What is Happy?

Laughter. Full on, no holds barred, tears streaming down my face type laughter. To me, there's really nothing better. When this happens to me, not a sound comes out of my mouth. My body shakes, my face turns bright red and it's very contagious. Hannah loves when I laugh like this. She laughs right along with me but stares at me with probably as much confusion as happiness. I think she's not exactly sure if I'm laughing or crying. If she should be wiping my tears away or wishing for more. This laughter occurred a few weeks ago when she watched this funny video of our family and again yesterday morning when she started tickling me (at 37 I still laugh like a 4 year old when I'm tickled - as long as you know the right spots).

But then, last night, after a long Thanksgiving meal, we got home in time for her bedtime and Hannah wanted round two of the tickle attack and mommy wasn't in the mood. And I didn't laugh. I got annoyed. And she said through her pouty lips, "Mommy, I just wanted you to laugh again. Why can't you always laugh?"

"Why can't you always laugh?"

It's something that rang hard in my head. Through the entire bedtime routine, the words were repeating over and over.

Tim asks me too often, "Are you happy today? Are you going to be happy today?"
Hannah asks, "Why aren't you happy? I just want you to be happy."

And all of this, this questioning, this hassling, this PRESSURE of happiness, makes me UNHAPPY.

"Yes, I'm happy, Yes, I will be happy, I'm fine, Nothing is wrong..." are my common answers. If something is actually bothering me, I say it (usually).

But in this house, the pressure to be happy is sometimes too much. I understand that happy=easy. Happy is not complicated. Happy is everyone getting along. But being happy all the time, at least for me is not always easy. The pressures of running this household, making sure everyone ELSE is happy sadly wins out over my own happiness. Somehow I can't let go of the mess I see around me, the tantrum that was thrown over the toy not bought in the checkout line, the low balance in my checking account, the comment made about how long it's been since we last, you know.

And my quietness, my seriousness, my sleepiness is so often misinterpreted as unhappiness. Why am I not allowed to just be quiet. My day is filled with "noise". The noise of my kids, other kids, the TV, the radio... the noise in my head. It's not all "bad" noise, but it's noise nonetheless. When I'm quiet, when "it's" quiet, very often I Am Happy. I find myself forcing smiles. Just to avoid the interrogation of why I'm not smiling. Is it abnormal to not always have a smile on my face? To not want to dance on command? To not want to be picked up and swung around all the time?

I am not a downer. I LOVE to have fun. I'll be the first to make up a dance to go along with the beep that Luke finds on the phone when he leaves it off the hook for too long. I make up songs to get through long drives, to enjoy baths more, to make everyone ELSE laugh. I can shake my butt during Yo Gabba Gabba like the best of them. But I cannot pretend to always be in the mood for silly fun. And one thing that does make me unhappy, is apologizing for that. And not being "allowed" to be sad, being criticized for a tired mood, being told to "snap out of it"... will also bring an eye roll and a frown.

I have often said that Tim is my perfect complement. He shoves aside the negative to let me see the positive. He sees the sun peaking through when I sometimes see clouds. And I LOVE him for that. But sometimes the clouds bring rain and the sun just isn't warming me up. I need to feel that I have permission for that. I don't want to feel like I can only be cranky in the closet but that I'm allowed to have moods in the open.

This is something relatively new to me. I am reminded often that I used to laugh more. I used to be more relaxed. I used to seem happier. Ironically, I've never been happier than this time of my life. My family brings me more joy than sleeping until 10, going out 4 nights a week, reading 2 books a month, having a very high checking account balance or wandering aimlessly with no plan every weekend. But somehow, finding my smile to show this happiness has become harder. I'm more tired. I worry more. I'm not just "me" anymore but rather an entity of three that sometimes sucks that smile from my face. But just because the smile isn't plastered on my face, doesn't mean it's not overflowing in my heart.

I'm working through this. I am taking some tips that I've recently read to remind myself to take a break from seriousness and responsibility and "let go" and laugh more. But I'm also hoping to express better that the pressure to be happy every moment is not realistic to me. I'm trying to explain better why "quiet" is necessary for me and it does not mean I'm sad.

Happy= laughing so hard until my insides hurt. But happy is also being understood when the laughter is stuck inside.


Kristen said...

I used to be the person who wanted everyone around me to be smiling. If they weren't, I assumed something must be wrong. But I think you're setting a good example for your children, especially your daughter, when you show them that contentment is different from exuberance and that the former, although it doesn't always come with a smile, is actually more important than the latter.

Lindsey said...

Oh, this rings so many bells for me - the pressure and complaints from those around me, and the feeling that somehow not having room to just BE, even when the being is quiet and serious DOES make you sad ... I know just what you mean. I haven't figured it out yet, either, but I look forward to following along with you as you do.
Thank you for sharing this. For me at least, one thing that helps in those quieter/darker moments, is feeling like I am not insane - and posts like this do that.
Thank you!

Ambrosia said...

During my last couple months of pregnancy, I was put on an anti-depressant. When I began taking them I felt much better. However, I began to think that if I felt down, even when I was legitimately sad about something, there was something wrong with me. My hubby would even ask if I was taking my medicine. I finally told my hubby that, yes I did take my pill that morning, but I still had the right to feel sad sometimes.

Being a mother requires so much. It is rewarding and demanding. It means a change in so much more than life style. You become "an entity of three" as you so poetically described.

I appreciate these candid thoughts.

Headless Mom said...

I so relate to this. You are NOT alone.

Aidan Donnelley Rowley said...

I am both fascinated and enraged with our society's growing obsession with happiness. I get it. We all covet happiness - whatever it is. But I do think that there is something about the relentless searching and scrambling for happiness, the studying of happiness, that makes us less happy. I believe, and deeply, that happiness comes stuffed in moments, in flashes, that it is not remotely permanent state of being. Why can't more people understand this. We are not wired to smile all the time, or to emit laughter at all hours. Life is a complex beast and in its sublime shadow, there are plenty of times when we should be quiet, when it makes perfect sense that the laughter is stuck, or safe, inside.

Brilliant post.

Shell said...

I need to be quiet sometimes. Nothing annoys me more than being told to smile, as if by not smiling, I must be miserable and smiling will suddenly make me happier.

LZ @ My Messy Paradise said...

I could have written this (but not nearly as eloquently!) I often need to be quiet and it is almost always interpreted as unhappy. I try so hard to explain that I just need to unwind or be silent. I'm going to let Joe read this...hopefully it will help!

alessandra said...

Being happy and cheerful is a good thing, that I discovered late in life (at 40), however, definitively you cannot be happy and smiling 24/7, and you have the "right" to be quiet, or to be whatever you want.

Brandi said...

Great post. Happiness is a complicated issue. But I think happiness is also finding a balance in your life between some things you need to do (like pay bills) and what you love to do.

We do definitely both seem to have good taste when it comes to site layouts. I like the changes you made to it a lot. I'm so glad you stopped by my site to say hello!!

TKW said...

I can so relate. I am the pessimist, my husband is the optimist. He laughs much easier than I do, is more eager to be outright goofy and silly.

I worry that my girls think I'm no fun.

Thanks for this post--you've given me lots to think about.

BigLittleWolf said...

I think we live in a country / culture where the pressure is to appear happy.

That's quite different, and sadder. But we are expected to wear a mask of smiley face and positivism all the time. It's impossible - and probably unhealthy - to be happy all the time. Our breadth of emotions is part of what makes us human, and the downs make the ups more precious, more valued.

Other cultures don't put this same performance pressure on people. There are legitimate reasons for sadness, anger, lethargy, boredom, and all manner of types of "happiness."

How silly that we are uncomfortable with a range of emotions. Unreasonable. (Musings on happiness behind my link.)

Kelly @ The Miller Mix said...

I, too, am the quiet, pensive one in the family. I've been told I just can't take a joke many a time. However, I've explained that when I think something is truly funny or when I get into a silly mood -- it's damn special. I don't laugh at everything, I laugh at funny things. There is a difference. After saying this enough, my people really do notice and appreciate my brand of "happy."

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