In between slicing mangoes and toasting waffles – while making sure our collie isn’t stealing our labradoodle’s food like he always tries when I’m looking away – I overhear on the morning news that it’s International Happiness Day!
My mind races to so many different thoughts on happiness. My baby boy is starting to whine out of impatience for the mangoes, and my dogs are refusing the food I put in their bowls in hopes for the waffles in the toaster. Meanwhile it’s Monday, one of the more boring days in which I always go to the grocery store because it’s the one day of the week I can get a military discount – and we need to take advantage of that with how quickly food escapes this house. (I’m looking at you, husband).
There’s always a bit of gloom on Mondays, coming down from the high of the weekend when I get to have bits of spontaneity and rejuvenation with my husband home. Our Sunday was spent “sleeping in,” (8:30 am, which in parenthood is the equivalent of 11 am). We drove to the nearby winter market where we picked out purple flowers and indulged our sweet tooth in some fresh-baked cinnamon rolls and coffee. Then he played a whole lot of video games, which fascinated the tiny human enough to give me some time to recharge.
I used to define happiness so outwardly. Happiness was this concept that went hand in hand with big dreams. Traveling the world. Working my dream career. Having a fairytale wedding. Effortlessly having babies while still doing it all.
These dreams are nice. They give me motivation and purpose. But happiness? I find happiness in the most unsuspecting of moments.
Our fairytale wedding was hardly the “best day of my life.” It was a beautiful day, but we had no clue what a happy marriage felt like yet. We could only feel the promise of one. We were really only dreaming.
Happiness was present when we we were sharing those locally-made cinnamon rolls at the Sunday market, talking casually about our week. It was present when we drove across the country and laughed deliriously to keep each other awake. It was present when we set up a bonfire for just us two and bickered over how to make the best s’more.
And my dream career? It is one of my greatest motivations in life. Graduating with my bachelor’s in journalism was a long-held dream come true. I started my early twenties inspired to make a difference. My first big-girl job was a defining moment, as would be my subsequent career moves. But these defining moments were hardly marked by happiness. They were plans of happiness.
Happiness was found in-between the deadlines. It was being deep in an exhausting assignment to get a call from a stranger saying that my writing made a difference. It was found in those moments of humanity when my co workers became genuine friends who I looked forward to working with every day. It was found in the details of a project that would later brighten someone’s life.
It wasn’t my personal accomplishments that brought happiness, it was the people I was working with and for who brought happiness to my work.
And when it comes to having babies, happiness is hardly something that is born when the baby is. There is a part of you that dies in order to make way for this new most-important role. You sacrifice pieces of yourself to ensure the happiness of this other person you created. Meeting my son was a moment of bliss, but the real happiness was felt much later.
Happiness as a mom was present when he first said mama and reached his little arms out for me. It was present when I witnessed the wonder in his eyes at helping me decorate his first Christmas tree. It was present when he took his first bite of peas and made the funniest face that had his dad and I crying from laughing so hard.
Happiness, I now know, has such a significant presence in the most insignificant moments in our lives. Happiness can be found on the gloomiest of Mondays in between boring and predictable errands, so long as we don’t confuse happiness with our dreams. It is wonderful to dream, but our dreams in and of themselves don’t define happiness. They merely give us the motivation to find happiness.
So today especially, when you see social media covered in photos and captions of everyone’s defining moments of success, remember that there is so much more behind these moments. It is hardly a fairytale wedding, a flashy new career, or a healthy newborn that is an authentic representation of happiness. It is a journey to happiness, one in which there many highs and lows that are not always expected or shared.
Happiness can be as mundane as slicing mangoes, toasting waffles and watching the dogs beg for food with a fussy baby. It’s remembering that you don’t need a lot to be happy, and that happiness is best when it comes from within us, not when we wait for it to be given to us from a dream.