While driving along today, I was listening to a segment on NPR about being happy. The feature cited a series of recent articles in the press – here and in Europe – based upon research findings pointing to the fact that women today are less happy than they were in the 1950’s. Soon the conversation started making distinctions about happiness, and those being interviewed went on a bit about the women’s movement, then someone called in and said that it was the fact that women are more sensitive to world problems that made them more depressed. A few men commented, and then they got to the issue of whether single men or married men were the happiest, and the fact that the unhappiest married couples are (according to research conducted by THEY, whoever they may be) those who have young children. I’ve always thought that “They, Inc.” would be a good name for a polling company, after all, upon reading these research papers, you always hear someone say, “They reckon that ...”
So, it seems that They have been having a field day regarding our happiness quota. Throughout the show, I kept thinking back to a conversation I had with my mother when I was about fourteen, maybe younger. She picked me up from school – this in itself was rare, as she usually worked until six – and I think I must have had a rough day because I sat in the passenger seat, and announced, “I think I’m depressed.” That was a mistake, if ever there was one. “Depressed? Depressed? What have you got to be depressed about? You want to know depressed? I’ll tell you all about depressed – when I was your age I’d just been hauled back from being evacuated and I was working in a laundry. You think you’re depressed? Try that on for size. You’ve never had it so good!” Well, she had a point, and in that last line she was paraphrasing the British Prime Minister of the 1950’s, Harold Macmillan, who in 1957 said, “Most of our people have never had it so good.” That was pushing it a bit, because London was still a bomb site and rationing had only been over for a couple of years.
In any case, I started thinking about this business of happiness, and – sorry, this is how I am – about people who are so much less fortunate than the people being interviewed. And I also wondered how these musings might seem to that generation of forefathers and mothers who had to shoulder the weight of poverty in the Great Depression, of loss in our wars, and who tried to keep children safe at a time when diphtheria killed three out of every five children, and there were no such things as antibiotics. That's even before you start in on today's challenges, from Katrina, to Afghanistan. It therefore came as no surprise to hear (from They, Inc) that a significant leap in reported cases of happiness followed a time of loss – whether that loss was a house, a livelihood, a way of life – because it gave cause for gratitude for what remained. Gratitude, it turns out, keeps the clouds at bay.
It took a very expensive research project to come to that conclusion. No wonder the firm of They, Inc., are doing so well.
I’m not happy all the time, and frankly, I’m glad I’m not, after all, how would you know happy if that was all there was in life? We need the slings and arrows of our daily round to see the distinctions in experience. To be able to say “I’m happy” one must know how sad feels. We are only thought of as brave at those times when bravery is required, because we have it in us to draw back, to run and hide, but we don’t. We need the gray areas as much as we need the distinctions to experience the full measure of life itself.
We Naked Authors have been writing our posts for your reading pleasure for a while now, so it stands to reason that - all reference to the aging gray matter aside - we are apt to repeat ourselves on occasion, so I am sure I have written about gratitude before. All the same, it’s probably due for another outing.
For my part, I have my down days and my up days, my ordinary and not so ordinary days, but overall I’m a pretty average person. I’ve had my fair share of challenges and there have been the high points. Life is like a map, really – human geography, with valleys and meadows and places to linger; streams and rivers to take you to whatever comes next; highways to the good and the bad and oh heck, here comes a mountain to negotiate. But there’s so much to be grateful for along the way. If I had to think of just a handful of things right off the top of my head, here’s what would be on my list:
I was born to people who taught me the value of hard work, who impressed upon me the idea that you can turn your hand to anything if you choose. I confess, I hated working in the egg-packing factory in the summer of my sixteenth year, but hey, my mum was really grateful for the free eggs.
I had a good and sometimes surprising education, and am grateful that my parents – who had never had those opportunities – set so much stock in education.
My big extended family. They’re a real mixed bunch, and I have such cherished memories – there’s gratitude for all those laughs over the years. May there be many more to come.
I was always a writer, whatever else I might have been doing, but I am bursting with gratitude every time I sit and think about how fortunate I am to be published, how lucky I am to be able to talk to other writers, to be part of a writing community (several, in fact). To make one’s living being – in essence – a storyteller is just as good as it gets, in my book.
I am grateful for my health, for my wellbeing. There are so many struggling with illness and suffering in pain; to have good health is a blessing.
I am grateful that I am loved and that I love. Love is nothing to be sniffed at.
And I am grateful for dreams that come true – and for the ones that don’t, because if they all came true, how would we know recognize the trail of stardust that accompanies a dream coming true? That stardust heralds joy, and joy is something to be grateful for, to be cherished.
So, there’s a few points of gratitude, in no particular order, and you know I could go on and on. But now it’s over to you. What are you grateful for? Go on, serious or lighthearted, let’s have your Lines of Gratitude. Maybe one day I’ll write a book called "Lines of Gratitude: Charting A Course For Happiness." Hmmm, well, maybe not.
Come on, what are you grateful for?