Tuesday, April 8, 2008

what she said. about happiness. part one.

Well here goes. Me trying to write about something I’ve been thinking about for a week but can’t seem to spit out onto the computer through my fingers. Why does this post always write itself when I’m lying in bed at 2am trying to get some sleep?

As some of you may remember, last Monday I went to see Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, give a talk in the theatre of the high school I graduated from. It was a great talk. I was very inspired and excited by everything she said.

Ms. Gilbert was funny, smart and insightful. Unfortunately, I was tired, unfocused and headachy.

Damn allergies. Almost everything she said flew out of my head almost immediately. I was hoping that a bit of sleep might resurrect some of the golden nuggets of wisdom Ms. Gilbert imparted upon the audience, but with no such luck. It’s been a week, and I remember even less than I did three days ago, so I guess I better hurry up and write something before it’s gone for good. How’s that for a big build-up? I’m just typing out loud here to get the fingers flowing and the compositional mojo going.

This is my process. Sorry if my process is boring. Perhaps skip ahead to see if I make a point.

I should probably start by calling Ms. Gilbert, Liz from here on in. We spoke. Our hands touched. She smiled at me. She signed my book. I have a very grainy photo of her on my cell phone. As far as I’m concerned, we’re friends now and I can call her Liz.


My friend Liz was hilarious. One of the first things she talked about was how she had completely spaced-out at the airport the day before and missed her flight. Liz said she wished she could blame it on being in some transcendental meditative state, but, in fact, she just simply forgot to get on her flight.

It was a great anecdote. Her point, I believe, was to draw attention to the fact that she’s a normal person. And normal people sometimes miss flights. It seems that Liz is burdened (in my opinion, not her words) by people who like to deify her as if she’s some sort of wise guru. I get her point, but I wouldn’t mind trying on that problem for a while. Or maybe not. Apparently one woman approached Liz at a book signing and said, “Should I divorce my husband?” Just like that. No preamble, no back-story. Just the big, huge question, “Should I divorce my husband?” As if Liz could, or would, give her an answer.

I laughed out loud. I mean, who does that? Seriously. I don’t even ask my closest friends if I should divorce my husband. And believe me, it has crossed my mind before. (Read this post if you want to see how my whole divorce thing turned out.)

Anyway, I’m sure there are tons of nutters out there who think Ms. Gilbert – sorry, Liz – has it all figured out. She wrote a great book. She’s a successful writer. She lives a wonderful, wisdom-filled life, right?

Well. Maybe. Maybe not.

But I’m thinking she’s probably reasonably happy. She may not be a wise and wizened guru, but she’s probably reasonably happy. I think I can bank on that.

Which got me to thinking about my own quest to be happy. For a while now I’ve been writing about my search for The Happy Girl. The short version is this: around fifteen years ago I worked in a law firm and the receptionist used to call me The Happy Girl. I guess she did it because I seemed reasonably happy. And in fact, I was reasonably happy. I was restless, but I definitely remember being happy. That was then.

Fast-forward fifteen years.

It’s just before last Christmas and I’m a stay-at-home-mom. I’m bored. I’m tired. I feel isolated. I don’t look the way I used to. I don’t laugh as often as I used to. I live in my mother’s basement. And with only one income and a child, we don’t have as much money as we used to either. So I don’t get out much. And The Happy Girl isn’t too interested in this life, so she’s moved elsewhere. I’m not sure where she went, but she didn’t leave a forwarding address.

I don’t blame her for avoiding me, but lately I’ve been trying to hunt her down and she’s proving to be quite elusive.

I can’t imagine what she’s hiding from? Or maybe I can. It makes me think of a quote I found the other day while surfing around on the awesome blog Thursday Drive:

“A man can stand anything except a succession of ordinary days.” - Goethe

Too true. This is my life. A painful succession of ordinary days. And as it turns out, being a sullen, unhappy mom only makes this pain worse. It’s also hazardous to the health of a marriage and, although usually well hidden from her, it’s also sometimes unpleasant for a beautiful young child to witness.

But here’s the upside:

I’m a pretty smart cookie and just before Christmas I realized this was a bad situation to be in. The fixer in me finally decided to get some help and I started seeing a psychologist. It was an extremely positive experience. I highly recommend it. I only saw her a handful of times, but it was just enough to pull me out of my funk.

And now back to the Elizabeth Gilbert part of the story…

Around the same time as I started seeing a psychologist, I read the book Eat, Pray, Love, by my good friend Liz Gilbert. To say that I loved the book would be a huge understatement. This book said exactly what I needed to hear, when I needed to hear it. And it was funny too. I’m not exaggerating when I say I pulled an Oprah and bought Eat, Pray, Love for everyone on my Christmas list. In this book, I felt like I’d found my spirit again. It spoke to me in an extremely deep way and I wanted to share it.

As you know, I am a traveller. Wanderlust fills my heart. I lived on a cruise ship for two years. In a way, I once pulled a Liz too. She ran away to find herself through travel and so did I. Luckily, the catalyst for my wanderlust wasn’t something as dramatic as a divorce, but I did want to start fresh and try on a new skin for a while so I ran away to sea.

I think it was because of my previous experiences with travel and my current apathy and sadness that I could relate so well to Eat, Pray, Love. I wanted to run off again just like Liz, but the full time obligations associated with being a stay-at-home-mom precluded me from travelling for a year. Instead, I set off on an inner journey to find The Happy Girl within. This blog is all part of that journey.


I am not making any sense right now. Gosh I’m sorry. I apologize for meandering all over the place here but I’m trying to work some stuff out. If you’ve read this far, thank you. Bear with me. I’m attempting, in a rather round about way, to get to the point of this post. I really am. Like, Right. Now.

Last Monday night Liz talked about being happy.

Oh wait. I’m such a tease. Maybe the point won’t be Like, Right. Now. But it will be right after this explanation of what Liz said about being happy.

[Disclaimer – Contrary to the title of this post, this isn’t what she said. I didn’t take notes. This is just my interpretation of what she said.]

On the topic of happiness, Liz started off by discussing the much-hyped self-help concept of trying to “Live in the Moment” or “Live in the Now” by saying it was virtually impossible for a regular person to do this. (Personally I think it was a thinly veiled dig at Oprah’s flavour of the month Eckhart Tolle, but moving on). Liz said that many spiritually devoted individuals spend their entire lives studying and training to reach enlightenment and yet even they find “Living in the Now” extremely difficult to maintain on a daily basis.

So how could a regular stay-at-home-mom like me ever attain such an achievement?

I was nodding the entire time Liz talked about this. I mean, really. Can I ever truly live exactly in the moment? Am I not supposed to think about what I’m going to feed Csilla for dinner tonight? Am I not supposed to smile at the memory of something funny Balazs said last night?

Am I really supposed to just live in the moment as I clean the toilet? Or just live in the moment as I wipe up another yet another glass of spilled milk?

No. Sorry. I don’t think so. I think anybody who tries to make tasks like this all lovely and flowery by “Living in the Moment” and enjoying the beauty of consciously observing our actions is full of crap. Seriously. Wouldn’t these two daily tasks be just a little more enjoyable if conducted whilst savouring the memories of a lovely snuggle with Csilla from earlier that day?

I mean if I have to clean the toilet I would much rather live in the snuggle-memory-moment than the cleaning-toilet-moment while I am doing it thank you very much. I’ll be damned if I’m going to consciously savour the glory that is the cleaning of my grubby toilet bowl.

Who's with me?

Yes, Carolyn! Yes. We agree with you!

Living in the Moment” seems almost impossible to me. In principle, I respect the concept, but in practice it’s just another thing for me to beat myself up about. I would have to meditate for a year straight before I could turn my monkey mind off for even two minutes. My friend Jan over at Crazy Lady on Road 80 left a comment for me the other day in which she said, “Brilliant minds have a hard time shutting down”. Amen Sister! I definitely have a hard time shutting down so I must be brilliant, right? Maybe not. Either way, “Living in the Moment” just doesn’t seem practical for me.

But here’s the point.


Liz offered a better alternative to “Living in the Moment”. She suggested that the happiest people she had ever encountered had this one single thing in common:

They had lots of great memories and they had lots to look forward to.


And that was my “A-HA” moment.

Right there in the theatre of the high school I graduated from, the big light bulb went on in my head. And just when I started to vibrate, Liz drove her point home by saying:

“What's my best suggestion for being happy?”

“Take lots of pictures and make lots of plans.”

Let that soak in for a minute.

If you want to be happy. Take lots of pictures. And make lots of plans.

Take pictures.
Make plans.

In other words, savour the many great memories you have and always get ready to make more.

How simple is that? And isn’t it the truth?

Take lots of pictures and make lots of plans.

So this is what I’ve been pondering for the last week. In my quest to find The Happy Girl, where is she hiding in that statement? It took me a week to figure it out, but this is it:

My life is out of balance.

I have tons of great memories. Too many to count. More than any one person should have. I am extremely blessed. I’ve travelled the world. I had a happy childhood. (Really. I did. Read a little synopsis of my life here). I live in a beautiful country that is free and safe. I have a lot to be thankful for.

So why am I not happy?
How could I not be happy?

It’s because I’ve stopped making plans. My life is out of balance. I’m completely missing the second part of the equation - make lots of plans. I simply don’t have anything to look forward to. Now before you get all feeling sorry for me, don’t panic. I plan on changing this. I’m just observing my thoughts right now. Living in the moment as it were. Hardi har har.

The other day my friend Bendy Linda asked me where I saw myself in five years. The question stopped me cold. I drew a complete blank. I had no idea where my life would be in five years.

I feel like I’m in a holding pattern right now. And that, right there my friends, is why I feel unhappy.

I plan on doing something about it; but I’ve just figured out this much for now. It’ll probably take me at least another week to figure out how to rectify the situation. Right?

But at least I know what the problem is. And I do know there are a couple of things that might factor into my lack of plans, which I will also be exploring in the near future. And they are:

1. The Second Kid question. It’s a huge contributing factor to the holding pattern syndrome. Balazs and I just can’t seem to decide if we wish to procreate again. It’s a big decision and we can’t seem to make it.

2. The Quote of the Day issue. Have you noticed that my Quote of the Day hasn’t changed in two weeks? It's kind of a misnomer at this point. Look to the right on my sidebar. Near the top. Read it. Good. So here’s my problem. That quote is going to sit there until I’ve had a chance to analyze its contents because I currently do not know what makes me come alive. It’s a multi-faceted issue that I must to get to the bottom of.

I recently read a great quote on The Rotten Correspondent’s blog, which said, “the best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

I couldn’t agree more. This is exactly where I stand right now. The only way I can predict happiness for myself is if I invent a happy life for myself. My life must be happy. Exactly the way I invent it.

Am I making any sense? I hope so. I hope you got something out of this post. You’ve read this far. Was there some sort of reward?

Anyway, I’m tired and must go to bed. Sorry to drop it like it's hot, but I think I’m going to leave this discussion here. I have more to expand on, but this is all I can do tonight. Stay tuned.


Jules said...

It's 2AM here and I do so need to go to bed. But I wanted to add, before I drop off to sleep, that you are so very right.
It's goals that keep us going and that get us to strive to expand our horizons. They encourage us to, give us hope for the future and sometimes they allow us to achieve greatness.
Thanks for your wonderful post. :)

softinthehead said...

WOW Carolyn you have been giving this a lot of thought but I think you are worked out some demons. My way of life is completely the opposite, we spend our whole making plans, they keep changing so much that our family can't keep up with us, (hence the live in France in a couple of years plan) but it has definitely makes life more liveable. Looking back the times when I have been unhappiest are when, as you say, life becomes a bit stagnant. I trust between the three of you, you can plan something wonderful.

Carla Marion Peritz said...

I just bought the new Eckhart Tolle book, but haven't been able to focus enough to crack it open. And I just picked up Louise Hay's "You Can Heal Your Life", which...yeah, haven't gotten around to just yet. I guess I'm on that same path to find purpose and happiness right now as you are. And let me just say..it totally blows! Oh and I'm knocked up...and working full-time...and raising a 1-year-old...and no day-care. Sorry. Hormones. OMG. Thanks for your honest post. And get some sleep, woman!

Anonymous said...

Love your processing- I do this sometimes with a pen and paper and then dump it; you are much braver than I! Delighted you are making progress with it all.

Jan said...

You really did marinate! But boy was that a feast. I really do understand so much of it. I have been in that place many times in my own life. Paralyzed in sorts. Once I couldn't and didn't leave my house for a year. It was a dark time for me. But I to realized that I needed to move foreward somehow. I did find my answers and it has been my driving force since now. I just think that by you sharing and understanding where you are at right now and how you want to change it is living in the moment. You are living it. Even if it seems undirecting. We eat,pray,love and GROW. Its all a growing process. When we go thru the little downs and realize things, we grow and become better. I call it "Adult Growth Spurts". We are way to hard on ourselves sometimes that we almost forget how to live. Sad isn't it. We are trying so hard to figure out how to live and therefore we miss the living. You are working it out. You'll get your balance back and be better and wiser for it. Glad you had that time to go and listen to Liz. I think you came out of there learning from yourself more than from her really. Be true to your feelings of what makes you happy. We all have a light with in us that carries truth. Always follow that light and be true to it. It holds the keys and the right direction to true happiness. Loves to you. And thanks for sharing.

Kaycie said...

The thing I found most difficult when I started staying home with the kids was a lack of intellectual stimulation. Once I figured out how to address that, my whole perspective changed. Taking care of my own needs allowed me to provide a better environment for my children. I think you are definitely on the right track.

On the question of another child: I think the experience of having a sibling is precious. My children surprise me with their affection and regard for one another. I am glad they'll always have one another, even when they're grown.

aims said...

Is there going to be a test on this?

Girl - duh....

I don't know what to say I guess...just - duh...

I'm blown away. Need to think about it for a while myself....

CrazyCath said...

That was actually a brilliant post and made a lot of sense to me. I agree with your friend Liz.
Balance. That's what we need. I have always taken lots of pictures. Plans are thin on the ground right now.
sometimes life has to go on hold, I just have to remember to take the finger off the hold button again!

Thanks for this. It is brilliant. Hope your plans start forming...

Kimberly said...

Oh my heck.

That was brilliant. And I needed to read it almost as much as you needed to write it.

Now excuse me...I have some plans to make...

ciara said...

i relate w this post more than you know. i, too, know it's not good, but i'm trying to figure out (or is it plan?) how to fix it.

juli said...

You put into words so much of what I am feeling these days. Why is it that so many moms struggle? Shouldn't we get extra emotional blessings for trying to raise some good kids?
Thank you for your words. There were a few sentences that I cut and pasted so that I could "chew" on them a little longer.

ped crossing said...

You are right on the money. I would go nuts as a stay at home mom. I work half time and it saves my sanity and makes me a better mom.

Happy planning.

Aline said...

Wow, what a powerful post. I have to think about this for a while, but one thing is so right .. take pictures, have memories, make plans. Thanks for that!!

Carla Marion Peritz said...

I just figured out your life's path. The alarm went off at 3am and my brain was ON. For some reason, it didn't come up with a plan for MY life, but I did have a really great Brad Pitt dream last night, so I'm ok with that. Anyhoo, you clearly have a gift for writing and connecting with people. Why not get paid for it? Be a writer for a magazine...work from home...make some coin...reach more people. Then you turn your blog into a website..slap some ads on there, bring in even more coin and BAM, you're on Oprah pitching your new book. I honestly have no clue about the print world...I'm just a radio girl, but I'm sure that one look at your blog and you'd be hired. So there ya go. Easy as pie, right? All coming from Carla Marion, Life Coach (Not)whose own life kind of blows right now. HA.

jennifer h said...

You said so much of what I've been feeling for a while now. I'm stuck. My whole family is stuck, just waiting to move forward to what comes next. Make plans. (Carry out plans, would help, too)

I hope you find Happy Girl. Or that she finds you. Do some great stuff, and I'll bet she's bound to show up.

Thank you so much for writing this. I needed to hear every word of it.

(Oh, and there's a little something for you over at my place.)

Jane George said...

a great post! yes living in the moment when you are buried in the mundane jobs that go with motherhood (i have a 2yr old and a 10 month old) will simply steal the joy out of these precious days. it was so so lovely though to read an alternative viewpoint. i was just about to give up doing a load of extra stuff i have taken on with my artwork as feeling swamped and felt i needed to free some time up just to keep on top of just such tasks, but this post has made me change my mind! i think i would just be stuck in moment living if i did that and all the xtras come with plans to look forward to!
i am happy to have found your blog as i am working on an exhibition at the moment exploring motherhood. please visit me if you can and add comments as this is a great place to share opinions and viewpoints on all this mummy thing. will never claen my toilet again without first instilling an image in my mind of cuddling my girls. keep up the great posts. xxx

Corey~living and loving said...

holy guacamole....what a fabulously long post. tee hee

I got it though....I really got it. :) You need more pictures....and plans to take pictures. I'm not it. wink wink...

so seriously....I got it. well said. THANK YOU!

Suzanne said...

This is exactly how I've been feeling lately...I wonder if it's the season, a general malaise, an allergy? I have the goals, but I seem to be stuck when it comes to acting on them.

I'm happy you are feeling better and I can't wait to read what plans you come up with.

This was really a terrific blog, and thank you...