Defining Happiness

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 borzoi in goggles who drives, that is your goddamn right. Be happy.

49 thoughts on “Defining Happiness

  1. Sorry about this. WordPress was defying me by refusing to accept it was Nov. 11 and autoposting this. Grrrr.

    1. I can’t help being myself by saying that’s not a whippet (or a greyhound either)–too much hair. It’s some other sort of sighthound. A saluki, maybe? Hard to tell without a tail. It’s delightful how the dog is aware of the humans being silly and is playing along, the way they do.

      1. Borzoi. I had two growing up, the sweetest, scattiest, bravest pooches you could ever hope to meet. I never let them drive, mind you.

        1. Is that the same as a Russian wolfhound? I went out with a guy who had one, and she looked a lot like that. (When I walked her, people would stop me on the street and say, “Why don’t you feed that dog?!”

          1. You get that a lot with sighthounds. And there is no winning when you tell them that they are designed that way and extra weight is actually bad. Which I keep telling my girl whippet who is on a constant diet and in no danger of getting those kinds of remarks. I swear she gains weight just looking at food!

    2. Thank you for this. I’m trying to finish a book to get to my agent and I am questioning life choices.

      As you do.

      But as someone in their 40s, who has a 17 year old cat (who is fairly robust, in good health and happy, according to the vet…he’s also a giant black beast. The cat. Not the vet.) and has family back home tell me I need to think about retirement because they’ve put the age to 67 now, not 65, and…I don’t know. It makes you question it. I’m single. I’ll probably be single forever. I’m sure half my family thinks I’m a secret lesbian (which would be cool!) because of the no ring thing, and I live like a weird half teenager, half old person. It can get to you.

      Did I make the right choices? I don’t think a ‘regular’ life would have appealed. I’m a bit of a hermit in NYC but yet I get to do some weird and fabulous things and I have not writing jobs that can fuel a thousand stories.

      One friend just rang my doorbell and I just finished a chapter and he asked if I was all right because he hadn’t heard from me in a while and the people at the liquor store (I talk at them and they get my packages and sometimes I buy their overpriced booze) said the same so he rang my doorbell. This made me happy. He is a magical unicorn man who once brought me homemade soup when I had the flu.

      Am I happy? Sometimes I think I should lead a different life, but I don’t think that would make me happy. I’m a weirdo. I like that.

      I don’t know. I think we’d all be happier if we embraced differences, and liked and appreciated it all.

      And…that photo is fucking fantastic.

        1. You haven’t seen the video of me wearing a black turban and rabbit ears, a zebra-print fancy scarf (designed by friends) and a saber, chatting casually to magical unicorn man about a chicken recipe he made.

          the cat wasn’t there. He’s not much of a party creature. Unless it’s his party and his rules.

          Which is fair.

          I’ll pencil you in for a date. 🙂

      1. My SIL dated a lot, never had a room-mate except the nurses she went into training with and once said that she was sure that most of her friends thought they were all secret lesbians since they lived together and had no long term lovers in their lives. She once said “The men I fall in love with, don’t love me and the men who love me, I am not interested in. And while I want to get married and have a family, I am not going to settle for someone just so I can be married.” In her fifties she met a widower with an adult son. They were married 20 years ago and she has exactly the life she wants and two grandchildren (Her other brother said “That is so so like her. She doesn’t have to put up with teenagers and issues but goes straight for the good stuff.” Needless-to-say, he has no grandchildren and really does not expect to have any since his middle-age sons are not married and don’t seem to want to get married). And she has had a fabulous life and done lots of interesting things that her siblings who were married could not afford to do because they were raising kids and paying the mortgage and worrying about their kids going to college.

        So. Way to go. Your family and friends are all probably envious.

        Oh. And that is the other thing. She did not have a husband and children so she had time for her friends. And she still has time for her friends and has close relationships that I can only envy.

      2. If you’re not a secret lesbian, I wonder if the magical unicorn man might like to know.

        I know a lot of neighbors – no one ever knocks on my door because they haven’t seen me recently. ; )

        1. Unfortunately, magical unicorn man lives with his very lovely girlfriend. She did tell me how much he loved me (not like that) and how he once came home and said he is going to make a million dollars, because he needs to buy me a boat. I need to live upon the water.

          It will be a very FANCY boat. A ship.

          This is why he is a magical unicorn man.

  2. “You’ve got to be who you are in this world no matter what” The Equalizer

    Life happens, duty, responsibilities, but you have to make time to listen to that voice inside that says “This is me”

  3. For the longest time, my theme song was Bon Jovi’s ‘It’s my Life” because I so obviously wasn’t living my own life.

    For a few years now, some parts are definitely not mine due to the way inflation has treated millennials. I wouldn’t work such a mundane job, I’d be more risk likely. Other parts are me, multiplied – whether it’s having pink hair, playing loud Metallica, playing loud classical music or swearing, it’s ALL me!

  4. I just bought two new Beehive Collective posters for my walls. Makes me happy! Of course, now there is the question of how to hang them, but I am putting off thinking about that.

    It’s a snow day here, and I gave the dogs a bath. The puppy immediately went outside, dug through the snow to find some dirt, and rolled herself back to being properly filthy. Which I guess is her definition of happiness.

  5. This is such a good reminder. I think it’s a lifelong task, working out what’s you and what’s other people’s expectations, and gradually shaking off the latter and appreciating the former.

    Or is that just me?

  6. I would be happier if my dog could drive! Truly, every dog person could have her own chauffeur. Not that the dog doesn’t make me happy already, but, boy, if she could drive.

    1. I think it depends on the dog. Veronica would have road rage problems (she barks at other dogs when they walk down the road in front of our house), Milton would happily break the speed limit, and Mona would brake for cookies and kisses.

    2. No.

      I want you to think about the dog driving. Then I want you to think about squirrels, bunnies and mailmen.

      Hell, no.

    3. LOL, mine would probably drive me to the dog food store, and not let me back into the car until I’d purchased all the treats. Thank god none of them know about McDonalds. I’d go broke.

  7. For over thirty years I’ve held on to music tapes of my mother’s choosing that I don’t listen to. Guilt had me clinging to them until yesterday I was looking for something I dropped that landed underneath my bureau and pulled out the box of tapes. Went through them and decided enough is enough and tossed them. Twenty four hours later I still don’t feel bad. Not only that I don’t have tape player.

  8. Something just reminded me of that line in a Mary Chapin Carpenter song stating that “We got two lives – one we’re given and the other one we make” (I hope I quoted that correctly) and the way I interpret that thought, I’m grateful for both.

  9. These make me happy:

    And they’d happily drive but their feet won’t reach the peddles. Oh, and they can’t see over the dash.

    My very good friend, Sara, ‘s husband tells people he introduces me to that I’m strange. Or odd, or a bit crazy, slightly off. I’m not sure why he thinks that, except that I have four dogs, like to live alone and think my ex’s girlfriend is wonderful. I am so thankful to her. If my ex can make her happy then I’m all for it.

    Oh and I don’t mind he introduces me that way, it’s a high compliment in his book. And also in mine.

    I don’t believe in creating drama where there is none. Am I supposed to hate the woman who allowed my ex to finally let go of me? I cannot. He is happy which means my kids are happy.

    Who was it that said a mother is only as happy as her unhappiest child?

    I’m actually trying to let that go as well. If they haven’t learned it from me yet, they never will. Either the instinct for happiness will kick in and they’ll figure it out, or they won’t but it’s no longer up to me. I’m sure I’ve failed them in many ways but isn’t that what parents are for?

    The only thing I worry about these days is how late the bills are, and even that is more of a noticing than a worry. Oh, and will I remember to make my kids Christmas Presents.

    That’s the real question.

    1. A peddle is a special term for artistically shaped automobile pedals, so maybe Milkbones instead of so-boring rectangles. Its origin was the Cloud Car of 1912 which had cloud-shaped pedals one reviewer liked to rain puddles. A critic asked if they meant “peddles” and it stuck.

  10. The tricky part about this is what you do when you live (happily—otherwise you have a different problem) with someone whose definition of happiness is different than yours in ways that makes it hard to find your happiness. For example my Dh would be happier if we had lived for a year or two in other countries, repeatedly. We lived in Mexico for a year and I’m glad I did but have no desire to repeat the experience or do it elsewhere. (I like travel—I just am slow to make friends and need roots.)
    Ultimately we decided our kids needed more roots and continuity and didn’t do it. But now they are out of the house…this is coming up again.

    Mind you, DH does make me happy. It’s just that sometimes what makes one of us happy directly conflicts with what makes the other happy.

    1. I hear you. I want spacious uncluttered rooms. DH wants stuff visible. Lots of stuff. We can’t both have what we want and it’s a constant source of frustration for both of us.

      1. And then there’s my house, where we both want all our stuff out and visible. Oh boy. It’s a battle of the stuff . . . .

  11. My mother said to me in a conversation years ago, “You always were the weird one in the family.” Har. I might have taken offense, but it is clearly true. I always felt like a changeling left by fairies…the sensitive, creative, hippy in a family full of type-A Yuppie over-achievers. Thankfully, I made my peace a lot time ago with being who I am, and my family, although they still don’t quite know what to make of me, seem to appreciate my weirdness as a good thing.

    Every family needs one, right? (Plus, Crazy Cat Lady.)

    1. Sensitive, hippy types in the family unite!

      Tomorrow is Day 4 of a Girl Scout Activity marathon and I can safely say – Girl Scouts makes me happy. Watching my girl do scout stuff makes me happy, hanging with the other leaders makes me happy. I bleed green!

  12. I still have a Princess Bride poster on my wall and only recently took down my Pigs in Space poster.

    I’m happy my dog is doing better. He is perky than he has been since his accident in July. As a result of too many antibiotics after surgery, he developed an antibiotic resistant infection that required yet another surgery.
    As part of the testing, the vet checked his poop it make sure there were no parasites. Not only were there no parasites, she said it was theost sterile poop she had ever seen. The antibiotics had killed off all the good bacteria too, so he is on puppy probiotics.

    He wouldn’t want to drive. Very short legs and it would be too much work. He is a lazy soul.

  13. I think I’ve got the things that make me immediately happy figured out- in the same city as my family, solid friend circle, trips to the farmer’s market, time to write, a beautiful apartment. Now I’m moving on to the big, scary questions- do I want to keep on my current career track, or do I want to jump sideways? And if I’m jumping sideways, what’s the landing plan? Because if someone else cosigned your student loans, you need a landing plan.

  14. I realized lately that my childhood goal was to be invisible. Which made sense, as my brother abused me. So I wanted to be invisible and a burglar (think female Alexander Mundy). For far too long I let ‘shoulds’ shape who and what I was. Then a friend asked me just who those ‘shoulds’ belonged to, and I realized with horror they were my brother’s! That was a huge wake up.

    In retirement, I’m shaping my own happiness in new ways. And loving my life. And while all three of my rescue pups and the rescue cat would drive if they could, I can still control that as I am the one who has to buy the gas….

  15. I don’t know on this topic. I feel like happiness is a thing I can do when alone or with the right people, but once others are involved, it becomes an issue of accommodation and making peace.

    1. I think happiness is finding a group of people who take turns being accommodating. As a woman of a certain age, I was trained to accommodate others in an effort to avoid conflict and provide a welcoming atmosphere for others. But, over time, that left me feeling very frustrated and bitter. Now I am drawn to others who feel comfortable sharing and who value a variety of opinions.

  16. I spent a long weekend with my BFF who has a lively Bichon. Not only did I get I have a lovely visit with my friend, I got lots of doggie cuddles.

  17. My mother is always asking me when I’m going to grow up. Finally, last year I said, “Mom, I’m 65 years old. If I’m not grown up by now, I’m not ever going to be and besides, its MY LIFE. I don’t have to grow up if I don’t want to” and I still haven’t. At 66 I doubt it will happen. I love my life, my two Pomeranians and my Parakeets. Still don’t know if they are boys or girls or boy and girl. Right now they are just “The Boys”. I bought them because my mother and ALL my friends told me I can’t have a puppy. Still not grown up.

  18. The top-post image reminds me of one in this year’s ‘Not an Ostrich’ exhibit at the Annenberg here in L.A. It’s a photo of a cat wearing a winged helmet and (apparently) sitting in a big metal ewer of some kind. If you know cats, it just seems so clear that the cat is thinking ‘you humans are so silly but I dig this helmet.’

Comments are closed.