What If Happiness

So another chapter in that how-to-be-happy book is headed, “Don’t think ‘what if?'” And I thought, “Why not?”  I mean, I think “What if?” a dozen times a day.  “What if I put basil in the frittata?”  “What if I just mulched the beds along the fence?”  “What if I had Nick and Nita get married?”  Then I read the paragraph that explained it and saw that it was only about the past, as in “What if I’d done that instead?”  Okay, with that I agree wholeheartedly.  The past is prologue, and you know how I feel about prologues.

“What ifs” about the past are useless beyond learning from the experience, as in “I did that and it didn’t work, so I won’t do that again.”  It’s the “What if I hadn’t been so damn stupid?” thoughts that are the futile happiness killers, futile and dangerous because the past informs the present, it’s part of who we are.  “What if I hadn’t married the wrong guy?”  I wouldn’t have the best daughter. “What if I hadn’t been so stupid about real estate?”  I wouldn’t have lived in such marvelous places and had such great memories.  “What if I hadn’t been born where I was to the parents I was in the time I was?”  I wouldn’t be the fabulous me.  Every time I do a Q&A, somebody says, “What do you regret about your writing career/your life?”  And every time I say, “Nothing” and mean it.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t make mistakes, I’ve made huge mistakes, dear god, I’ve lost fortunes and friends, cried bitterly and raged fiercely, left wreckage in my path and then wrecked the path itself.  BIG mistakes.  But all of those things were done by earlier Jennys who didn’t know what I know now, who were just doing their best, and I need to honor those earlier versions of me, not disown them, not only because I’ll be negating my own past, but if I spend all my time regretting the places I tripped and fell, I’m not living in the now.  Every minute I spend regretting the past, I’m wasting my life in the present, filling it with regrets instead of joy, I’m blaming my past selves and cheating my future memories by making them about things I cannot change.   The only thing that thinking “What if?” about the past does is damage the present and kneecap my happiness.

Also, I’m not putting basil in the frittata, I think I’m gonna mulch those beds, and I’m still up in the air about the marriage, but I’m starting to really love the idea that they get the license and it makes the next three days more complicated.  

So what are you contemplating for future happiness?  (Obviously you have no what-ifs about the past, you’re much too happy for that.)

55 thoughts on “What If Happiness

  1. In the words of the great Edna Mode

    “I never look back darling it distracts from the now”

    Currently I am not where I want to be, but I just have to start shovelling, otherwise I will never get there.

      1. She is fabulous

        The scene I really wished was in Incredibles 2 would be her whacking Elastigirl with rolled up newspaper for wearing another designer 🙂

      1. My husband read me a bad joke with giving someone a cape making them a superhero in punch line and I said “No capes!” and he looked at me like I was a lunatic.

  2. My phrase of choice is “I wish I’d…” insert regret wording of choice. But I rarely do that anymore because it IS useless. It took until I was in my 60s to really begin to try to enjoy every day because there are, relatively speaking, few of them left.
    I’ve always been a glass half full, expect the worst, see the downside sort of person. (I make an outstanding devil’s advocate!) Better now but you really can’t change your basic true nature.

    1. You know, one thing about being a writer is that every bad thing that happens, I think “I can use this, remember how this felt.” I actually thought that while I was drowning once. All that green swirling water. Very useful.

  3. I try to view my past as building blocks, would not be here if hadn’t been there, done that. There isn’t really anything I regret, but I made plenty of mistakes. Hopefully, I grew from them.
    I’m about to make another huge life change. (Does that really mean mistake? Ha ha) I’ve decided to accept my daughter’s generous offer to build me a granny flat. It’s actually an extension onto the house with my own bedroom bathroom kitchen and private entrance. She’s doing other remodeling too. I will be the one dealing with contractors every day while they work. It’s better for me for the future to have someone close by. It also costs less monthly as L.A. apartment rentals are ridiculous and getting worse. What I pay her in rent will be the loan payment. A win win.

    1. Oh, how wonderful. I love neat solutions like that where everyone gains. Especially housing related ones.

      May your build be blessed with quick completion and many low-energy solutions!!! 😉

      1. I hope so too, but the contractor is saying five months. We’re building on to both front and back and creating a great room. It’s a mammoth undertaking.

        1. Mammoth, sure, but it sounds wonderful, Robena. I’ve been living at my daughter’s house for five months (she has Stage IV cancer) and I bless her huge house that gives me a very private bedroom and bathroom. (Note: her oncologist says ‘partial remission’…we’re hoping for the whole hog.) I’m sure you’ll have loads of fun with the contractors. 🙂

    2. I *love* that you will actually have your own space. I think that works out much better for all concerned. 🙂 My m-i-l lives with us. It is not going well. But from everything I’ve read from you on here, you seem to be very kind and respectful. So, I hope this works out peacefully for both of you. 🙂

    3. We built a house with a granny flat for my mother in law, and it is mostly excellent. She has her own independent life, with cheaper bills, someone nearby all the time, roast dinners once a week (who cooks those for one?), her grandkids popping in to talk about their day after school. I get a babysitter for when I need to pop to the supermarket, someone to bring the washing it when I’m out and it starts raining, and a contribution to our mortgage. Definitely a win-win.

    4. Unsolicited advice of the day — check with a tax advisor to see how you can structure the payments so as to minimize any taxable income to your family. I’m not current on tax laws, so I can’t tell you what the options are (and you’re too smart to get your tax advice on the internet), but my general recollection is that if you’re paying market-level rent, they’ll have to claim it as income, but on the plus side, they can deduct at least some of the expenses of the addition. If you’re not paying market-level rent, that limits their ability to deduct the expenses to offset the income. Just saying — better to know in advance than when your family goes to do their tax return and run into a surprise!

      1. Thanks, Gin. My daughter has an excellent accountant and has discussed options with him. I’m guilty of not paying attention. Will make sure to ask her. I know they just changed a lot of the laws in Los Angeles this past January, due to lack of affordable housing, rental increases, and no land to build on. Not sure how this all impacts her taxes though.

        1. Ah, yes, L.A. laws did change to make granny cottages easier to build. Idea is less competition for rental housing – because granny flats – some homeless will be able to afford moving in off the streets. Depending on how you feel about that argument, you’re doing a social good too.

          This weekend’s Weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal has an article on remaking bathrooms and kitchens for aging in place. I paid attention because we’re about to remodel those spaces. Doesn’t matter what age you are, those design decisions can be useful. Of course, WSJ is way over the top, but serves as a guide, donchaknow.

          1. I’m impressed by the success of granny flats for some of you. My grandmother lived with us when I was growing up. It was not a happy situation. My mom was shocked and sad when I refused to let her move in with us (after all she’d gone through with her mother she felt she deserved to be taken care of). But I found her a perfect assisted living place that she loved.

            My grandmother gave me lots of story material. One time she took revenge on the boy next door — he had bitten my brother — by threatening him with her false teeth which she said would chase him and bite him.

  4. I don’t do regrets. (Not that there aren’t plenty of things I would have done differently, but that was then, this is now.) Complete waste of time and energy. I do try and learn from my many, many mistakes. Usually after about the third or fourth repetition 🙂 What can I say–I’m a slow learner.

    Today’s happiness is harvesting some of the overabundance of basil I planted (a mistake I apparently will NEVER stop making, but there are worse things…at least the bees are happy too) and making homemade pesto. It freezes like a dream, and when I pull a jar out in January, it is like having a little spoonful of summer. So future happiness there.

    1. Ooh. My basil plants at home are now going to seed. I’m taking them to work to plant all over the school gardens. That fragrance helps to keep mosquitos away. And it’s coming up on our Spring so we’re going to have a lot flying around.

  5. Yeah, I’m pretty good about what-ifs for my own life. Honestly, there are a few things I kind of wish I would have done differently, but I know myself well enough to know that even if I could invent a time machine and could go back time and say “Hey, stupid, don’t do that,” younger me would *not* listen. I’ve always hated anyone else thinking they know what’s best for me. I sincerely doubt advice coming from my future “older and wiser self” would make any difference. I’d probably flip the bird at myself and make the same mistake twice out of spite. Why, yes, younger me was that stubborn and I’m only slightly better now. 😉

    Planning for my future happiness? Immediate future? Finishing the book I started reading last night and maybe seeing a matinee of Crazy Rich Asians with a friend. More long term happiness? Taking a certificate course in TESOL (Teaching English to Students of Other Languages). It’s something I already do on a volunteer basis and really enjoy and I hope at some point to make it a part time job.

  6. I regret a lot but I keep it to myself. It comes with hand wringing, early years of rosary bead praying, ingrained Catholic guilt from the nuns who I was deathly afraid of. It changed when I realized I could say a swear out loud and was not struck down by a lightening bolt.

    Now on to better things – happy things. Today my son and grandchildren are coming to visit for a feast. It’s the end of summer before school starts and we’re having Paella with lobster, clams, mussels, shrimp, chicken, chorizo. And plenty of desserts cream puffs, a trifle, ice cream all kinds of gooey goodness. Plus the weather couldn’t be any better. And then they go home and relearn a pattern of sleep to school because it’s before seven a.m. to be at the bus stop.

    Now to search for the saffron threads.

  7. Edna: “Go! Confront the problem. FIGHT! WIN!”

    Edna is the best. :-* I must learn to embody more Edna energy.

    I had a joy-filled day surrounded by children and friendly adults. There was yoga and the children did cool team-building activities. While I ran herd. I wish I could feel this at peace after a day at work. But I’m going to do my best.

  8. Yes, I just today actually thought, I forgive myself for my sins (mostly sins of omission). I’ve often heard the idea of having no regrets, but I just realized that I must forgive myself before I can move on to better times. So I did. Now, if I can just remember!

  9. My “what if” today is what if I forgave myself for the apartment being a disaster zone, and just cleaned what I could, before heading off to wedding #2 this week. I’ve been there for people I love this week, so it’s ok if some of the things I do for me didn’t happen, like cleaning, and it doesn’t make me a failure as an adult. So if I start feeling bad today, I’m just going to remind myself that the it was worth it, because a) I had a great time and b) my cousin said her new husband felt so supported and loved that afterward he happy-cried for the first time in his life. Luckily my cousin is an experienced happy-cryer, and she was able to help him through having All The Good Emotions at Once.

    So, you know. Worth it.

  10. For future happiness? I am going on vacation for 2 weeks after this week so I can get the hell away from my job being crazy busy/draining even more than usual all summer. I ended up with two huge deadlines at once, ugh.

    As for past what if’s, my one major one was that I wish I had learned to drive a lot earlier in life. I would have had a larger world with more possibilities in it had I not been handicapped by my general inability to go to a lot of places (because in most of them public transport sucks). I could have ended up in a different town/industry because pretty much the only reason I’m here is because I could live here without driving and I work at the one big employer in town because I didn’t have to drive there. Now I don’t seem to have “transferable skills,” either within the big org or outside of it.

    However, when I was 16 I had NOBODY that I could have learned from who wouldn’t have screamed at me the whole time. My parents can’t/couldn’t teach for shit, the paid driving instructor had no idea how to teach, and there wasn’t anyone else. So going “what if” isn’t very realistic because I literally had no better options at the time other than “keep being screamed at and thrown into a panic when the slightest thing went wrong with driving, kill somebody.” I was doing the best I could at the time, it just wasn’t good enough.

  11. Great quote, learned not to say “what if” because I wouldn’t have my boys and thus terrific daughters in law and the most darling little granddaughters one can have.

    I wouldn’t listen to my younger self and learned the hard way – much guilt et al. Yesterday, I did get into a “I must have revenge for the way I was treated by in laws while up north” and then had some fabulous get even dialogue in my head but that got me no where. So….shook it all off, with much ranting and cleaned the fridge. It’s spotless. Soon to be a right mess again.

    Onward and upward with my sword high. Going for a nap now.

  12. For future happiness, I’m focusing on good habits. I plan on getting enough sleep.

    No what-ifs here. As a good friend said to me, “you don’t wonder if you made the right decision. You make the decision, then you make it the right one.”.

  13. Good reminder for me right now, thank you.

    I’m usually not bad at this but I’m currently recovering from bad relationship AND trying to make some big decisions, so I need to re-focus on the now and remember that i am doing my best. Results of those decisions will be ok.

    I hope.

  14. I really enjoyed that post Jenny.

    I think my most destructive what-if is what if I’d been a better parent, shouted less, been less impatient. Futile. They’re great kids, they still seem to like me (not just for financial help and food!), I obviously actually did ok. I know some of them suffer with anxiety and depression, but they’re dealing and functioning and I honestly don’t think they’re any more anxious than the majority of their generation.

    What if I’d planted more, larger trees? That one would’ve been awesome.

    Future happiness, hmm. Spring is just around the corner, if the universe cooperates and it rains the whole damn country will be happier. I’m excited watching buds swell, contemplating jam, still hoping for a good place for my MIL (that’s not a fun story) and Stella promised she’d never leave me so I’ll have her with me forever!!

  15. Future happiness – getting closer to a conference in September which I hope will be wonderful. Getting closer to my vacation in October, which I hope will be wonderful. Hoping to make myself make a couple of phone calls to arrange help for my MIL, which, if it works, will feel wonderful to me.

    Mostly though, it’s the small pleasures I treasure – my boss saying thank you, a good chocolate, a cat wanting to sit with me, watching a nice murder with my dear husband, reading a Crusie rough draft.

    Now if I just knew where Mary lives, so I could crash her dinner party – YUM!!!

  16. I do not do “what ifs” and I do not allow any to be done in my presence. Begone, what if!

    Future happies: Cleaning cupboards and closets to set aside rose clothes for rose conferences. One meeting in late October, one in early November. Also, a general ridding of the excess. One load went off to veterans charity this week. Tomorrow I do my first oral history for Floral Association interviewing a good friend and mentor. Finally, do all the reading, reading, reading required by a stack of books. They call, and I’m going to start listening.

  17. As a procrastinator and a worrier, I have a carried around more than a few “what ifs” over the years. However, Edna”s got the right idea and I’m trying to live more in the present. Excluding berating myself what I haven’t done and focusing on what I’ve done/accomplished. I have a wonderful family, great friends and an interesting career. After a long hiatus, I’m teaching myself how to knit again.

  18. Off topic, but not, since it has some bearing on happiness. I think you’ve mentioned in the past, Jenny, that menopause made it harder to write. I’m struggling with that myself, and wondered if you ever found a way around it (besides Bob, since I don’t have a Bob). I’ve been feeling like someone turned off the “semi-brilliant author” part of my brain and replaced it with a picture of fish swimming in an aquarium. Just wondered if you had any suggestions.

    1. I really don’t. I’ve never come all the way back from it. I think you just have to accept that your writing changes with the changes in your brain and roll with it. It did get a lot better with time, but I never went back to writing the way I had before. I think you just have to give yourself space and time and permission to change.

      1. Whew. Deborah, hope you get your semi-brilliant (I’m sure brilliant) writing back soon.
        Jenny, I know you’re back. How long did it take to get better?
        Argh, how common is this? I don’t want those aquarium fish.
        I’d love a column/Argh discussion on it, if it’s not too personal. This is terrifying to me.

        1. The thing about menopause is that it’s different for different women. I had no hot flashes, never took hormones, had a really easy time physically. I just gained weight and lost my mind. My suspicion is that my brain chemistry changed with the downshift in estrogen, but I’ve done no research to substantiate that. I think a lot of it may have been psychological, too. My career was going through a huge upshift right about then and the pressures (not from my publisher, they’ve been amazing) knocked me off balance, too. I think one of the hardest things for writers to realize is that our lives have a huge impact on our ability to write. Even if we write through the upheavals, the writing changes because we change. It’s just part of the journey.

  19. I used to burn with “what if’s” and grudges, but my high school boyfriend-turned-husband is super mellow, and eventually, I realized it was more fun to live and let live.

    I save the what-ifs for writing now.

  20. I try to remember the Narnia books where Aslan tells all the children that we’re not allowed to know what might have been.

  21. I was thinking about this just minutes ago. If not for the choices I made-and were made for me as a child-I wouldn’t have my great hubby and a life I love. I made a friend in 6th grade, nearly 40 years ago, that has had a HUGE impact on my life. We shared one class. One gym class changed my life. And so many other choices that have directed the course of my life. As I look back over the last 50 years, would I change anything? Probably not. Because where would I be?

    My happiness is looking at my hubby over there, knowing we have had a great 27 years-this week!!- and will have many more. Talking to my daughter this morning as she starts her senior year of college., knowing she has found a path she loves. Damn, I’m blessed.

  22. I cannot tell you how much I love this post.

    I’m terrible for this. Really, really good at helping others with their ‘what ifs’, but awful with my own. I’m working on it…

    In future happiness: we have exchanged contracts on the house move, so we move on 7th September, for definitely real this time. Which brings a potential avalanche of ‘what ifs’ all on its own, but I’m trying to squash those (mental whack-a-mole – but at least I’m trying!!)

    1. That’s brilliant, Frankie. I was just thinking (again) that I must try and get to Chester so we can meet up; but it sounds like a raincheck is in order. Best of luck with your move.

      1. Thank you so much. We are both impatient and terrified all at once, LOL! We’re only going to Hawarden, so not much change geographically. 🙂 And yes, at some point in the near future, we will have a mini-Crusie-meet-up…

  23. I’ve been spending more time and energy on “what ifs” the past couple of days than I usually do. It comes with dealing with my mother and the new and troubling symptoms from her cancer. But I’m trying to turn it around–my state of mind, rather, since I can do nothing about my mother’s health.

    What is helping more than anything these days isn’t even writing, but the friends I’ve made through that activity. My critique group is particularly supportive and affirming. I’m fortunate to have them, and to be able to read their work when I can’t quite get my own words to flow.


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