Happiness Is…

Every year, in an effort to learn about my new class, I read them Charles Schultz’ book Happiness Is A Warm Puppy. Then I ask, “What is happiness to you?”
There are predictable answers:
  • Happiness is…playing with my Wii.
  • Happiness is…building a fort with my brother.
  • Happiness is…reading books that I enjoy.
  • Happiness is…eating my grandmother’s fudge.
But this year, there was Alice’s answer:
  • “Happiness is…life the way I want it.”
At first I was appalled. Then, I was almost impressed. Not because she’s right, but because she knows herself. She’s honest with herself. She would love it if life went the way she wanted all the time. Ask her mother, ask her first grade teacher, ask any of the kids she’s bullied on her way up to third grade. They’re terrified of her, as they probably should be. Someone that selfish and bold? What’s not to terrify?
I’ve been thinking about her comment all week as I teach in a room which is well above 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The children stick to their desks, their papers, their chairs. We’ve had teachable moments on this subject, where I say, “Let’s write a descriptive paragraph about heat. How does heat taste?” Saish answers, “Heat tastes like tiredness,” and I want to shout, “Yes! What wonderful imagery!” Except that I’m too exhausted to concentrate on much more than keeping us all calm.
So, what is happiness?

Happiness is life the way I want it some of the time, to be sure, yet it’s so much more. This morning I was reminded that we shouldn’t look at what we don’t want to see. Let me put that in the correct context. It is said that tree skiiers, those who ski in fresh powder which has not been prepared as black diamond slopes usually are, must not focus on the trees. They must look at the white areas around the trees, the places of escape. Therefore, don’t stare at what you don’t want to see.

This struck me so deeply, as I contemplate my son who joined the Marines this August. I’ve been looking at the danger. The possibility of war. The way he may be stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan. These are all real concerns. But, why have I not been looking more intently at the way that I see him follow his dream? On many levels I am proud of him for being brave and adventurous and pursuing something honorable.

This doesn’t mean I’m not afraid at times. “Mother,” I said while we were speaking on the phone last week. “The Lord loved Bonhoeffer’s mother and she lost three of her sons. What if the Lord requires such a sacrifice from me?”

“Well,” she replied, “we don’t know what will be required in our future. But, you don’t have to bear it today.”

So, instead of looking at the things that make me unhappy, fearful, or anxious, I need to look at the things that make me joyful. Happiness is being content with what I have and rejoicing in today.

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28 thoughts on “Happiness Is…

  1. Inconceivable, isn't it, that we must work in those conditions in the 21st century? It amazes me every Autumn and Spring, and makes me long all the more for my favorite season: Winter!

  2. Being thankful, and accepting what we've been given, is critical. So often I've ranted, even if “only” internally, which ends up helping no one. Least of all myself.

    You marked a quote in Pinterest once which I wish I'd written down; something about our biggest disappointments come from our expectations. They are unwieldy, those devious little things…

  3. Thanks, Marie, for saying it's a lovely post, but I'm still not content with my conclusion. I can't express what is in my heart accurately. Especially on this most subjective of points: happiness.

  4. My mother saved my response to this book when I was in third grade: Happiness is a great pile of fat new books to read. Not grammatical, perhaps, but ever true to who I've been.

    As for Saish I loved what came up with! For an 8 year old to have that image, and beginnings of alliteration, I was pleased.

  5. I love the pic, I used it a long time ago on my blog… As for happiness, I guess we should realize more often that we are blessed and happy with so much beauty and miracles around us…

  6. Have a lovely year…my classroom was not air conditioned either…I was in an older wing surrounded by new air conditioned classrooms…it made the start of school so hateful…watching other teachers in sweaters while my kids and I could not breathe…

    Just imagine snow…happiness is cooler weather!

  7. It's been an important theme to me this summer, as so much of the past two months were unhappy for me. I dwelt on all the scary aspects of my son joining the Marines and none of the glory. I admire his courage and goals, and that is what I want to focus on rather than the parts that make me unhappy. Or fearful. Or anxious.

  8. Ah, other teachers in sweaters…you mean like our high schools for which we start in August in the first place? So those poor kids don't have to study for finals over winter break? Yeah, those teachers (and schedule and kids) are more than annoying. “Hateful” is a good word. :)

  9. What a beautiful post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts with great style and grace.

    As a parent, I've learned that happiness is sometimes “merely” a sense of relief. Being content with what you have also provides happiness. :)

  10. and “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

    and “be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
    Hebrews 13:5

    The source of these words is a never ending comfort in my life. I'm glad you left me the verse from Matthew, too.

  11. It's funny how once that sense of relief flees, so does one's happiness. I find that relief and peace are synonymous with happiness, the point which you so beautifully made, Suko.

  12. Happiness is a very interesting concept, isn't it, and one that I think often strays (at least here in America) well off the path of what the Lord promises us. I think that mostly because I think a lot of us equate 'happiness' with exactly what initially appalled you about this girl's answer. We want everything to be exactly the way we want it to be. Which often means if we examine it closely that we want it to be all about us. Which is of course not what it is really all about. And of course I'm only lecturing to me. I'm a big proponent of being happy. And I want everyone around me to be happy as well. But when I examine it more closely I guess what I really want to want is to be content. I want to be thankful and grateful for what I have and what I am and I want to not be fearful about the inevitable tragedies of life, the pain of the sacrifices God calls upon us to make, and the pain present in our lives because we live in a sinful world and are not an island and we are, and should be, affected by the lives of those around us.

    I want to be compassionate and content. I want to trust that in tragedy or triumph God's Word is 100% true and that I can trust in Him and trust in it regardless of what my eyes see, regardless of the circumstances. Do I really want happiness? Or is what I really crave peace? joy? contentment and a thankful heart? Yes, I think so. I also crave God's love and that that love would flow through me to others. Which means sometimes I have to do things that at the moment won't make me happy. Like going to work and putting in a hard day when I don't feel like it as I would be happier staying at home. Like going out of my way to help someone else when what would make me happy at the moment would be using that time to read a good book.

    I want to have the right perspective, which is something I've been thinking about a lot, and this wonderful post is just helping me along that path. Thank you!

  13. the skier quote, I knew for mountain biking & it does hold true, the easiest way to hit something you don't want to (tree, rock stump etc.) is to focus on it, you end up heading straight for it.
    great post,
    PS. happiness for me at the moment is flying around on my race bike, that & seeing my daughter all dressed up smart in her Grammar school uniform, although that particular image was slightly tainted by a tinge of sadness as she looked so grown up.

  14. Carl, I love it when you leave me these long, insightful comments (just like in the old days when we had time for this kind of blogging!). I know that we have a similar heart for God, for the way that we 'crave God's love and that that love would flow through me to others' as you so aptly wrote. That, the right perspective, the right attitude, contentment…there are so many things that make for happiness.

    I think that ultimately we shouldn't be as concerned with happiness as 'rightness'. “Am I,” I often ask myself, “pleasing in His sight?” That's the most important question.

  15. I never thought about 'what you focus on' applying to cycling, but of course! Thanks for making that connection for me, Gary.

    As to the tinge of sadness about your daughter, I can so relate to that! We feel joy for the ways that they're growing, and pride, but we also feel sorrow at the way that they are separating themselves from us. (At least that is how I feel as a mother, which I assume is some of how almost all parents feel.)

  16. So true, Bellezza, so true. In the Western world I think we have a tendency to make our happiness dependent on getting our needs met and miss out on the more lasting happiness of being there for others, including God and His plans for us.

    I do fondly remember those old days!

  17. Your post made me think of this poem. I think we have to learn everyday not to “tax [our] lives with forethought of grief…”

    The Peace of Wild Things

    When despair for the world grows in me
    and I wake in the night at the least sound
    in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
    I go and lie down where the wood drake
    rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
    I come into the peace of wild things
    who do not tax their lives with forethought
    of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
    And I feel above me the day-blind stars
    waiting with their light. For a time
    I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

    — Wendell Berry

  18. Thank you for this, Meredith. I really needed to hear this. I really did. “Don't stare at what you don't want to see,” and a reminder to look instead at the good and be thankful for it. :)

  19. Oh, your mom's response is so wise. I love it. Isn't that what mothers are for? To soothe their children's fears…even if that child is grown up with grown up children?

    I love Alice's response to the happiness question as well. Such a true answer

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