Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Happiness Project

That is what I have entitled this chapter of our life.  While I just realized it is also a book, and I should probably read it for insights, it's what I've thought aptly describes the ongoing work-in-progress that is our life.  I've thought a lot about it because, believe it or not, I am always the happiness cheerleader of our family. (I know, from the dreary posts you read on here it's hard to believe!) I understand the theory that life is a journey, not a destination and all that business.  I'm not saying I'm good at it, only that I get the idea, so when I see a constantly harried and worn out husband, I try to remind him that, hey, this is our life.  It's not so glamorous, but it's what we've got, so we might as well enjoy it.  After a slew of unpleasant evenings with him, I finally sat down next to him one night while he was on the computer.  I waited until he actually looked up at me, hesitated, and then asked softly, "When is happiness?"   He thought about it for a long time.  It was probably the most thought-provoked I've seen him in a long time. (Because frankly, he's usually too worn out to provoke many thoughts aside from those that have to be there.) He finally responded with an, "I don't know."  To which I responded, "Because in 15 years, I'll just be uglier and the kids won't want anything to do with us."

He may feel weird having me be so candid about him; usually I try to keep it just to my own ramblings and issues.  But I know it's something he struggles with, and I do as well. And frankly, my cheerleading came to an abrupt crash this weekend.  See, the past few months Ryan has had to go in to work to do rounds every Saturday morning.  Then the first week in February he was on call in the hospital.  Then the next week he had a big presentation he had to get ready.  Come last Friday night. He got home, and after a while, I sighed happily as I realized, "Finally!  A real weekend!"  To which he responded, "Oh, I have a conference all day tomorrow."  I was crushed.  I felt my soul melting.  This coming only days after my last post. (Does he not read the blog?!  Did he not realize another Groundhog Day alone with the kids would put me over the edge?!?)  But alas, Saturday came, and I was alone with the kids while he was gone until 7pm.  And not only that, but the diarrhea came.  And came.  And came.  And poor little Ashton just pooped and pooped the day away.  Every episode soaked through all his clothes.  And whatever happened to be nearby. I spent the day cleaning couches, high chairs, carpets, and changing clothes and more clothes and diaper after diaper.  Then came the phone call that there was actually a fancy dinner that night that spouses were invited too.  I was dying to go.  I wanted so badly to get out, to have a reason to get dressed and talk to adults.  I even knew exactly what I wanted to wear. I tried to find a sitter, but when it wasn't working, I realized I couldn't leave anyone with Ashton anyway.

And that's when I shut down. And the happiness left. And I went into autopilot and all life was sucked out of me.  I was an emotionless robot by the time Ryan got home.  And guess what? Sunday I did it all.  Again.  By myself, so Ryan could go do what he needed to do at church.  And then he could come home and sleep. Sunday night the utter meltdown came; floodgates let loose and I bawled my eyes out. Not only was I so burned out from the kids, but the only person I talk to most days is an over-worked husband who really has no energy left for anything or any interest in conversation by the time he gets home.  And here I am in a city I don't love, far away from family... and you know, poor me.

That was the low point.

I can say Monday I tried my best.  I took the advice and actually got up and showered before the kids.  I got all ready.  I was on top of the day.  And then I realized - it's raining and I have a sick child.  And I got back in my pajamas.  But.  We got out old toys we haven't played with in a long time.  We made a picnic for all the stuffed animals.  I even made a really good breakfast and lunch and the kids ate them. I spent a long time telling finger puppet stories to Cash. I didn't even take a nap. I made an impromptu meal for someone I had just heard had a baby.  And I don't even know her very well.  And I didn't knock myself out doing it, and over-doing it like I usually do.  It wasn't my most proud meal, but I felt good that I tried, and didn't kill myself going overboard and trying to be perfect like I usually do.  I had dinner ready ahead of time.  And we even had a good family home evening that the kids even sort of paid attention to. And I exercised.

Then I read my scriptures.  I was reading in the Book of Mormon, in Alma where it talks about however we were in this life is how we'll be in the next life: "...and if there works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good. And if their works are evil they shall be restored unto them for evil....all things shall be restored to their proper order, every thing to its natural frame....raised to endless happiness to inherit the kingdom of God, or to endless misery to inherit the kingdom of the devil..."

And then I hit this line: "The one raised to happiness according to his desires of happiness."  And I didn't read any further because I just sat there and thought about that for a long time.  That, hmm, is it possible that if I don't learn to be happy in this life I may never learn it?  It's probably not just desiring happiness, because I could be always desiring happiness and never feel like I had it. I realize there will be a lot of things different in the next life, that there may not be so many things that burden us as now, but if I'm someone who is constantly unsettled and always looking for something else to make me happy now, I will probably be so then too.

So I realize, that is the point of this life.  To be faithful no matter what life throws at us, and to find happiness. But more accurately, to learn happiness, and to create happiness. Because I have a feeling we don't find happiness the way we would happen to find a coin on the ground. More likely the same way we "find" an elephant by looking at the clouds in the sky, piecing together oddly shaped bunches until we make something of it. I think for a lot of us happiness is a learned behavior, one that takes more conscious effort than we would wish.  It's obviously that way for me.

I know there seems to be a never-ending tone of desperation and despair to my ramblings.  I do hope the underlying theme shines through - that humor seems to be the key to my sanity. I definitely don't take myself too seriously and hope anyone else finds amusement in my anecdotes and predicaments. I know people tell me in person that they're always amazed by how calm I am.  I figure if I have to spend hours at the doctor's office with three screaming children, I still have to do it whether I'm frantic and frenzied or whether I'm laughing about it, so might as well just let it roll off my back.

But I do get the big picture.  I know how fortunate I am, and I do realize that happiness is right under my nose. When I look up at that family picture in the top left corner of the blog, I realize - it literally is right under my nose. It's just all those little clouds that make up my day to day life that I'm trying to piece together to see that elephant. So for now, I am, and we are definitely a work-in-progress. Which today, and for probably a long time to come, we will term the happiness project.

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good morning!

And whatever it is, good or bad, or mediocre: "Ah! This is livin!"

xoxocyh

Allysha said...

Ah, Jen. I just read your last two posts. I hear you; and you are amazing! I agree with your thoughts about happiness.

Hang in there. I know how you feel. It can be hard to feel like you are doing a good job under the circumstances, but you are.

lindsy said...

One of my favorite posts. Thanks! I'll be reading this one again and marking that scripture.

Sharon said...

Love this post Jen. I love how you described finding happiness is like finding an elephant in a cloud. Thank you for sharing!

AnnaMarie Ferrell said...

That is such a great post. It's something I've been thinking about a lot lately too...for a few darker weeks, I couldn't even name something that would "make me happy." But, what do you know, I got back on top of my scripture-reading and talking to Heavenly Father, tried to enjoy the everyday moments of being a mom, and there's my elephant in the clouds. Thanks! And I love the analogy of our days being Groundhog's Day! It's too true.

SuburbiaMom said...

Thanks for sharing this scripture. All the day-to-day service to family and others may go unnoticed and unappreciated--that's why it's good that we can all blog and talk about it. Also, a mother of young children and wife of a busy man, I want you to know that I appreciate all that you do!!!

LuAnn said...

I've had many a day like you explained in the first 2 paragraphs (I can't blog about it or my husband would shut it down...and himself...not sure I would even if he didn't care, but I appreciate when others do...it helps us feel normal and real and deal with it better). I think there is something about the 7th year of marriage, too, when you realize that all those things you have been sure will change with time and work might not. Kids are here. Real life sets it. Bodies are aging. I think it can be a turning point for better or worse. I'm so glad you are working so hard to make it for the better. Inspiring.

Gavin and Shawna said...

as a flick a tear or two from my swollen tired eyes....this story sounds more than familiar. as a fellow single dr.s wife/nanny...i have been there. i have picked up the worn out pieces many times. and i love your insight on it. i try to enjoy today while longing, sometimes desperately, for the day we get to enjoy our husband and their careers as drs=)
we r all happiness projects. ur mastering it better and sooner than most=)

Aimee said...

Well-put. I love it.

I felt like you were describing my weekend! I like to read your posts because I know that you, like me, do not always have husband home in the evenings and on the weekends, and I ABSOLUTELY love the humor that you use to view and describe your life! I'm glad that your first day with the new thoughts went so well. I think it's something that we just have to keep recommitting to. Good luck and keep us posted, any suggestions are helpful!

Angela said...

What an insightful, real post. It is so easy to think that if our circumstances were different, we could more easily be happy (which is sometimes true to a certain extent).

Lately our family has had kind of a break through in lots of ways: Our baby is getting older and I am getting more sleep, we have part-time hired help, James isn't gone as much, we have a little bit of room to breathe financially, and in general things have been happening which we have been looking forward to for a long time. The reason I tell you this is because, I have been surprised to realize that these things really DON'T bring happiness. Not in and of themselves. And I have been realizing the same thing you so eloquently described: that happiness is something we create.

Thanks for sharing.

Byron & Susan said...

Can relate with husband working overtime and weekends and when he does have time off exhausted. Just miss the companionship and sharing the kids! It just isn't in our odds to be calm, cool, and collective 24/7. Lots of happiness to be found though and at times definitely hard to change that brain but for our sanity and our families it is crucial. Wonderful insightful post!! We're all a work in progress that is for sure and finding happiness regardless the situation is the key (My brain just needs to be more consistent).

Jeremy & Karen said...

this was so true and honest, jen. thanks for sharing the thoughts and feelings that obviously many of us have, per the comments above. and i echo everyone's suggestions--just keep swimming!

i think the main challenge of life is learning to find JOY in the life we have, and not pining away for the life we thought we would have or want to have. truly, to "come what may and love it!" it's a lifelong process, but i really believe it can be done :o) i'm trying, anyway!

emily j said...

Oh I loved that post Jen. I think I have been working through some of these issues and coming to the same realizations. And I agree with what you say about happiness 100%. We miss you up here in Milwaukee!!

Goeb Life said...

Jen, for a while I let my hectic life run away from me and I put off reading my blogs. Recently, I have become more dedicated to reading them again. I am so happy that I did. You are such a talented writer, and your posts are so real. I feel like you are reading my mind half the time. I definitely believe that you have to MAKE happiness, it doesn't just fall in your lap. I can equate that to a good marriage....you have WORK at it, it doesn't just fall in your lap. When you work hard at anything really, the reward is so much better. In short, you are right on target! Stay tuned to reap your reward. :)

The Freemans said...

So glad I read your post...so many other things I should be doing right now. Why I stopped at the computer I have no idea but grateful for your inspiring words. With the craziness of 5 kids I sometimes forget about what happiness is and should be. Thanks for bringing it home. Something I'm going to work on as well. You're AMAZING!!!

Shannon said...

Jen, Jen, Jen, I know. I know. I know. I remember standing at the sink 10:00 p.m. at just beginning to get to the dishes from the day. Wishing so badly that when Scott came home he would help. But no he had to catch a bus at 5:30 a.m. and there was no nap for him in the day like there was for me. I would stand there and cry as I washed by hand the mountain of crusty dishes, longing for a dishwasher. Picking up the house nursing Preston one last time before sinking into bed knowing in a few hours it would start all over again at 5 a.m. feeding the baby hoping he would fall back asleep (maybe happened 3 times in 3 years) ironing a shirt for Scott to wear to school (his shirts are never ironed now) making food for him to take to school all before 5:30 a.m. Jen, Jen, Jen, I promise it gets better. And you are so right you just have to find the happiness in the day and in your relationship. Our life isn't that much different through the masters program vs the undergraduate. Our attitudes have changed. We are just as busy. We finally stopped to realize this is life. Find the happiness. true the kids a little older, finances more secure, and only two months left until the schedule lightens makes it easier. I love you so much. I am so thankful Ryan married such a wonderful woman. Thanks for taking such good care of him. He will come around again. Scott went through the same thing. So refreshing to hear your honesty. I ache for you and wish I could be your neighbor. It will get better promise.

Krista said...

Jen I too must tell you how I love this post...I wish I could express my thoughts through words as good as you do. But reading yours makes me feel like you say what needs to be said. I think we all struggle with this, and your insight on the scripture was so eye opening for me as well.

I must tell you the other day my SIL saw your christmas card picture I still have in a basket in my living room and they just kept staring at your picture, saying you look like a model, and how beautiful you are. I must agree with them.

thanks for your real words!

duck said...

Probably one of my favorite posts ever!
love it, love your writing and your honestly and that scripture.
It makes me feel good to read it. It just spreads around good feelings and good attitudes about our (truly important) lives as wives and mothers. I needed it.
thank you.
xoxo
-Sar

Lindsey Johnson said...

Love, love, love. I really needed to read this today.

You're doing a good job, Jen.

Jenilee said...

Thank you Jen! I too, am trying to find happiness in the life I have right now. We are blessed.

Anonymous said...

Jen -
Don't know you personally BUT went through two residencies with my husband and five kids. I enjoy your honesty and only wish I lived by you and I would have babysat for you - poopy diapers aside. You are a remarkable woman and a new kind of pioneer in this day and age. Again, thank you for your honesty and being the best mom and human being you can be!

Melanie said...

I feel ya Jen! Every once in while I feel we have to go through a crisis to bring clarity and forward motion to our lives. You know you are alive when you come through one. Whats amazing about your story is that you had the tears (they can feel so good) but then you picked yourself up and had a better day. You didnt do anything extreme to change your day you just changed your attitude. I love it! I have had many a lonely weeks with a resident husband. I totally understand. Im sure you feel all the love and support coming to you through this blog.

katya said...

thx. really feel this post to the core... but you can't control how someone else feels, you can help... but they have to get to this point internally, not from our external prodding. Keep the hope alive!

laura said...

I just posted my comment for this post on the last post. Woops. But again, thanks for writing that, for being so candid, and for sharing your inspiration.

The Sams said...

Okay, first of all, Jen, you seriously should think about writing a book. I loved this post!
And secondly, did you write this just for me?!?! We could have commiserated together on Sunday. I had a "woe is me" meltdown on that day as well. But instead of exercising and scripture reading like you, I've been eating and eating and eating for the past 3 days. Ha! Thanks for being a good example to me. I appreciate the reminder that life is what you make of it!

Ty and Trista Swartzlander said...

I loved reading this. You are so right. I love how honest you are. Hope your day is wonderful.

Nicole said...

I love this post! I feel like that more often than I care to admit. Thanks for the sharing it with the rest of us. That's one scripture I'll have to remember on the bad days.

Lois said...

Loved your post! Especially about choosing/learning and creating happiness. I am one of those too prone to waste time 'looking' for it! Thanks for the reminder and perspective!

Corinne said...

I know, it's a month later. But I just read it and WOW friend. These are the posts that remind me that blogging can have a deeper purpose for us as moms. Sometimes I let myself feel so...lonely or misunderstood or just out of the loop of the life that is swirling around me. And then I read things like this and I think - NO. The rest of the world is NOT having a swimmingly perfect life while I work through blah and blah and blah. We ALL have to work things and I sometimes let myself forget that. Oh, I wish you were my neighbor again, I could use you :)