy? Doesn't that only benefit you?

So I sense that my life is severely out of balance. I can acknowledge that happiness is a part of life that God may have intended humans to have. But I need some structure for that. I can't just randomly add "happy stuff" to my day and expect it to stick. I need to create a file for happiness so I know where to put things in my life.

And I'd like to be happy. I'd like to figure out how to retain a bouyant perspective despite set-backs and struggles. I'd like to know how to feel satisfied even when the plan gets slaughtered. I'd like to know how to be cheerful, even when we can never seem to get ahead. I realize now, looking back, that happiness for me as a kid was a lack of constraint...The whole backyard and the woods to play in, endless summer days that started with dewey mornings sneaking peas from the garden and ended with hide and go seek in the dark... My life now is a series of fences...from a postage stamp yard to days packed full with interruptions. The answer is not to get a bigger yard and banish all interruptions...the answer has to be formed in me, being enough of a grown up to have fun.

And understand that I mean happiness and not its gold-standard, JOY. I don't need a sermon on the difference because I've heard that one. I'm talking cheap, tin-foil happiness. Where does that belong in the life of someone who is theoretically grace-based, but functionally is really a cross between an Amish and a Catholic?

ok, talk amongst yourselves. Just keep the "She is so screwed up" comments to a minimum.

18 comments:

ness said...

Psalm 34
1 I bless God every chance I get; my lungs expand with his praise.

2 I live and breathe God;
if things aren't going well, hear this and be happy:

3 Join me in spreading the news;
together let's get the word out.

4 God met me more than halfway,
he freed me from my anxious fears.

5 Look at him; give him your warmest smile.
Never hide your feelings from him.

6 When I was desperate, I called out,
and God got me out of a tight spot.

7 God's angel sets up a circle
of protection around us while we pray.

8 Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see—
how good God is.
Blessed are you who run to him.

9 Worship God if you want the best;
worship opens doors to all his goodness.

10 Young lions on the prowl get hungry,
but God-seekers are full of God.

11 Come, children, listen closely;
I'll give you a lesson in God worship.

12 Who out there has a lust for life?
Can't wait each day to come upon beauty?

13 Guard your tongue from profanity,
and no more lying through your teeth.

14 Turn your back on sin; do something good.
Embrace peace—don't let it get away!

15 God keeps an eye on his friends,
his ears pick up every moan and groan.

16 God won't put up with rebels;
he'll cull them from the pack.

17 Is anyone crying for help? God is listening,
ready to rescue you.

18 If your heart is broken, you'll find God right there;
if you're kicked in the gut, he'll help you catch your breath.

19 Disciples so often get into trouble;
still, God is there every time.

20 He's your bodyguard, shielding every bone;
not even a finger gets broken.

21 The wicked commit slow suicide;
they waste their lives hating the good.

22 God pays for each slave's freedom;
no one who runs to him loses out.

Ron said...

You are turning into you know who... I love you... it helps to drink more too.

Amy said...

Ahhh...

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Key word being, "pursuit".

Don't know the answer.

We blow our budget almost every month on "frivolous" things like family time. We pretty much live by the budget except for fun. We try to budget in fun but it's never enough; our fun is often spontaneous, not planned.

We know people that live strictly by their budget, with absolutely no wavering, and often they seem miserable.

I don't know.

I don't know.

I don't know.

I think "joy" is the key. Joy is of the heart but "happy" comes and goes with the wind.

I think that "Happy" is for children, not adults, except when with friends, losing yourself in a romatic comedy, dark chocolate, funny memories and maybe your favorite beverage. For adults, "happy" is a momentous occasion, life is everyday.

That's my answer...I forgot to "talk amongst" everyone else.

Your blog is a "happy" for me; I'm off to adult things now. :0)

Mom Mattocks said...

Kiddo....What are you doing running around in my brain? What you are asking has been with my being since I could think a rational thought.....you just put it into words that I can't because I have diarrhea brain......here's something to add to the mix...when you get days where you have everything lined up just the way you want them....you have hours to devote to whatever you want to do, and you couldn't ask for anything else in the world....you'd think you'd feel contentment and that personal satisfaction that things are just the way you like them....there's still this empty thing going on and you can't quite put your finger on it....what's that? I'm inclined to think that when I am feeling that "thing that you feel", and it's not "happy", it's got to be Satan messing with your thoughts. I've been taking every thought captive, and I do mean every thought, because if I didn't I would slide ever so slowly into that pit that's call unhappiness, and once the old thought process has formed that little path in your brain, you have to make sure you are able to get out of it .....and you can.....because the Lord does really love you and I have to trust that I am not anywhere He didn't decide I was going to be. He's God and I am really happy He is. Thanks for putting the whole thing into words....I have a feeling that there are other people who feel the same way, they just didn't know it.

A said...

Don't blow the budget on fun, budget for fun. That's why my budget program includes things like allowances for mad money, gifts for all occasions, and entertainment allotment for regularly scheduled fun. Plan for it, use it, and be happy. Don't put budget and fun at odds with each other, they aren't mutually exclusive.

My $ .02.

Otherwise, yeah, you're totally screwed up . . .

Sara said...

I think it is hard to budget for fun especially when one doesn't have money to budget on fun things... Yet, it isn't entirely healthy not to have any fun.

Honestly, I look to find the humor in every day things...and it makes me laugh, and that laughter makes me happy...Thats why i choose to look at life as one big adventure...it puts a smile on my face.

But in all sincerity, you're on the right track V. You're recognizing pieces of your life that you are not content with...and your working on it.

I think thats all on can really do. Take a deep breath, step back, and say 'Okay, here I go again'.

You are getting better at the being happy thing...and i think its because you're learning to see God more in the unhappy things...

I'm not sure if i've mad any sense at all.

Just keep on keeping on doing what your doing...

Seeking God and his grace.

tammi said...

Oooh, I feel ya on this one. Considering our financial straits as of late (and by "as of late" I mean, like, the last 5 years), we often feel the strain of not being able to have ENOUGH fun and feel the toll on our marriage, our patience, and our tolerance of anything outside of trivial.

This comment:
"Don't put budget and fun at odds with each other, they aren't mutually exclusive."
makes me laugh out loud. And then it makes we want to jump off a cliff, because what so many people don't understand, is that for A LOT of people, they ARE mutually exclusive.

Want to take the kids out for ice cream cones and an afternoon trip to the pumpkin patch?? Well, when you figure in gas, cost of pumpkins, snack at the destination, hayride, and ice cream on the way home....there goes dinner for the next 4 days.

Find things that are cheaper, or FREE for family fun, you might say?? Yeah, right...you try to entertain your family for absolutely freaking nothing for about a month, and see how that works out for you.

Steve and I were just discussing the other day the old fact (?) that marriages most often split over money. When we first married, I couldn't understand that...i was willing to be poor with my beloved forever, as long as we could be together.....BUT THEN...we had kids. And what, I wanted more stuff?? A better house, cooler furniture, a nicer car?? Nope. I wanted a babysitter to come watch my kids so I could actually spend some one-on-one time with my husband, or the money to just pay every single bill every single month so the air wouldn't be so thick with stress and tension. I wanted to be able to take my family out to a movie one afternoon, so we could have some fun and some downtime. THAT's what I most wanted money for. And the lack of it, was/is taking it's toll....and now I get it.

How did I get talking about money?? I guess because for us, I truly think that if we had more money, we would be more "happy"....not joyful, as you said, because that comes from within, but "happy" in that day-to-day trivial happiness way. For me, happiness is lack of stress, not wondering how to pay the bills, or how to feed my kids healthy meals, or getting to spend time with my spouse and not have to talk about finances ONCE. THAT is happiness for me.

Whoever said that Money doesn't buy happiness didn't have an effing clue what they were talking about.

tammi said...

Holy smokes.
that was the longest comment I've ever written.

I'll walk over and join ranks with Amy, title-holder of "Longest Blog Commenter" :)

We'll be over here if you need us.

ness said...

By way of translation, A is really great at the money thing and not at all a jerk for mentioning the budget thing. That is of course, the ideal scenario. But like Sara said, it's hard to budget something that doesn't exist. Trying to think up something fun to do with 85 cents is more frustrating than it is worth.

On the other hand, when the computer craps out and you can't even access the darn budget let alone use it, this is the quandary we find ourselves in. And it sure seems like the quandaries are directly related to the number of people below approximately 5 feet in stature in your household.

Tammi, you said what I was thinking...and I couldn't agree more...I didn't mind being poor at all until the kids came along...now I'm so tired of saying, "No, we can't..."

This is especially true when even a trip to the grocery store becomes an exercise in constant self-denial, thanks to the genius of American marketing. Hannah was telling me about a Scottish friend who finds it all quite crazy. Apparently, in other countries, you aren't constantly solicited at every turn to spend money you don't have to buy stuff you don't need...can you imagine???

Yeah, I don't want much...I don't want to be rich...I just don't want to have to worry that an afternoon of hanging with the fam isn't a sin. But let's face it, that's what I do...if it wasn't that, I'd just obsess about something else.

I think Amy was so right...happiness is mostly for children...a quick topical study revealed that the Bible mentions happiness primarily two ways: newlyweds and the wicked....

and you know who you are.... : )

A said...

My only point is this, having a budget doesn't mean you can't or don't have fun. If you're going to spend the money anyway, and I think you should, then plan for it. When I do my budget seminar, I spend 2/3 of the time talking about priorities when setting up a budget, no matter what tool you use, and no matter how much or not much money you actually have.
For any of us who aren't Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, a budget should be a tool that sets priorities, facilitates communication between all parties affected by the budget, and tracking of actual expenditures so wise decisions can be made as things are constantly evaluated.
Most people do not prioritize or plan for "fun" events or activities in their budget, and then when they engage in such events and activities they become guilt ridden (Vanessa). So, by saying they are not mutually exclusive, my point is that it is up to you to make them not so. The amount you have to spread around is irrelevant. If you have less to work with, factor in this area of life somehow so that you can, perhaps with less frequency or with more required creativity than you might wish, but at least some kind of fun activities. That way, when you do them, you've at least planned for them to some degree in the budget and you won't feel so bad.
Contrary to popular belief the Marshall's aren't rolling in the green stuff. I'm making half what I made 1 year ago and I've made a lot less than I do now for significant periods of my life, so I know what it is to stretch a paycheck.

That's all I've got to say about that, didn't mean to turn your "pursuit of happiness" post into budget 101.

It is part of our makeup, just like Robb isn't necessarily pre-disposed to being "nice" to people that annoy him. But I guess we all have personality quirks that we have to work on. I have negative tendencies too, my initial response to almost anything is a default "NO" response. But I've learned in the last few years that I can often be more positive than I am and that life really isn't that bad when all things are considered and are put in the proper perspective. Only you can define what makes you "happy" and when you figure that out, indulge yourself often enough to not be so un-happy otherwise that it makes the people around you un-happy. Cause when momma ain't happy, ain't NOBODY happy!

ness said...

Like I said, A is really good at the budget thing.

It's true too, that getting on board with the budget has significantly helped our marriage and overall happiness as a couple. But the seemingly non-stop waves of unexpected expenses are really discouraging sometimes. So you gotta pay the piper, and that means, no money for anything fun.

I think what I hear from us all is that frustration of trying so hard and still falling so short of being on top of things. But I guess that is where the priorities come into play.

I saw an episode of Oprah yesterday about people that are dying of cancer. Their death is imminent and they have a very clear perspective on what is important or not.

I found myself thinking, "If I could get just get permission from God to be happy..." Those exact words. A few moments later, the girl said, "Nobody is going to give you permission to live, you just have to do it."

The fact that she had used my exact word caught my attention. I found myself thinking that God does actually give us permission by giving us breath each day, by making the sun rise, by making our children's eyes so full of life and wonder. There's the permission.
So I woke up a lot more grateful than I was yesterday.

It's true I feel constant guilt. I guess, though, it has more to do with why you do things than what you actually do. And I know my motives are pure sometimes, even if the action seems out of line.

Incidentally, I earned exactly what we needed on eBay last night to make up the outing on Saturday. Not more...not less, but exactly what we needed. There too is permission.

I wish it was simpler. I wish it was shalom. I wish it was heaven.

ash said...

oh nessa bean..."if wishes were horses we'd all take a ride"...

this might be a very unpopular opinion but here goes:

honestly...i'm happy most of the time...and it's not because i'm a child or a newlywed or wicked...for me happiness is a decision...a decision i made a long time ago...

crap happens...and i decide how to react...and there's been a lot of crap, so i'm not naive...i pray, i mourn, i heal and i decide to be happy...it's protected my soul and spirit time after time...

when i think of where i could have ended up...i praise god for his grace in my life...and it makes me smile..

ness said...

not unpopular, just hard to do sometimes...

:)

fortunately, while I struggle with assigning order to happiness, I have no problem assigning meaning to pain and discomfort....

c'mon, Mattocks kids...all in unison...

"It's character building."

Mom Mattocks said...

Ah-hem.....and can I say that you all have wonderful character...now my brain is working overtime wondering if that hadn't been my life's parental teaching, would, could, should you now feel happy, but have no character? Sorry....my diarrhea brain working overtime, again.

ness said...

I think I'm very hopeful that the two aren't mutually exclusive.

A said...

This is the "mutually exclusive" post.

Matthew said...

I'm not a happy person--it's not really in my nature. I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing not to be happy.

There seems to be this strange thing in our society these days that if you're not happy or in a good mood virtually all the time, there's something wrong with you or you're doing something wrong. I don't know that this is the case at all. Some people just don't have naturally upbeat personalities--being upset over that is just as silly as not naturally having brown hair.

Happiness is over-rated. Perhaps the thing to do is to accept the fact that you're not going to be happy all the time, and that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that (mind you, I distinguish between "not being happy" and abject misery--if you're truly miserable all the time, you probably do need to do something about that).

Worrying that you're not happy is the surest way to guarantee that you won't be happy, and it will poison whatever happiness or contentment that you do have.

Happiness is like water, the harder you grasp at it, the faster it slips away. Maybe the better option is to take a deep breath, cup your hands, and have faith that you will have your fill as it is poured out to you.

As for Nietzsche, he had this to say about happiness and love:

"Believe me! The secret of reaping the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment from life is to live dangerously!"

and

"Shared joys make a friend, not shared sufferings."

and

"And we should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once. And we should call every truth false which was not accompanied by at least one laugh."

and

"Love is not consolation. It is light."

Nietzsche was not necessarily the most upbeat person in the world, but the thing that has always impressed me about his writings has been his persistent joyfulness and upbeat perspective (he was certainly more joyful and optimistic than some of the institutions he was criticizing at the time).

In any case, I, for one, don't consider you screwed up at all which, admittedly, may be a dubious comfort considering the source. ;-)

ness said...

Matthew...you make me smile...oh no! We are getting less grumpy!!!!

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