Friday, March 26, 2010

The Examined Life

MamaBear said she never thinks about whether or not she's happy - so she guesses this must mean she is. This was food for thought for me, who thinks about that kind of thing all the time. I can't help myself.

Now, this isn't to say that MamaBear isn't a reliable source of great wisdom, because some of my most fundamentally comforting beliefs come straight from her - mainly, the conviction that eventually things work out and that if there's something you want to do you can find a way to make it work.

But still, I found myself wondering, what accounts for this difference in the way we think about the world? Why do I spend so much time pondering, and Mamabear comparatively little?

For one thing, Mamabear has had many decades to find her groove. She has a lifelong partner to whom she's been married for more years than she hasn't been married to him, several lifelong friendships, was and is a peerless Mommy, has a meaningful career about which she is passionate. And she is also a force of nature. I don't know how much contemplation the winds need to do, because they just are.

Still, for whatever reason, this gust of prairie wind spawned a sensitive, emotional little creature who wept over Little Women at age 10 and still does at 25. Just this morning I got tearful reading an article in the Kenmare News about how the Berthold Bombers high school basketball team got warm-up suits that said "4 Hope," to show support for one of their teammate's mom, whose name is Hope and is undergoing cancer treatment but never misses a game.

But sensitivity is a strength, too (after all the more sensitive an instrument is, the more it costs). I am good at understanding people's motivations and feelings and I am empathetic (sometimes painfully so.) I have accepted the fact that I am someone with a lot Feelings. My waters are often choppy, my mental space unpredictable and requiring a good deal of verbiage to get me to where I feel peaceful and like I know which end is up.

It's true, that at times when I have done a lot of temperature-taking regarding my mood, it's generally been because my mood has been unsatisfactory. Generally, I think it's good to hope that you would be so caught up in living your life that you don't have much time to think about it.

But I think what I mean when I say happiness - or happyishness - is a shortcut for something bigger. It's not necessarily that I am looking to walk around at all times like a big yellow happy face at a parade.

His Holiness Martin Seligman writes that it is perhaps more useful to think about happiness, which is so unspecific and can mean so many different things to so many different people, in terms of "the good life."

And I think pursuing a good life is what I mean by pursuing happiness. A life with good stuff in it, stuff I care about and find important. And figuring out what those things are. Things like helping and being there for people, reading, writing, walking in the woods, eating great food around a big table. Laughing, music, re-discovering forsythia every spring. Having time to rest and think and nap.

For me happiness isn't so much about the way I'm feeling (although, obviously feeling crappy is not helpful), it's about the way I'm living. It's about trying to get my life to be in line with my values.

MamaBear is someone whose values are clear. You can see what they are by looking at her life: hard work, family, participating in democracy, being informed about world events, practicality, efficiency, advocating for what's right even when it's not what people want to hear. I think if she had one of those "your days are numbered" type encounters that you hear about, there's not all that much she would do differently. Overall, it seems that she's doing what she wants to be doing. One thing I love about Mamabear (in addition to her unparalleled cuddliness) is that her money is where her mouth is.

And here in early adulthood, I am in the process of a) figuring out where my mouth is and b) attempting to put my money there. Which is kind of what keeping this blog is about.

So although MamaBear would probably never write paragraphs upon paragraphs dissecting the meaning of happiness, the fact that I do do that makes me more like her, not less. By putting all my Deep Thoughts into words, I am trying to clarify for myself what's important to me, so that I can live a life in which that stuff comes first. It's so that I can live a life that I believe in - just like she does.

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