Tag Archives: happiness

How Is It?

My friend Curtiss, when he greets me, always asks, “Nan, how is it?”  He did it back in our college days and he still does it every time he calls.  He’s got a certain way of saying it that is just so Curtiss.  There’s no other way to explain it.

But when you parse it out, it is an interesting question.  HOW IS IT?  Not “what” is it, which is easy to answer – it’s a THING, an object or a thought or a non-human creature (in the case of a HUMAN creature, of course, it would be “WHO is it,” which is an entirely different exploration) – but HOW.  In what manner is your life now proceeding?  It is going smoothly or roughly, well or badly?  What is your overriding mood?  Are you happy or sad, frustrated or excited?  It’s really the perfect question upon greeting an old friend.

So, if Curtiss asked me today, “How is it?” I’d have a multi-layered response.

(1)   I am angry and sad that 59 innocent people were robbed of their lives, and hundreds of people injured and permanently scarred, by a lunatic with many, many guns. I’ve written before how much I hate – DESPISE – guns and would like them removed en masse from the world.  (See “Frustration Overload”, 6/21/17.)  I know that is an impossible dream; I mean, despite the overwhelmingly positive results in Australia when the nation’s government paid their populace to give up their guns, even they couldn’t get rid of ALL of them.  And I am grudgingly respectful of people who grew up in a culture where killing wild creatures to eat is acceptable.  But why in the name of all that’s good do normal citizens need semi-automatic weapons?  Frankly, I don’t know much about guns (by choice), so I don’t know what type of gun it is that can shoot multiple rounds, one after the other, without reloading, that I could only imagine would be useful in a war.  And those types of guns may very well have limited use in military situations (I’ll leave my anti-war blog post for another day), but why does Joe Average Citizen need one?  Why does Joe Average Citizen need over a DOZEN when one is enough to kill the intruder from which you are supposedly defending yourself and your property?  I DON’T UNDERSTAND IT AND I NEVER WILL.

And then, of course, there is the ever-present dark cloud that is the Trump presidency, which I was sure would have ended by now.  I was certain the scales would fall from the eyes of the unfortunate folks who fell for his bamboozle-ry and they would kick his fat ass to the curb (and tell him to take his entitled spawn and spawn-in-law with him).  So on top of being angry and sad, all of that leaves me feeling frustrated and drained, because there is nothing I can do about any of it except worry and sign petitions and call my congresspeople and hopefully, in 2018, put Democrats back in the majority in Congress to stem the bleeding of our hallowed democracy, despite the institutional efforts to prevent that.  Consider how large a risk it is that the Supreme Court will find in favor of gerrymandered election maps in Wisconsin to preordain election results presumably forever.  (The ever-wise Ruth Bader Ginsburg had a great line about this case:  “It’s drawing a map so people think ‘Why bother voting? This is a secure Republican district or this is a secure Democratic district, so my vote doesn’t count.’ That’s not a good thing for democracy.”  Touché, Ruth.)

BUT

(2)  I also feel happy and optimistic, looking forward to some pleasant activities this week. Darian is coming home for the weekend, and the Rangers’ 2017-18 hockey season starts on Thursday.  I’m surrounded by furry affectionate beings who follow me around like I’m the Pied Piper, although they only listen to me when they want to.  Case in point:  Lately Munchie has been hiding under the bed when it’s time for walkies.  From all indications (other than this hiding-under-the-bed thing), Munchie seems to ENJOY walkies.  So why is he hiding under the bed?  More importantly, why does he refuse to come when I call him?  I’ve basically given up.  He’s the only one of the four pups currently at my house who only ever goes on the weewee pads or outside, so I don’t worry about him leaving me gifts where he shouldn’t.  And the cats are always up for a cuddle, except for my crazy foster kitten, Gigi, who would rather run wild in the “kitty playroom” (i.e., Darian’s room, which will be converted back into Darian’s room tomorrow, which will create an interesting dynamic since her cat, Jojo, is the undisputed queen of Darian’s room) than snuggle with me on the couch.

Another thing that excites and pleases me is getting my cash-back rewards in the form of a $25 iTunes card (“free” music!!) and $25 Amazon card (perhaps a nice book or CD??), so I can treat myself to some new tunes and/or reading material.  And something else happened today that left me feeling like the universe is looking out for me.  Unfortunately, I came in about $500 short on my bills this month (the punishment for enjoying a relatively lazy summer, workwise).  I was going to have to borrow some of Darian’s extra student loan proceeds that I’m holding for her in my savings account.  But lo and behold, today I received a surprise refund check from my health insurance company.  Huzzah!  It was in exactly the right amount to cover my shortfall!  I remember reading Lit by Mary Karr (2008) and being struck by her realization that, even though she struggled through some tough financial times, just the right amount of money would always show up when it needed to if she hoped for it hard enough.  I must confess that has happened to me a few times recently, which brings me to the last arm of my current “how” state, which is . . .

(3)  Grateful. I’m grateful that I have a roof over my head (almost half entirely owned by me!), a big-screen TV to watch my Ranger games, a comfy bed to share with some of my creatures (I’m down to two or, at most, three, if Savannah decides to join us, in my actual bed – everybody else is on their comfy little pillows scattered around my bedroom floor).  I’m grateful to have JUST ENOUGH money in the bank (although a little lottery win wouldn’t hurt!).  I’m grateful for my amazing human kid, who makes me so proud and who’s turning into quite an impressive adult who’s got her whole life ahead of her, and all my “fur babies.”  And I’m grateful that, even though I do have my health issues (obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and a weird seasonal allergy that I seem to have developed in my late forties), I am reasonably healthy.  This is especially the case because I’ve seen some of my friends suffering through life-or-death illnesses and conditions that leave me feeling sympathetic but impotent to help them, and yet secretly thankful that, so far in my life, I have been incredibly lucky with my health.  (Now if I would only take better care of myself, I might be able to improve that situation . . . )

So how is it?  It is MOSTLY pretty damn good.  Let’s leave it at that.

 

 

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Living in the Moment

I’ve been trying very hard lately to stop and smell the roses.  I know, it’s one of the most trite clichés ever, but it’s true:  If your brain is always racing, worrying about the future and regretting the past, you’re not appreciating what is right in front of you, be it roses, or a hockey game, or a great book, or a sunset, or a new signature scent (YES!!  I bought the Penhaligon’s Empressa eau de toilette  – happy birthday to me!  It smells so damn good!  Even the box is luxe!) – whatever it might be that gives you, if only for a little while, a moment of peace and inner happiness, when the world stops whirling on its axis for few seconds and you can just take it all in.

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In general, these efforts have resulted in me feeling a lot calmer lately.  There’s so much less rushing around, fewer stress-inducing chicken-without-a-head situations.  Even on a day like yesterday, which was mildly chaotic, chock full of unplanned-for occurrences, I just worked through them, dealing quickly and efficiently with the inconveniences (multiple pet “accidents”, for example) and enjoying the pleasantries.  A friend I hadn’t spoken to in a while stopped by for a welcome visit, and my ex also came over to choose a hotel for our daughter’s graduation ceremony in December and also to beef about the New York Giants’ considerable lack of offense in another poor outing.  (Ian is one of the reasons I don’t really like football anymore.  See “Am I Ready for Some Football?”, 9/2/15).  In between were a quickie conversation with my sister and a call from a potential adopter for Polly Wobbles (who was wildly unsuitable as Polly’s future mom and clearly did not read her online bio).  At some point I realized that I hadn’t eaten all day, so I grabbed a yummy frozen dinner (a new discovery:  Devour™ meals, very tasty, especially the bacon-topped meatloaf with garlic mac and cheese; product’s genius tag line – “Food You Want to Fork”).  Sandwiched amid all the activity was the return of New York Rangers hockey, the team’s first 2017-18 pre-season game – hooray!  By this time, it was only nine o’clock but to me it felt like midnight.

It had been a long but satisfying day.  I went into the city to do my “9/11 day of service” (something my firm does to honor a fallen partner, also a volunteer firefighter, who ran toward the World Trade Center on that fateful day rather than away like everyone else) at God’s Love We Deliver, a non-profit organization that cooks and home-delivers nutritious, customized meals to people in the New York City metropolitan area living with severe illnesses.  I really enjoy doing that, even though I ended up with a blister on my knuckle from repeatedly handling a giant soup ladle.  There’s something about the assembly-line work and following explicit instructions (for example, swirl the soup in the plastic container before you put the lid on so it creates a bubble, and then the next guy on the line has to squeeze out the bubble so the contents are essentially vacuum packed and can be more effectively frozen) that I really enjoy and actually find rather calming.  It’s mindless work and yet I still feel like I’m doing something good, and I always leave there feeling a little better about the state of the human race.

Before leaving for the city on the 11:09 train, I had sent my secretary a few items I needed taken care of while I was away from my computer for most of the day.  I had evidently forgotten that she was going to be out of the office, so upon emerging from the God’s Love We Deliver kitchen at 4 p.m. after our food prep shift , I realized that NOTHING HAD BEEN DONE.  I had a brief panic attack, but fortunately, my friend and back-up secretary was able to do the work and soothed the temporarily rough waters of an otherwise smooth-sailing day.

Even just a few months ago, a day like yesterday would have brought on a tension headache and a bout of mental self-flagellation.  Not the new-and-improved Nan, who takes a few deep breaths and “makes it work,” in the immortal words of Project Runway’s Tim Gunn – who, by the way, was great on Real Time with Bill Maher last Friday and kind of put Bill in his place when Bill brought up the obesity epidemic in a way that made it seem like it was all the fat people’s fault, and letting the fat people have fashionable clothes is just giving them carte blanche to stay fat.  I find Bill Maher amusing and intelligent but he can also be a bit of a pig.  [An aside:  I am loving this season of Project Runway for a couple of reasons:  one, they’re using models of all shapes and sizes, which the designers find challenging but good for Heidi Klum and Tim that they’re addressing the body image issue, if even just superficially.  And second, one of the designers is just the cutest little Zen master fellow named Brandon who wears (and designs) baggy but intriguing tunics and shower shoes with socks.  All the models and designers have a little crush on him, so I’m just one among many (my sister likes him, too).  There’s something so sweet and gentle about him, with his an angelic face and round blue eyes, but he’s also really soothing in his manner, calm and patient, unlike some of the other contestants, two of whom – twins, remarkably – are so phony and affected that they kind of make you want to punch them in the face.]

I still write in my “joy book” every night about all those things that made me happy during the day, but my new focus is to feel the happiness as it happens, too.  I read a quote today attributed to Guillaume Apollinaire in my “Seeds 4 Life” daily affirmation blog that perfectly captures this new attitude:  “Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.”  Take a bike ride, chat with a friend, walk the dog (or dogs, as the case may be – by the way, we have YET ANOTHER foster living with us, but she won’t be here for long because she’s an adorable year-old shih tzu who will get adopted as soon as her skin condition clears up and she gets spayed, probably next week), bake some cookies and make the whole house smell delicious.  Whatever you choose to do, just take that moment to appreciate what makes you content for as long as it lasts.  There’s just too much ugliness in the world, especially these days, to not enjoy a much-needed counterbalance.

The Pursuit of Happiness

The pursuit of happiness is an “unalienable right” of all Americans, as set forth in the Declaration of Independence.  But what is happiness, really?  Vocabulary.com [https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/happiness] says:  “Happiness is that feeling that comes over you when you know life is good and you can’t help but smile. It’s the opposite of sadness.  Happiness is a sense of well-being, joy, or contentment. When people are successful, or safe, or lucky, they feel happiness. The ‘pursuit of happiness’ is something this country is based on, and different people feel happiness for different reasons. Whenever doing something causes happiness, people usually want to do more of it. No one ever complained about feeling too much happiness.”

In my high school yearbook (where I have been forever memorialized with an extra “a” as “Nanacy Lucas”), my life’s ambition was, quite simply, “To always be happy.”  Needless to say, I have not lived up to this ambition, if such a thing is even possible.

I can honestly say that I’ve been consistently happy on a day-to-day basis during, at best, maybe four periods of my life:

  1. Until I hit puberty, I was a reasonably happy child. I had parents who were seemingly content together.  My father was a disgruntled banker but an unapologetic practical joker and party animal, my mother was a suburban housewife, and my younger sister and I had everything we could possibly want.  I had dreams of being a famous author and I did actually write things, with confidence and not an ounce of self-doubt (see “An Aspiring Young Author”, 3/15/15).  I unabashedly performed musical theater in my living room, with a booming alto voice that was also on display in the church choir.  I wasn’t the prettiest child and tended toward chubbiness, and there were the inevitable catty disputes with the gaggle of neighborhood girls who hung around Azalea Court, but until the arrival of the upper-lip mustache and an inexplicable vendetta against me in 7th grade by girls I didn’t even know for some imagined affront, I knew true happiness as a youngster. Quite clearly that was where my “pursuit of happiness” took root, because I’ve wanted to recapture that idyllic time ever since.
  2. True happiness returned at Trinity College, when I had the aplomb to offer my services as the manager and/or statistician of the men’s football, hockey and lacrosse teams, as well as the co-sports editor of the campus newspaper, the Trinity Tripod. I was living the sporting life I had always imagined:  If I couldn’t actually PLAY the sports due to the unfortunate reality of my gender, I wanted to be as embedded in that world as I could possibly be, and I was.  There were pretty boys for the taking nearly every weekend at frat parties and the campus pub, and while I might have publicly bemoaned my lack of a boyfriend (because sex was only acceptable if it was with an exclusive boyfriend; otherwise, it was frowned upon, even in the permissive late ‘70s), if truth be told in retrospect, I couldn’t have possibly stuck with just one for very long.  The Trinity College campus itself was a source of peace and beauty, I took some fascinating classes, including ones involving poetry and fiction writing (to advance my prospective future career as a writer), and I had friends from every sphere of my college life.  There was never a dull moment, never a weekend (or even weeknight, for that matter – there was a party every night of the week, if you knew where to look) that didn’t offer the promise of a rollicking good time.   Although there were admittedly many sad moments (especially senior year, when I would occasionally fall victim to my fears of what was going to happen to me once I was forced out of my comfortable college cocoon), when I recall that time now, my overriding  emotion is contentment.  I had everything I could possibly want and, best of all, utter FREEDOM.
  3. In the late 1980s, until about 1992, I lived in the East Village of New York City. It was my bohemian dream life come true:  I had a basement studio apartment on East First Street between First and Second Avenues crammed full of furniture and creatures, including of the human variety.  I bartended across the street at a local watering hole called Downtown Beirut II that featured live music, which made me a minor celebrity in the neighborhood, recognized by patrons and performers on the street – no greater thrill, I can tell you!  I was surrounded by artists and wanna-be future stars (of which I counted myself) and I was going to write the great American novel (or series of short stories) based on my life in that time, in that place.  I was a joyful soul.  I even met my future husband, a handsome punk seven years my junior who was a source of pride for me and envy among others.  Even when we moved out of the Village to Park Slope, Brooklyn, my new neighborhood was leafy green and gorgeous, I was still surrounded by good friends and soon baby Darian entered our lives.  I could not have been happier.
  4. The last time I was truly happy was at Hofstra School of Law, when I was grateful to return, in my early 40s, to an environment of such intellectual energy. I was friends with the kids and comfortable with the professors, straddling the divide between the two.  Being a lover of school in all its forms, I thrived, looking forward to my arrival on campus every day.  (I also had an innocent little crush on a cute classmate, offering yet another thing to look forward to on a daily basis.)  Working on the Hofstra Law Review just added to my enjoyment.  When I graduated in 2002 with honors, having won a few awards (including a “Distinguished Service to the School” award), with a six-figure law firm job in my back pocket, seeing the pride on both my mother’s and my daughter’s faces, it was the epitome of my life.

Since then (and as was the case in between each of those time periods), happiness has been much harder to come by.  I don’t find it in my chosen career (see “The Blizzard of 2016 and Some Thoughts About My Job”, 1/27/16), and I sometimes feel a little lonely (even though, given my druthers, I am quite content to spend time doing whatever I choose in the pleasure of my own company).  But lately I’ve been making a concerted effort to work at being more happy in my life.  This blog is a major source of satisfaction, for one.  Also, as previously noted, I’ve been trying to find small joys in each day and preserve them in my “joybook” every night before going to sleep.

But the majority of my smiles these days comes mostly from the animals, both here at home and at the shelter.  Last Sunday, I was sitting on a chair in the big cat room at the shelter, with the gorgeous but temperamental Gracie on my lap, my beloved Winnie (who I am going to end up adopting, I am quite certain) to my right on the cat tree, and then big Blackjack came over.  All the cats were basking in my affection and being surprisingly sweet to each other, until Gracie, as is her wont, decided she was done with me and jumped down.  But for those ten minutes or so, I felt nothing but bliss.

I guess, ultimately, it’s unrealistic to think I could be happy every minute of every day, especially when things like death and injustice are so pervasive.  So, despite my high school ambition to “always be happy”, and my unalienable right as an American to pursue it, I’ll settle for being happy more often than I’m not.  If I can find that balance, I would consider my life a success.