It’s hard to fully tell you the pleasure the garden gives me. It is a living picture, a piece of art to gaze upon. Seriously! That’s how it feels. The years I’ve put into it pay dividends. Small but not miniscule, it draws me like any space indoors: What can I do here? How can I make it better? Would that look better moved over there? I rearrange just like inside, always tweaking details. It makes me happy. I spent nothing this year on plants or extras, things being what they are. I figured I’d work with what I have and then was fortunate that people gave me living things: tomato seedlings, seeds (basil, bean, okra), and just this week a hanging petunia with the palest shade of creamy yellow flowers. I gave away things too – about a dozen large hostas. I broke out my lovely chimes and my Dollar Tree decor 😁 (I thought to attach/tape my little spinners to a shepherd’s hook and bamboo stick so that they sit up off the ground and catch more wind – for such simple items they sure don’t lose my interest!).
Here in mid-life I have come to believe that happiness* comes from having passions that are their own reward. Acceptance, accolades, and good hard cash money for doing what you are passionate about are all nice but they are not a given and counting on them to result when you really don’t control if any or all will come is not a prudent plan.
The passions needn’t always be the same ones over the course of a lifetime. In fact, sometimes the things we love when we’re young are things that we can’t do later in life. Or maybe later in life something strikes your fancy that would have left you cold when you were younger. The people I see who are most unhappy are the ones who don’t have passions that fire them up and engage them. The people who have good reason to get out of bed in the morning are the happiest. Even if nobody else cares about those reasons but those individuals.
These passions are harmless by definition; that is they can’t hurt the individual or anybody else. Being passionate about drinking a bottle of wine daily does not count. Being passionate about screwing other people out of their money does not count. And so on.
You’ll notice I’m not saying anything about love or relationships with other people bringing about happiness. It isn’t that I’m discounting them (hardly) so much as I believe they alone are not enough and you can actually overburden your relationships when you try to get everything from them. Also – your passions are something under your control. They feed you independent of your relationships with other people.
*If you don’t like the word “happiness” (one which I generally don’t use because I think it’s a transient state, one of many), feel free to insert contentment, peace of mind, or satisfaction.
NOTE: I’m having internet issues and may not see or respond to your comments right away. But it doesn’t mean I don’t like ’em!
A long life and a happy life are not always the same thing, any more than a long marriage and a happy marriage are – we’ve heard they are repeatedly, but evidence doesn’t necessarily back it up.
I never pretend to be happier than I am.
Doing so, as anybody who does it knows, is exhausting. Nonetheless, there is a lot of pressure to turn it on, crank it up, and act as if you’re having the time of your life. We cut people a little slack if they’re sick, or just lost their job, maybe were recently divorced or widowed, or otherwise are dealing with a major event. Short of that, the prevailing cultural message is often to whoop it up by god, git yourself a beer, watch the big game, and smile damnit. Because we’re having fun! (If the available “fun” really isn’t to your liking or quite your style, well too bad.)
When I was younger, I thought “happy” was the goal, a place a person could reach, should strive to reach, and once achieved, just stay. As I grew older, I of course absorbed that happiness is one state of many; none of them are meant to be permanent. I came to see contentment as a better goal. Further: people who think a lot can pretty much scrap Happy Land as a destination. Thinking and happy are at cross-purposes. Which is not to say thinking isn’t enjoyable or worthwhile or valuable in and of itself. I happen to be a big advocate of it! And for those so dispositionally inclined, thinking is a place to live.
“Don’t worry, be happy”? Well, naturally! I hadn’t realized it was that easy, silly me. Can you tell I can’t stand this sort of soft-headed pablum? Who has a delightful and stressfree life that calls for no worries? That kind of mantra suggests but for our negative (pointless) thinking, happiness could be ours! The message – and others of its ilk – strips worrying of any legitimacy. How realistic is that, for anyone?
I’m pretty sure most of us recognize that money in and if itself doesn’t buy a happy, worry-free existence, and if we don’t we should from the rampant examples. Frankly, what it seems to buy is better drugs. (I mean, what does THAT say?!) Yeah, I can already hear it: better to have the worries of the rich guy, yes? To a point it’s true but only to a point; studies in recent history suggest that once a certain level of financial equilibrium is achieved, i.e., basic needs and reasonable comfort, additional income does not provide more happiness. (People, and maybe Americans in particular, really don’t want to believe that.)
Still, the pressure to be, to act, happy persists. And many oblige. Personally, as I said at the outset, the more conscious I’ve become of this, the less I feel obliged. When I’m comfortable around other people, I have an energetic, social personality. I’m quick to smile or laugh, and dare I say, be funny. It’s not forced, it’s my natural inclination. Few would call me reticent or shy. All that being said, when I don’t feel as I’ve just described, I don’t pressure myself to keep it up. With intimates, if I’m tired or sad or somehow less-than-cheery, I say so. The curious thing is that I find that people don’t really accept that from me. They don’t like it when I’m not jolly. To this I now think: tough (okay, maybe not quite that bad). It’s limiting and unfair to expect me or any human being to maintain a constant state of being “up” or “on.” Who is that one-dimensional? Who is not subject to the continual ebb and flow of human emotions?
The word “mask” comes up a lot in this context; what people show to the world to hide their true selves, the ones they think others will find unacceptable. Wearing a mask though, boxes their owners in, and makes it that much more difficult to reveal other dimensions when necessary or desired. Naturally, people are fearful of rejection should they remove the mask. And it’s true when you’re used to seeing another person behave pretty much one way or show only one “face,” it can be quite a surprise or even shock when out comes a different, sometimes less palatable side. Initial reaction aside, I think in the end, within the right context, most of us prefer the “real thing” and have more to gain from it. When someone takes their mask off and stops working so hard at acting happy, it touches other people and gives them permission to remove theirs as well.