Happiness is defining your own life
Shortly after I got married, my mother came to visit. She looked around my living room and said, “Haven’t you outgrown posters on your walls?” I said, “No, and I’m never going to.” For her, grown-up was framed paintings (not real paintings, prints of paintings, but to her those were paintings). For me, grown-up was putting whatever I damn well wanted on my walls. This battle continued for upwards of sixty years (“Are you going out looking like that?” “Yes.”) until she lost the thread of the conversation, and now as my daughter steps up to take her place (“Mom, you can’t live like this”) I hold on to the one thing I know for sure: This is my life and I get to define it. If I want tomato soup for breakfast, I have tomato soup for breakfast. If I want three rescued dogs, I get three rescued dogs. If I want to live in a slowly disintegrating cottage in the middle of a gorgeous wood on a lake, I get the damn cottage.
The biggest thing I’ve learned about happiness is that you can’t accept anybody else’s definition but your own. People want to define you and your goals to fit their ideas of who you are and how your goals fit into their lives, how what you do reflects them, and that’s understandable. The world is a chaotic place and we all try to sort the different parts of it into a recognizable, unified whole. But people are sloppy, messy creatures, and that’s something to celebrate, the vibrant variety of human race. Our own sloppiness is something to cherish, it’s what makes us us.
So the next time guilt at not living up to somebody else’s standards threatens to ding your happiness, remember, if your ideal relationship is with a
whippet borzoi in goggles who drives, that is your goddamn right. Be happy.