What is your “happily ever after?” Is there even such a thing? I have been pondering this question a lot lately. Coincidentally, I came across a podcast recently called “The Happiness Lab” and was listening to an episode with Professor Daniel Gilbert the other day. His Ted Talks have been seen by more than 15 million people and is one of the top ten of all time! He, along
with Yale University Professor Laurie Santos, who produces The Happiness Lab Podcast, both study “Happiness”. During his visit to the podcast he said, “Happily ever after is only true if you have three minutes to live,” and I cannot stop thinking about what this means to me.
In this age of social media, we can get everything we want at any time of the day or night. Whether it be news, food, or that special pair of jeans we have been searching for, it’s literally right at our fingertips. During the pandemic as we were all stuck at home, it sometimes seemed
like a bizarre dream. However, at home in isolation while we socially distanced ourselves, we still had access to the “outside” world. We had our phones, our laptops, and a plethora of social media to keep us up to date and entertained. We could order anything, and talk to our friends and
family, all in the comfort of our own homes.
However, after about six days, I was “over it!” and had to question everything I had thought was important and why. I had just had my breast cancer surgery and was preparing for chemo. I, like everyone else, was trapped in my home and no package from Amazon was going to make that
better or go away. I had to think, what are the things that make me truly happy?
Fast forward to eight months later and I am still thinking about this question. The answers come to me in small doses. Some days they hit me like a Mack truck. Other times, I hardly realize it and I think, “Wow, I was happy today and I did not do anything amazing, life changing or
fabulous! The older I become, I understand that it is the little things that mean the most…the moments that happen and you sometimes forget or dismiss as boring or unimportant at the time.
This new focus on happiness has brought clarity and meaning to my everyday, sometimes very mundane life.
Since my diagnosis I make more of an effort to be present in everything I do. I keep my phone away when I am with family and friends. I pay attention when I am around people…and if you know me, that is a very hard thing for me to do! These small moments happen so quickly and if I am not paying attention, I would miss them. Recently, my daughter Kelsey sent me a rough draft of a paper she was working on for her creative writing class. Unexpectedly, my heart was full of joy when I read her paper because I remembered the day she described as if it were yesterday. I was so surprised that she did as well. It was a beautiful day in Vermont, a perfect ski day for Kelsey, 6 at the time, to spread her wings and fly down a black diamond mountain – hence the title and her nickname, Kamikaze Kelsey ! The happiness I had that day back in 2006, and what she described in her paper was something that transpired in maybe ten minutes time. However, the memory of that day is etched in my mind and will last a lifetime.
“I was about to ski down my first black diamond. Cautiously, I peered down the top of the snowy mountain. At the bottom of the ski lift, the mountain had appeared less daunting than the monstrosity before my eyes right now. Despite the frigid weather, my thumping heart and sweaty palms reminded me that my fear of heights was not going to help me in this situation. At 6 years old, and fresh out of ski lessons, I envisioned myself as a professional skier with my dark purple ski pants, blue jacket, light blue goggles, sleek black helmet, and electric pink skis. Bored with the green and blue trails that I had practiced with my ski instructor, I decided I was ready for the
black diamonds my parents always abandoned me to ride.”
A cancer diagnosis, or living with any type of disease is unimaginable at first. The prospect of treatment or a lifelong fight feels daunting and the first time you hear the words you think, “oh no, not me, I cannot do this!” Then something happens. Maybe not to everyone, but it did to me.
There is no free pass to forever, but how we choose to live in the here and now matters. It matters to someone, and maybe without even realizing it, you make someone happy each day. Kelsey sharing her paper and that memory with me that day, did just that! Pure joy. Happiness.
Professor Gilbert hits the nail on the head when he explains what he has found through all of his research on happiness. “Time will pass and you will live your life and fight your fight. However, in the end it is usually the same for all of us, the good things won’t be as good, the bad things
won’t be as bad as your mind leads you to believe because you cannot be really endlessly happy all the time. Happiness is a vacation destination if you do the right things, but cannot stay forever.”
I realize now that there is always someone facing a bigger challenge. That fact reminds me to be grateful for each day, because every day truly is a gift. It sounds cliche, but deserves to be said…enjoy the little things, no matter how little. Find joy in what you have in your life, big and small, and try not to sweat the big stuff. Happiness fills my heart when my husband Jim’s eyes
light up when he finishes a project. Happiness fills my heart when Kelsey calls me from college and says she misses me. Happiness fills my heart when my son Jared wakes up for school on time. Happiness fills my heart every Saturday when I walk at the park with my three friends.
Happiness fills my heart when I go to dinner with my high school girlfriends, still 34 years later. Happiness fills my heart when my mom lives another day like she is 65. Happiness fills my heart when Maria and Candy call to check in on me. It is the little things that are the biggest things that
give me JOY! Cherish them, big and small, and remember life goes on. We live another day…not always good, not always bad, but exactly the way it was intended to be.
“We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends.” – Daniel Gilbert