Friday, October 9, 2009

The Happiness List

This is me, age 16. Joyfully happy.

I spent two days this week in a complete funk. Wanting (but not getting) to do nothing but sleep and just be left alone. (and maybe eat a lot of ice cream, which I didn't.) There are days like that, days that seem as oppressive as the smog over the city in the early morning. I don't always feel like this, so I know I'm capable of feeling happy, vibrant, light, and optimistic. But lately, life seems to take a lot of energy, and I struggle with summoning up the needed energy.

"Snap out of it," I tell myself. That rarely works.

"Be the change you wish to see in the world," I try to inspire myself. Maybe tomorrow.

"Do happy, and then you'll be happy," I remind myself. But I'm too tired to act my way to motivation.

It's easy to see everything that you wish could be different, or better. It's much harder to focus on blessings.

But then I began to conjure up images in my mind of how I want my children to think of me. Of course, before I ever had children, I had a very clear image of the kind of mother I would be. The one up before dawn, baking and setting a lovely breakfast table, fully dressed and groomed. The one cheerful and smiling, whose sparkling home was always graced with soft music, and who always had a freshly baked treat coming out of the oven. The kind of mom who walks the children to school and awaits them in the afternoon to walk home. The mom who, long after the delicious dinner has been cleaned up, and bedtime stories have been read, stays up just to talk to each child in his bed and hear about his day. And then we pray together.

Well, that was my goal. (Stop laughing. It was your goal too, and you know it.)

I have bits and pieces of that dream that actually made it to reality, and for those, I am proud. And the thing is, I realize that the closer I live to my dream, the happier I am. I feel like I am living my life with purpose, and enjoying the sacred calling of motherhood. Feeling blessed, and being buoyed by the gratitude inside of me. It's usually when I start living far beneath my dreams that I begin to feel that wallowing feeling. It sometimes starts to edge its way in when I'm living too much for me, and not for my family. I remind myself that I need to be present.

I had courage this week. After two difficult days, I decided to muster up my courage to take back my happiness. I put my school books away, and took Conor to the park. We bought popsicles, just because. We read stories, and while he napped, I baked cookies for the kids and their friends that would pour through the door. I had music playing in the background, and I smiled. At night, after Conor had been put to bed, and all I really wanted to do was go veg in my room and watch a movie until I crashed, I instead went downstairs and just sat on the couch where my two teens were still reading and studying. Because I was there, we talked. And it was nice.

The next day I realized how happy I felt, just for doing those small things that engaged me with the people I love. For me, my actions definitely affect my happiness, and being busy in pursuit of happiness keeps my mind wandering to all the needs that press on my soul and bring me down. I decided to make a list. My "Things That Make Me Happy" list. The list couldn't contain anything that was materialistic, because that kind of happy is fleeting and deceptive. Instead it was things I could do that make me happy.

First things first, like 'read my scriptures', or 'spend time in prayer', because I find it's always easier to feel happy when I feel close to the Spirit. But then also, things that nourish the essence of who I am, like 'sing the Moulin Rouge soundtrack loudly in the kitchen', and 'laugh with a friend on the phone', and 'bake cookies with Lyndsay', and 'play a boardgame with Aiden', and 'plant flowers', and 'go for a walk', and 'save some money somewhere', and 'do something for someone'. I'm going to hang my list on my bathroom mirror, so that I see it every day. I can choose daily to do things from the list to maintain and increase my happiness.

What I really want my children to think of me is that I am a happy mom, a cheerful mom, a fun-loving mom, an optimistic mom who joyfully makes the most of life. All the rest--the games, the songs, the stories, the cookies, the talks--is just the icing on top of all the happiness. And since happiness, like a funk, is contagious, I'd rather be passing along joyful germs. They can't help, I've discovered, but be infected.

Mothers are so powerful.


Josi said...

You're so right. Mother's are so powerful. It's weird to think I have that kind of power, and yet I know I do. Good luck with your list, Jenna. you have very lucky kids.

Luisa Perkins said...

Oh, how I adore and admire you. Well done.

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

Bravely fought, Jenna! And such a poignant reminder to those of us likewise struggling.

Annette Lyon said...

I need to make a happiness list and refer to it more often. I keep finding myself in the "snap out of it!" mode, knowing full well it doesn't work.

amber watt said...

I call them funks. Good for you for taking steps to snap out of it! You are constant example for good.

love you so much, amber

Unknown said...

Such a great post. I was just scrubbing the shower thinking how great it felt to work, in my head writing a blog post with the title of "wallowing". Then I came and read this. What stood out the most to me was the part about "living too much for me and not for my family".
When I get in a funk the things you listed, the simple spending time, is exactly what works for me too.
Thanks for writing!

Sarah said...

I'm new to this blogging thing, it's like i'm snooping into someone elses really cool interesting life. it's a great change from crappy diapers. as an artist i have very much been in a funk since the whole exhausting two under two baby stage....this blogging thing is really cool and i'm finding myself slowly getting inspired again. thanks

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