When my Happy Got Hijacked...
We are sitting together at our favorite local restaurant after a draining day, the kids bouncing and dancing in their seats, releasing the joy-overflow of childhood to the beat of the music on the radio. Their daddy sits and watches them out of the corner of his eye, trying to decide whether or not we should have even brought them in public as energetic as they are. Cabin fever can take its toll on a kid.
And I sit here with them, present but not. My mind wanders away from the dancing children and the watchful daddy to the deeper meaning of things, turning over and over all the lessons I’ve been learning these last few weeks. My own private education from the Teacher Himself.
I have always been the girl who is quick to smile, to help, to dance, to laugh, to dream.
But I have been chasing lately.
For the last twelve months really.
I have been stuck on this hamster wheel, trying to read this road map, getting nowhere. Scattered overwhelm has described me - has become who I am. Stress has swallowed up all the smiles.
My happy has been hijacked. By me.
Before last summer, I thought I fully understood the concept of honestly appreciating, of deeply valuing, of laughing happy with life’s gifts. But recently, no matter how diligently I sift through the grains of my life, I keep coming up empty handed.
And I know better.
I have been a joy-hunter for years, experience having helped me know well what makes my heart hammer loud with laughter. But… is it possible to unlearn what I once thought was knitted into the fabric of me?
It’s not just that I was born an optimist, but that I have learned the skill of seeking happiness. I can sniff it out - blindfolded. I know how to adjust the zoom and capture that which many people search for but never find. A professional photographer of sorts, my subject being that which can’t be captured with a camera, but with the lens of the heart. And I honestly thought I had it mastered.
Until last year.
Each season of my life has brought with it new aspects and challenges that I’ve not been through before and my skills are tested.
My focus jerks back to the present when my toddler snaps and just can’t take it anymore - she insists that she has to get out of the booth and dance. Steven valiantly sets the princess free from the confines of societal expectations and she lets it all go on her own private dance floor, right here between our table and the next.
The beauty of her freedom to just be herself and do exactly what she feels her heart prompt her to do in this moment grips me, draws me in quick.
And I want to be just like her when I grow up.
She doesn’t even have to be taught how to live borderless. Like they all do, she came here this way. It’s those of us who have lived a while that often have to relearn what we innately knew from the very first day we were born. We came equipped with an instinctual wisdom on that birth day.
When the appetizers arrive, the little dancer scurries back to her seat so she can lick the salt off the chips. (I may or may not be responsible for teaching her how to treasure hunt for each tiny grain of deliciousness. We use mineral salt at home, so that she doesn’t develop a heart condition before she is three.) Her eyes glisten with each microscopic granule, taste bud explosions, each of them. Her daddy and I lock eyes and can only laugh and shake our heads.
And there it is. Again. She has so unknowingly found what it is that I have searched for relentlessly during this season. And I wander off again in my thoughts, getting lost as I marvel at the wisdom born right into little people.
I realize after a minute or two that Steven has paused from whatever he is saying, waiting on me to reply. I give an “oh yah?”, which is apparently acceptable, and he goes on. I silence my thoughts so I can pay attention this time and give a coherent response when he pauses again for my input.
This back and forth between being in the moment and following my mental meandering dizzies me.
He verbalizes the one thing that has been staring me in the face for over a year now, but I’ve been so unaware. Apparently I have been missing the forest for the trees.
He’s telling me about this book he’s reading and what he’s learning.
“Happiness is unobtainable if you are on a quest to get to it. It isn't the be-all, end-all destination. If you are constantly looking for it, you won’t have it."
He doesn't know how I’ve been racking my brain lately trying to put all the pieces together, to make sense of all the learning.
He sums up, "To be in pursuit of happiness means you have, though maybe you’re unaware of it, decided that you don’t currently have it.”
And I’m wide eyed, stunned awake to the magnitude of the what he’s just said.
For the last five or six years I have lived the realization that the true beauty and happiness of life is found in the present. In the moment. In the now.
Because are we ever guaranteed tomorrow anyway?
I have been an expert in this, teaching it to my children, advocating for its acknowledgment among my peers. I know - more than most - where happiness is found.
And still, I have been overlooking it. As I look for it.
Our culture says that our future plans and goals and reaching the top of our self-decided (or society-imposed) ladder of success will bring satisfaction, real fulfillment, deep meaning to our lives.
But I’ve lived.
I've seen success. I’ve experienced the results of reaching the tops of those ladders. And I know what it’s like to look around, having arrived, and wonder where the rainbows and the glitter are that I thought I’d find there.
If I’ve learned anything along the road of life, it’s this: It’s not reaching the top of the ladders we climb, but its the practice of slowing, fully immersing ourselves and marinading in the moments along the way where true joy is found.
Ann Voskamp wrote about sitting in the waiting room at the hairdresser’s and seeing a lady flip through a magazine titled, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. And she asks herself,
“Is that it? Are there physical places I simply must see before I stop breathing within time, before I inhale eternity? Why?
“To say that I’ve had reason to bow low? To say that I’ve seen beauty? To say that I’ve been arrested by wonder?”
But then she answers her first string of questions with two more.
“Isn’t it here? Can’t I find it here?” (1)
And then there’s this: It IS here, for those who can see it. For the seeing eyes, it can be found.
I breathe deep, taking it all in.
Over the last year, I have stepped up a few rungs on the ladder I'm climbing. I have been on such a hunt for the victory as I'm finally getting to take real, tangible steps in the direction of where I'm headed. And though I most definitely took not just one, but several steps on the path of my purpose, I can see now what I couldn’t at the time.
I exchanged the stepping for the seeing.
In the chase of my goal, I have missed the moments of gold along the way. In my pursuit of the happily-ever-after, I have been missing the happily-right-now.
In my stepping and seeking, I missed the simplicity in the seeing.
So now, I get to begin again. And I’m thankful for the second chances and do-overs that present themselves with the dawn of each new day. I’m no stranger to the zooming in, to smiling in gratitude as I work the shutter, letting the light in and capturing the gifts found in the present. But now I know how to be cautious of the pitfall of exchanging the seeing for the stepping.
It’s a beautiful thing to set off in the direction of your calling. And success is so very sweet.
But it’s the scenery that makes the road trip meaningful. Remembering that is going to help so much along the way.
So I’m all set now, geared up and ready - with my seeing eyes focused in on the moments that I’m in, rather than on the milestones that I’m on my way to.
As we finish our meal and Steven takes care of the check, all I can think of is how glad I am that we came to our small town Tex-Mex restaurant for supper so we could watch our daughter dance, so Steven’s musings could make their way into my make-up and settle there. And I wonder if he even knows how much his casual conversation means to me. I think I'll tell him later tonight after the kids are asleep.
Time slows and hangs perfectly still as I replay what he said.
“The pursuit of happiness is the hindrance. It takes away the satisfaction of the happiness here and now.”
And now the struggles and lessons of the last year come to a close as I put on a new pair of lenses through which I look at life.
There’s a balance we must intentionally learn between pursuing future happiness and seeing the happy in the here.
I’ve done both at one point or another, but now I think I’ll try them together.
Will you join me?
1. Voskamp, Ann; One Thousand Gifts; 2012, Zondervan; p. 26.