35 and grateful

I just celebrated my 35th birthday.

Recently I had a friend say to me “I hope you are truly happy”. At first I felt defensive, like “Of COURSE I’m happy – what? Do I not seem happy?” You know … how we do. Step back.

She probably didn’t mean anything by it, but it did make me stop and ask myself.

Am I truly happy? And what does that even mean? And is that something that I should be striving for?

On the one side, I work for a relief and development organization. What if I say ‘no, I’m not happy’? Where on my spectrum of “happiness” would that then place the girls kidnapped by the Boko Haram or those in Nepal who have lost their homes and family members in the earthquake?

I feel embarrassed to claim unhappiness in the light of them.

But – am I lower on the spectrum than my friend who asked me? Which made me wonder – does my life seem like an ‘unhappy’ one to her?

Their expectations
She seems very happy and often, I think, our happiness becomes relative to others’ expectations for us.

What does her life look like? She is married with a son and another child on the way. She lives by her family, in her home state in the town she grew up in. I think she would say she is happy. She is honestly living her dream. And I’m glad she is!

But she is not living my dream.

Elizabeth Gilbert writes about this and has a mantra she says: “Not my dream”. I do not want to live in a small town next to my parents and be a stay at home mom with two kids. I’m not saying anything is wrong with that, but I think that personally I would be unhappy.

So – at this new age of 35 – what does make me happy? Am I living my dream? Is this current dream bringing happiness?

My expectations…
Really, I think when I’m unhappiest is when I tell myself my life didn’t turn out like I expected.

To be honest,  I expected to be in a different place, different stage, different weight!, different experiences (there are some I wouldn’t wish on others).

I can guarantee that’s where my unhappiness most often comes in.

I don’t like the word ‘happy’ though. It’s too transient. It’s emotional. It’s too simple for our lives at this age, honestly. So when I stop and look around me, I wouldn’t trade where I am or what I’ve experienced for what I expected my life to look like.

I’d like to use the word ‘grateful’ – which really stems from contentment. I used to never be content. The grass was always greener where I was before. Or I’d be looking for another place to go – never really present.

But somehow – in Baltimore, the most unlikely place I expected – for the first time in a very long time, I’m content. This is strange to me. I’m not used to that feeling. In fact, it’s unsettling. I wonder if I am actually complacent or apathetic. Don’t I need to be looking to the next thing?

That can become a terrible habit, so this time around, I’m choosing to stay present. I’m enjoying my current job, my current apartment, my current friends, this current city, this current day.  All in all – it feels odd to be good with where I’m at. Is this an age thing or finally learning the ability to live in the present?

Am I happy all the time? No. I have hard days, frustrating days, discouraging interactions, hopeless feelings, sickness, grief, pain, annoyances. But what I value, I do have. And I don’t know why I get to have them.

I have good friends, a strong support system, a family who loves me (and I love them back), a roof over my head, a job where I like my boss and the people we work with. I even have a gym at my work that I can visit at lunch (okay, that makes me happy).

But it’s not my goal. It’s not even in the Bible (if you want to get spiritual). I’ve never read anything that says “Blessed are the happy”. It’s blessed are the merciful, the meek, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness (or ‘justice’). (Those who have it hard? That’s another post )

So – my takeaway to this musing …

First, I should let other people live their dream. I should let them not be bogged down by my expectations of what a ‘good life’ is.

Second, am I ‘truly happy’? Nah. Life is a little too complicated by now. But I’m content.

And I don’t regret any experiences I’ve had or the unexpectedness of my life. It’s made me who I am.

Third, all that helps me be okay on those hard, frustrating days. It helps me not give up. It helps me help others.

It helps me be grateful. I have so much to be grateful for.

I think Anne Morrow Lindberg sums it up when she says:

“Don’t wish me happiness
I don’t expect to be happy all the time…
It’s gotten beyond that somehow.
Wish me courage and strength and a sense of humor.
I will need them all.”

I will need them all.