The Road to Happiness

A few years ago, I had a mid-life crisis.  I liken it to surviving a horrific car crash.  I was going about the business of my life, hands on the wheel, cruising along at a moderate speed.  I was so fixated on the road ahead, I missed vital signs alerting me I was headed in the wrong direction.  On auto-pilot, I sped along, oblivious to the imminent crash.

On auto-pilot.  That's how I would describe the way I was functioning.  Mindlessly moving forward, propelled more by inertia than a desire to follow a thoughtfully charted course.

I shoveled the snow from our driveway, went to my early morning Spin class, got the kids to school, cleaned the house, did the marketing, paid the bills, picked the kids up from school, made dinner, listened to my husband's musings about his work, and fell into bed too exhausted to process my thoughts or feelings about the day.  Some days, I added volunteering or writing to my schedule.  This itinerary repeated itself five day per week without mercy.  Wake, shovel, spin, clean, cook, kids, husband, bed.  Repeat.

I kept the Brown Family car on the road.  Moving forward.  Kids scrubbed and in their Sunday best, buckled in the backseat.  Husband riding shotgun, smiling, content to let me drive.

Some days, I would reach my destination and look around, dazed and confused about how I had even gotten there.  "Funny, I don't remember passing that little Italian deli on the corner of Northern and Luke.  How did I get here?"

Inevitably, tragically, the crash came.  I drove headfirst into a midlife crisis and found myself in the middle of the twisted wreckage of my life.  Dazed.  Confused. 

In the months following my life pile-up, I sat on the curb and pondered my wrong turns.  I analyzed my choices, considered what I could have done differently. I probed deeply into my soul.  I asked myself where I was headed in relation to where I wanted to be headed.  I began to put the pieces of my life back together - perhaps not in the same order - but together, nonetheless.

I thought I had a keener awareness about the world around me and sharper navigational skills.  I thought I was back in the driver's seat, more confident than ever.

Recently, I realized that I am not in the driver's seat.  I am still wandering around the crash site, trying to find a route back to life before my wreck.

I finally realized that I crashed my life because I was profoundly unhappy.  Moreover, although I am profoundly happy to have survived a painful life crisis, I am still not happy.

This realization hit me hard, left me more dazed than any crisis or crash.

How could I not be happy?  Me.  Leah.  The woman blessed with a faithful, generous husband, two miraculous children, thoughtful, loyal friends, a passport full of stamps, a lovely home, and a head full of naturally blonde hair!

And then I got it.  Happiness comes from within and I had been trying to construct it around me, rather than within me.

Two months ago, I sat at my kitchen table, staring out at the forest of trees beyond my window, searching the canopy of orange, green, and red leaves as if the secret to happiness was hidden within them.  I thought of all of the great challenges of my life - nagging questions about the father who had abandoned me, an unhappy marriage to an abusive (ex)husband, infertility, getting published - and I thought about how I had dealt with and overcome them. 

People have always described me as a bulldog.  They say I am tenacious, that I bite down and refuse to let go. When faced with an obstacle, I fix my teeth on it, and shake it until it's dead.  This determination helped me find the answers about my absent father, the solution to my infertility, and the publisher who wanted to publish my novel.

That autumn afternoon, sitting at my kitchen table, I decided I needed to be a bulldog on the hunt for happiness.  I needed to track it down and sink my teeth into it.

I started where all modern inquisitors start:  Google.  I considered entering "How to find happiness" in the search box but realized that might be too specific.  Didn't I first need to know what happiness meant to the world at large, and then, specifically, to me?  I typed "Happiness" into the box and clicked the magnifying glass icon.  Monsieur Google offered me 298,000,000 results from which to find my answer.

298,000,000 links to definitions, quotes, movies, medical journals, articles, and blogs about happiness.

I spent hours reading Psychology Today's views on the positive psychology movement (their term for the pursuit of happiness) and quotes about what it is to be happy.  I watched The Happy Movie, a documentary that takes viewers from the swamps of Louisiana to the slums of Calcutta in search of happiness. 

I took all of the information I gathered on the pursuit of happiness and distilled it into two simple but profound quotes:

"People are just as happy as they make their minds up to be." ―  Abraham Lincoln

"Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.”   ― Dalai Lama XIV

The President and the Dalai Lama had given me my course, a roadmap to my own happiness.  They helped me to see that I needed to make happiness my project, my passion, my number one pursuit.

I headed to Amazon and found the book that has become my operating manual:  The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.   I found in Rubin a mentor, a kindred spirit, another soul navigating the mean streets of life in search of happiness. Rubin's book is more than one woman's musings m happiness, it is a workbook for anyone wishing to make Happiness their Project.

With Rubin's guidance, I have identified twelve areas of my life that could use further examination and tinkering, twelve abstract concepts that I will ponder and perfect in my pursuit for true happiness.

Each month, I will focus on one issue/area.  I will construct tasks and goals that will help me achieve a greater proficiency in that area.  I will spend the month immersed in that issue, learning about it, striving to be better at it.  And I will chart my progress, share my ponderings, here, with you, my most faithful readers, fellow pursuers of happiness.

Leah's Happiness Project
January - Health
February - Writing
March - Zen
April - Accept
May - De-Modernize, Re-Traditionalize
June - Marriage
July - Family
August - Expand
September - Find Balance
October - Look Upward
November - Positive Attitude
December - Finances

I have disabled the auto-pilot feature in my life.  Sit back, click on your seat belts, and enjoy the ride.

(Are you actively pursuing happiness? Do you sometimes look around at the life you've built and - inexplicably - wish you were happier?  Why not begin your own Happiness Project?  The neat thing about the Happiness Project is that it is tailored to fit you.  Each project is personal, individualized. Nothing canned here. If you decide to start a Happiness Project, let me know, won't you?  I would love to tweet or email you encouraging thoughts.  If you are a blogger, I will add a link to my Happiness Project page to your blog.)

Be Happy!
My beautiful daughter captured in a moment of joy.

Beary Happy
My son has a happy spirit.
Hugging my friend Clarissa brought me happiness!

Blow me!
My fun friend Megan, a fellow happiness hunter.

Does this hat make me look happy?
Posing in World Market with my best friend, Fanny,
who is loyal, generous, and a huge provider
of my happiness.

Working It
I am blessed with two best friends.  Cindy
always makes me happy.  She's my
cord twin.

A happy moment with my husband, Kevin, on our way to
Paradise.  Kevin tries to make me happy more than
anyone I know.

The Gift of Happiness
Celebrating my birthday with my pal, Kristin.  Her
” friendship is the best gift she has ever given me.
Beautiful Seoul
God introduced me to my friend, Lori,
while I was in Seoul, Korea.  She
proved to be a blessing and one of the
most beautiful souls I have ever
Mrs. Beasley Knows the Secret
Here I am beside my favorite cousin, my friend, Lisa.
Remember when all you needed to be happy was
a doll and a good buddy?

Happiness Link Up




cindy said...

I love you, friend

cindy said...

I love you, Friend. As with anything you set out to do, I know you will succeed.

Wine and Cork said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this piece and can definitely say that I am guilty of using the autopilot option as well. I look forward to keeping up with your progress and hopefully I can learn a few things about happiness myself A great big "Merci" for including me in your post, I am honored. It was also neat to see photos of you with some of the people that matter so much in your life, thank you for sharing that part of you.