Monday, July 25, 2011

The Pursuit of Happiness (Among Other things)

A friend recently posted a link to this article over on F*acebook, and I highly recommend taking the time to read it.  It's a bit long, and has a bit of language, but still well worth your time.  I'm posting about this article here today, because it's a topic I've been ruminating on for awhile.  I've read other blog posts and articles on the subject too, but this one really does a good job of tying up all the loose ends.

The quote that resonates with me days later is this: “Happiness as a byproduct of living your life is a great thing, but happiness as a goal is a recipe for disaster.” (Barry Schwartz, a professor of social theory at Swarthmore College)  I guess I had never thought of it in exactly that way before, but it's so true, and on so many levels.

Personally I can comment on the folly of making happiness my life goal.  But isn't it what every child of trauma does?  "When I grow up I'm going to do things differently.  Then I'll be happy.  How will I do things differently?  Well, I don't know, but I'm going to be happy.  You'll see."  Happy is like a sore tooth.  Every morning you wake up and thrust your tongue into the sore spot to see how much it hurts.  All day long you poke at it and suck on it, testing to see if it's better or worse.  Every morning you wake up and poke the holes in your life to see if they still hurt, and if they do, then you know you are still not happy.  This of course makes you even more unhappy.

As a parent I can also testify to the folly of making a happy family your idol.  Mainly because it just doesn't work.  You can't make everyone happy all the time, and you'll kill yourself trying.  Or you'll make your kids happy, and feel unhappy because you rather suspect you should have made them unhappy, at least for a little while.

Another line of thought this article brings to my mind, is how this commonly accepted method of child rearing flies in the face of parenting children of trauma...forget parenting children with full blown RAD.  And most of us fall into that trap.  We go to our adoption classes and we think, "Sure things will be crazy for a little while.  But once the kids adjust a bit, I can get down to the business of being the parent I always dreamed I would be."  Never mind that it apparently screws up emotionally healthy kids.

And then we feel like failures because it's  And we get this new, big hole to probe every morning, to inform us that we definitely aren't happy.  

The paradox in my life, is that when I stopped chasing happiness, I got happier.  When I stopped trying to make my kids happy, or even worrying about whether they were happy...well, I can't speak for their internal emotional states, but they seem reasonably contented.  The less I poke at the sore spots, the more I realize how much time I used to spend poking, and prodding, and fretting.  It's not like I've gotten numb or apathetic.  Far from it.  It's just that I've come to expect the sore spots, and perceive them as part of normal.  Pain, fatigue, frustration, anxiety...there's nothing wrong with them.  You don't ignore them, because they have their own purposes, but you don't let them rule over your life.  I'm convinced that growing up healthy means that you learn this early in life.

I was a late bloomer, but still I am blessed to stumble over the truth in my old age.  I am an old, stubborn dog learning a new trick, and that my friends, makes me happy.