S. E. Livingston: Being thankful for what is, not upset over what isn't
Annie, my 7-year-old, my husband and I were at the beach a couple of weeks ago when the dangerous riptide was traumatizing a family. We had no clue that five miles down the beach our friends were swimming for their lives. We were throwing ourselv...
Annie, my 7-year-old, my husband and I were at the beach a couple of weeks ago when the dangerous riptide was traumatizing a family. We had no clue that five miles down the beach our friends were swimming for their lives. We were throwing ourselves into the high waves, shouting and laughing. Joy was audibly and visually obvious.
"This reminds me of the good ol' days, Mom!" Annie yelled as a wave side swiped her and threw her toward the beach. Because I now have teenagers, and I frequently look back at the good ol' days, her comment made me stop and thank God for the moment. In 10 years I will certainly look back on that evening with warm sentimentality. If I didn't stop right then and be grateful, I would lose that sweet night and regret it.
And in that moment I realized how happy a dose of thankfulness made me. I stopped. I looked at what I have. That meant I didn't have the space to look at what I don't have and what I don't like. That's when happiness landed.
Days later I was in the exam room at my family doctor's office and couldn't help but overhear the woman in the next room. She was telling the doctor how tired she was. She was telling the doctor how down she had been and how life just wore her out. Controlling my eavesdropping, I focused on the ever-relevant Family Fun magazine in my hands -- "99 cakes which say 'I care!'"
But I couldn't stop comparing the woman in the next room to myself and the many women I meet socially who have the same complaint -- exhaustion and depression. Right now the rates of depression in women in the childbearing years and beyond are roughly double that of men. What is going on?
I told my doctor what I had overheard. "How many women a day do you see whose major complaint is weariness and sadness?"
"Some days it seems as if 80 percent of the women are here because of that," she answered.
We discussed the whys behind it. My doctor's unscientific opinion was that women try to do too much and are unable to unplug from their tasks. In trying to make sure everyone at home, work, school, church, etc. is getting what they need, women often can't find peace in their own personal lives.
She also said she thinks we have a mistaken idea of happiness. We think we're not happy unless we're just about giddy.
That sounded like something my grandmother Ethel would say. Born during World War I, she survived the Depression, World War II and the post-modern age. I remember her saying, "These days people worry too much about being happy. I don't ever remember worrying about how happy I was.
We were just trying to survive." Even at the age of 10 I noted the grim lines around her mouth.
She was cut from the same cloth as our nation's forefathers. Those guys weren't looking for happiness; rather, they were all about creating a cultural climate that would nurture the "pursuit of happiness."
Evidently, happiness isn't a place in which one arrives.
In no way am I condemning the thousands of people who deal with depression. I'm not denying or discounting mental illness or chemical issues which cause people to lose hope. But with the preponderance of depression I'm wondering if there is something about the way we're living that is harming us.
Most of us can't quit jobs or manipulate our lives into being simpler, but we could stop more frequently and be grateful for what is around us.
There are those around us who do it. You can see it in Deb who has probably been your cashier at Cub Foods. She always has a kind word and encouraging comment for her customers. People walk away from her checkout line happy. Then there is Lynn who hands out samples at Sam's Club. If you take the time to stop and speak with her, she will engage you with an in-depth conversation (all the while working hard at her job). People walk away from her feeling attended to and happy.
I'm so thankful for people like that who are pushing people toward happiness. Maybe you're one of them, too.
Monthly Budgeteer columnist S.E. Livingston of Duluth is a wife, mother and teacher who writes for family and education newsletters in northern Minnesota. E-mail her at email@example.com .