Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Happiness is people




"When your aspiration is to lighten up, you begin to have a sense of humor. Your serious state of mind keeps getting popped. In addition to a sense of humor, a basic support for a joyful mind is curiosity, paying attention, taking an interest in the world around you. Happiness is not required, but being curious without a heavy judgmental attitude helps."--Pema Chodron, from Comfortable with Uncertainty

I saw a movie on Sunday night called Wendy and Lucy. It's a very simple story, starting with a girl and her dog on their way to start a better life in Alaska. I read somewhere that Michelle Williams, who plays Wendy, was very good in the role. And she was, very believable, heartbreakingly so. But god, was it a depressing movie.

I had posted last time that I wanted to try to lighten up, to laugh more, maybe see a comedy or read a funny book. Instead, I'm watching depressing indie flick #347 and reading a novel by TC Boyle, The Tortilla Curtain, about the battle between a California town's white, well-to-do population, and the immigrants coming illegally across the border. In Boyle's novel, no one comes out looking like a winner; certainly not the main character, who runs a Mexican off the road and then hands him $20 for his troubles. And not the immigrants--particularly the men--who sometimes prey on their own people. It's an absorbing story but definitely another downer. I came home last night, covered in sweat from my humid walk, sat at the kitchen table across from Mike, and basically just gave him a look of impending doom.

In my search for happiness and a life that's worthwhile, I've tried to reduce my "hooks"--shopping (Paris doesn't count), drinking too much red wine, eating cereal for dinner, trolling for the next "essential" beauty product, reading People magazine. Meanwhile, I'm trying to figure out what it means to be a good person, and how I can spend my time more wisely, open up more, and drop my snap judgments about people and situations. I'm trying to face the world without so much armor on.

But there's so much discouraging news out there. And without the hooks to distract me, the world seems so...harsh. I can see one of the reasons why people have children--or maybe it's just a perk that comes with the job--but if you're busy chasing around a little one or changing a diaper or yelling at your teenager, then you don't have time to think about much else!

I did do one positive thing this weekend. Despite having a nasty cough and cold, I went up to the family cabin in Maine over the weekend so I could see my New York friends Alina and Eric who were coming to stay with us. Originally, I was going to wrap myself up in my cocoon of soft sheets, and go through a box of tissues hacking my lungs out, scaring the cat off the bed, and basically waiting for Sunday night. But then I thought about something I read in Social Intelligence, a pretty good book by Daniel Goleman (despite the complicated brain studies.) He said that what makes people the happiest is relationships with others. That's pretty much it. Yes, you need the basics--shelter, food, clothes, the ability to pay your electric bill and have money left over for dinner and a movie. But once you've hit that baseline of comfort, it's all about being a part of a community, having quality relationships with people. You live longer and are more content if you have a close network of people in your life.

Now between my mucuous-laden cough and my gloomy worldview, I didn't think I'd be very good company for anyone. And the first night we were there, when I was quarantined to the bunkhouse to sleep alone lest I wake everyone up with my coughing and spewing, I wondered if I should have stayed home. At home there weren't ten thousand blood-sucking mosquitoes angling for a piece of me. There might be some old cough medicine in the bathroom closet under the beach towels and more pillows on which I could prop myself up. No one would have to look at me across the dinner table in my sad state. But eventually I fell asleep.

Saturday morning, I woke up late, expecting that everyone had already eaten Mike's delicious whole wheat buttermilk pancakes and were probably deep into the discussion of the day's plan. Surprisingly, though it was after 11, they had waited for me before eating. "Well of course we waited," they said. It was a small thing, but it filled me with gratitude for my thoughtful friends.
And by Saturday afternoon I was starting to feel slightly better--courtesy of Mucinex--and I was allowed to sleep in the big house with everyone else, and we ate Maine lobster and this Russian cucumber, dill, and tomato salad that Alina prepared, and we talked and laughed, even when we were in the midst of a swarm of bugs that surrounded us when we went outside to get in the car. If I had stayed at home, I would have sulked and sweated and thought of all the reasons why the world is a cruel place. But instead I spent time with my friends whom I love. At least I got that one right!

2 comments:

Nathan said...

"Happiness is not required, but being curious without a heavy judgmental attitude helps."

This is good for me to remember. Thanks for quoting Pema :)

Jason Miller, said...

" I can see one of the reasons why people have children--or maybe it's just a perk that comes with the job--but if you're busy chasing around a little one or changing a diaper or yelling at your teenager, then you don't have time to think about much else!"

Oh Jenn, you have that completely backwards. I havent been a parent long, but I can tell you that the harsh news of the world weighs double on the mind when you are responsible for another human being. Havent you noticed that its the parents that are always over-reacting to things? Every kidnapped child a thousand miles away feels like it happened next door, every terrorist attack makes it feel like the next one is gonna get you and your kids. The parents are the most hyper-sensitive to the harsh news. For many of them, it is ALL they think about.