I am descended from a long line of forbears who, well, forbore. My maternal grandfather survived a massacre of Christians that wiped out three generations of his family in one day. During the Japanese occupation, he was repeatedly arrested and tortured. In his old age, long after he had incontestably earned the right to snooze all day long in a comfy armchair with his mouth hanging open, he would rise before dawn every single day to scale a mountain. He would scramble back down that mountain, plunge himself into a bath with large blocks of ice floating in it, and then head off to carry on the business of running a university.
My maternal grandmother was also a survivor of war, occupation, and their attendant horrors and privations. She came through the experience as a formidable warrior. She made no secret of her reverence for the Spartan civilization. You know, those militaristic people who would leave sickly infants to die of exposure on the sides of mountains and who would starve and literally whip the small children who passed muster into shape to toughen them up to be soldiers? Yes, those were her kind of people.
My paternal grandfather died young, leaving my grandmother to struggle for survival. Some of her children succumbed to disease and malnutrition. It’s entirely understandable then, that having passed through the crucible of unimaginable hardships, my dad would emerge on the other side to preach the gospel of “Where in the Bible does it say you have to be happy?” on Christmas Eve.
Less comprehensible is how I turned out, given my genetic inheritance. The only explanation I can think of is that the gene for stoicism must have skipped a generation. If you’ve been reading along, you already know that the proximity of a spider is enough to destroy my happiness, (though in my defense, it was a shockingly big, stripy, furry one). My latest tragedy is that the internet has been erratic and agonizingly slow at my house. I’m telling you, it’s been making me gnash my teeth in despair. I can’t pretend to be like my steely ancestors. Me? I yearn for happiness like a lovelorn adolescent. I stalk it like a craven addict looking for her next hit. When I find it, I greedily clutch it to my chest and swat away anyone or anything that tries to snatch it out of my white-knuckled fists.
Just as it doesn’t take much to destroy my happiness, it doesn’t take much to make me happy either. For me, it can sometimes be merely the successful avoidance of discomfort. For example, every time I stay home while the rest of my family goes hiking or camping=pure bliss! (Pretend I’m homeless by sleeping in a tent on the cold hard ground with bugs and no running water or AC when I could be in lounging in the comfort of my own bed watching trashy reality TV? Puh-leeze! That would be messed up)! Sometimes I find happiness in those sublime everyday moments of grace, such as when I finally extract a piece of corn that’s been stuck in my teeth forever, or when I experience the satisfaction of peeling away a really long strip of dead skin from my heel. (What? Don’t even try to tell me that doesn’t make you happy, too)!
And even though my claims on happiness are really quite modest, every once in a while, it will flip me the bird and flounce off like a faithless strumpet. I’m left feeling bereft and hopeless…It’s in those dark moments, that I have to exert a little more effort to find a way to drag happiness back into my corner. And here, at long last, is where I’m going with this long and meandering, multi-part post…What are your strategies for finding happiness? I’ll tell you mine, if you tell me yours. More on this tomorrow.