Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Happiness is a choice

Last night I was on the phone with my good friend, M, who is currently trapped in the cultural wasteland somewhere outside of Jackson, Mississippi. Our conversations cover everything from sports and films to corporate politics and women's equality.

In the course of the conversation, I happened to mention (somewhere in the midst of a discussion about both epistimology and the changeover in his company from mostly male managers to mostly female managers), that I felt that I had been extremely lucky in my life so far. That stopped the conversation we had been having, as he tried to determine how I defined luck, and what I meant by "extremely" lucky.

After some debating we finally came to an agreement that "luckiness", as I defined it meant fortunate events or outcomes that occur regardless of merit. They are events neither earned nor deserved (nor conversely, undeserved.) He proposed a scale from about one to ten to measure my degree of luckiness, with extremely lucky falling somewhere around an eight. Maybe a nine. Hard to pin it down exactly.

Then he pressed me for why I felt extremely lucky. I recounted a privileged childhood, full of riding lessons and tennis lessons and art lessons and travel and elaborate birthday parties. An easy time in school. Three amazing kids. Very good friends. And now, a job I love. To me, that added up to extremely lucky. These were not things I had worked for or earned. They were essentially cosmic gifts. Thus I feel blessed. The more I thought about it, the more I mentally added to my list. Healthy. Strong. Athletic. Able to read well, with access to great books every day. Pretty good in the arts. I was truly blessed and absolutely lucky.

But then I realized that there is another side to my life. A relationship with my mom that was at best rocky, at worst destructive. A very bad marriage. Years without enough money for some necessities, much less luxuries. Lost dreams of travel and a career as a pediatric cardiologist (organic chemistry took that one away!). Miscarriage. Loss of my beloved as he left me to fight his own demons alone. Lonely nights and too many tears to count. But even as I surveyed this tally of loss and disappointment that could easily put me at the 1 or 2 end of the scale, I could not shake my feeling that despite all of the bad, or maybe because of it, I was indeed very lucky. Extremely lucky. Blessed.

Was it the Yin and Yang, the need for balance in all things that let me see myself as blessed even while acknowledging the problems? I am certainly no pollyana. I am well aware of my weaknesses and my trials and there are nights when I ache for someone to hold me while I cry. And yet...and yet...

When I survey this adventure that is my life so far, I see blessings that stand far taller than the sadnesses that litter the ground. Mother Teresa is quoted as saying that happiness is a choice. Once we make that choice, the world looks different to our eyes. Am I more blessed than my friend M-, who for now, is seeing only the losses and disappointments? I don't think so. I'm just wearing different eyes.

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