Happy Is As Happy Does.
by Jennifer Sey
My mother in law is worried about me. She thinks I'm unhappy. First there was my book digging up all the childhood trauma – abusive gymnastics coaches, neglectful parents, shattered self – esteem, blah blah blah. I intended the memoir to be more of a coming of age tale than an I'm so miserable, let me confess all the horrible things that have happened to me as a kid saga of self-pity. But the reader gets what the reader gets.
Then there are the columns. Everything I write is relatively angsty, I suppose. It isn't that I'm UNhappy. It's just that the things I ponder are the things that eat at me. Usually they are deep in my gut surrounded by piles of happy. But I like to go right to the center of what causes me pain, irritation, anger, shame. Shame, in particular, is a subject of endless fascination for me. It feels so noxious and damaging, I hate for it to sit there untended to. It might spread and take over my entire body, causing sepsis and ultimately death by self-degradation and fatal humiliation.
Cliché as it sounds, I work out the angst by writing about it. And I make an assumption that others like to read about the human struggle. It unites us to know we're not alone in what causes us pain, no matter how stupid and insignificant that pain-causer might be. I LOVE reading things that are ponderous and sad. I find them inspiring if they are well considered, well-written. The beauty in dark resonant prose lifts my spirit, as counter-intuitive as that may seem. I hope that one day, after years of practice, I might achieve something of that for a reader.
Just as unlikely as finding uplift in the morose, I often find happy in the mundane or the dreadful. In an effort to answer my mother in law's question – are you happy? - herein I will iterate just a few things that make me buoyant. My happy list is derived from some absurd sources including work in the corporate machine, getting older, public transit and in-laws. But the saddest book ever, Revolutionary Road (yes the movie with Kate and Leo) makes me joyous because it is so artfully crafted. Thus perhaps I'm just topsy-turvy in my world view.
#1. I love that I am about to turn 40. Because I am old enough to feel proud of my accomplishments. I feel highly competent in my corporate day job. I even enjoy work sometimes. Gasp! In fact, I just spent the week in an “off site”, the oft mocked and dreaded corporate equivalent of a colonoscopy. Only more boring. And it was fun! I led a group of global marketing executives from Japan, Brussels, Brazil, Singapore, US and a host of other countries through an arduous process focused on growing our business (yawn, corporate talk, sorry) and we all had a ball. Most of us, anyway. We did the work while bickering with each other but ultimately got a kick out of the whole thing and came away more appreciative of each other. I felt like an important part of that productivity. Proud happy girl.
#2. I write stuff. This pleases me to no end. I do it in the wee hours of the morning either at the end of a long day or before a brutal one, but it's worth the bleary-eyedness. I toil over book ideas, fiddle with articles and drop loads of unfinished snippets. The unfinished snippets dig at me a bit. They poke around in my brain begging to be completed, mocking me for ignoring them. They eventually quiet down because I don't feed them enough. But mostly I feel happy that I write anything at all and it's worth being exhausted all the time. I was fearful of writing throughout my twenties (something for “creative” people, not me) and I now do it frequently and fluidly without fear of failure.