I don't know if it's fall, or I'm more acutely aware of my blessings, or if it's the awesomeness of the new job/lack of commute (or perhaps all three converging at once), but I'm constantly walking around thinking, "I'm so happy." Happy is a really vague and over-used word. But....it fits.
I've been thinking a lot about happiness lately. I would consider myself a very happy person (I've was often given the nickname "Smiley"). I've always been that way. I'm generally upbeat and positive and I have been pretty good (although not perfect) at making my happiness not reliant on things outside of my control. I have this incredible ability not to stress or worry about things. I like to find humor in everything around me, I go out of my way to look for it. I don't aim for perfection (except for work which has been an amazing outlet for the very tiny part of me that is really competitive and needs to accomplish things). When things heat up, I just shrug and think "eh, it will work out."
Despite this, there have been several things that had been nagging at me since graduating from law school and generally affecting my daily happiness/outlook on life.
The biggest thing was my guilt for being a working mom. But I cut my commute down considerably and, over the years, I have come to realize that my children are not being damaged by not having a stay-at-home mommy. In fact, they are smart, thriving, and happy and our house is overflowing with love. Plus, going to work makes me a better person. It's an outlet that makes me happy (mostly) and helps me better appreciate my time with my kids. At first I had to convince myself really hard that my kids were not missing anything by me going to work. Now, I can say with full confidence that I totally believe it.
The second issue was my dissatisfaction with our "worldly possessions." It was really hard at first not to be angry about my overwhelming student loan debt. I mean the amount of student loans I owe is absolutely ridiculous (and I didn't even go to an Ivy League school). I assumed, naively, that I would get a big fancy lawyer job with a big fancy lawyer salary to go with it. Sadly, I'm three years post law school and making less than many people I know with less experience and no professional degree or mountainous student loan debt. Because a huge chunk of my pay goes to loans, (and because we bought our house at the wrong time), we are stuck in our tiny, tiny, tiny home (did I mention it is tiny?). And we still owe a heck of a lot of medical bills from Ryan's birth.
I tried so hard to just be happy with what I had. I tried so hard not to compare myself with others. I tried not to think about what salary I thought I "deserved." I tried so hard not to look with envy at home design magazines and HGTV shows. I tried so hard to be satisfied. But deep down, despite my efforts, I kept a running list of the things I didn't have (dishwasher, fireplace, playroom, separate bedroom for each kid). I have not been proud of my materialism/consumerism.
While I continue to struggle with this, I've had a mini awakening. Our home was built in 1910. Homes were typically smaller back then (our 950 sq. ft. home is obvious proof). And the more I think about it, the more I realize that our society has simply created crazy expectations about what homes should be and look like. We don't need McMansions. We don't need 2,500 sq. ft. homes. We don't need sitting rooms and day rooms and man caves and gyms and sewing rooms. We don't need separate rooms for just the laundry machine (OMG...some people have those?!). We don't need leather couches (for the kids to not touch), or treadmills (that will go unused), or walk-in closets (sigh, ok, that would be both nice and useful). Homes are made up of people not things.
Then I had a flashback of a collection of photos my high school teacher showed our Humanities class. It showed the typical family from a collection of countries, each surrounded by all of their possessions. The wealth disparity was amazing. Some families owned little more than the clothes on their backs and a handful of possessions. Then there was the typical American family standing in front of a huge home, their nicely manicured lawn overflowing with material items.
This beautiful webpage reminds me a lot of that collection and absolutely makes me feel a million things all at once: http://www.featureshoot.com/2013/03/photos-of-children-from-around-the-world-with-their-most-prized-possessions/ This reminds me of how little kids actually need to be happy and, at the same time, breaks my heart at how little some people have. Those contradictory thoughts and feelings perhaps evidence the pervasiveness of our consumerism. We feel sorry for those kids with so little and yet, they still laugh and play and are likely the purest of all.
Putting everything in perspective, I've come to realize how fortunate I am in everything that I have both material and non-material. It helps me approach the current limits of our finances and square footage as a challenge and an adventure. My goal is to teach my kids that we don't need things to be happy. This has made me so much more accepting of what we have and I no longer look jealously at neighbors, friends, and coworkers with "perfect" homes and new cars and...dishwashers. I may not be able to give my kids their own rooms, but I'm giving them a lesson in materialism.
The final issue I need to tackle is body image acceptance. People laugh when I chime in on conversations about physical improvements. They dismiss me because I'm "thin." But body image acceptance isn't about a certain size or weight or circumference. It's about separating our self love from our physical appearance. Thankfully, in addition to extra skin and stretch marks, motherhood results in the creation of a new source of happiness: our children.
And now I'm going to be corny and just say what I often think to myself on a regular basis: life is so amazing. The fact that we are alive is so incredibly amazing. We didn't do anything to get here. We didn't do anything to earn this wonderful gift of life. Someone GAVE it to us (whether you believe that was God or science or coincidence). We hit the jackpot. Look around. The smell of dirt and trees. The somber quiet of the overcast sky. The beautiful pattern of falling rain (I live in Seattle, duh). The fact that we have vision. And smell. The fact that we have the capacity to love, and feel angry, and express sadness. We live in a giant fishbowl of amazingness. When someone hands you a $20 bill, you don't complain because you weren't given a $50. Why should I be unsatisfied? I have everything.
"I have everything." I say that on repeat when I wake up and am greeted by four small arms seeking hugs. I say that when I tuck two sleepy children into bed each night. I say that when I hear the boys giggling at each other or when I hear Jacob teaching Ryan something new. Not only do I get the gift of life, I get to share it. I don't think there is anything better.
One of my favorite quotes/sentiments (I have no idea where I heard this) goes something like this: we already have everything we need to be happy. It's so true.