To steal from Pharrell Williams, the singer in the ludicrously mutant Mountie hat, I’m happy.
It ain’t easy. Seems like something’s always broken, somebody’s owed, somebody’s sick or something’s due. Somebody always needs some thing from me.
If I’m now of the “sandwich generation” (those of us with dependent children and aging parents reluctantly dependent on us too) I feel like the potted meat in that sandwich — chopped, pressed, overly processed, mixed with ingredients it’s better not to know about and spread very, very thin on crappy light bread.
So you’re probably all, “Mel, where do you get the nerve to even think about happy?”
Especially since I’m not talking about the forced and faked cheeriness that we’re supposed to have on constant display in our professional and personal lives to keep other people comfortable or the “buy it, wear it, flaunt it” kind of superficial happiness our consumption-obsessed culture insists on.
No, I’m talking about something else — the kind of “I’m satisfied” happy that comes when you realize that you can’t control everything that happens in your life. That sometimes stuff is gonna suck REAL bad. That there’s going to be a generous helping of pain. That there’s going to be ugliness and “Dammit!” aplenty. And you’ve just got to deal.
Seriously. How is this happy even supposed to happen?
Welp, I’m not trying to tell you how to make it work. (That’s between you, your mama, your shrink, your preacher and the counterman down at your local Gomer’s Wines.) I’m talking about me and how I do happy.
See, I was depressed for five years in my late 20s and early 30s.
I don’t mean “feeling sorta sad” depressed. I mean clinical “I can’t feel anything but mind-numbing, gut-twisting, soul-crushing pain alternating with the solid obsidian black of nothingness” depressed.
Five long years of my young life lost under wave upon crashing wave of tumbling despair because of bad brain chemistry. Five long years when I couldn’t see the sun, feel its warmth on my skin. When every single social encounter, no matter how benign or meaningless, felt like rubbing finely ground glass all over my face.
After I didn’t die from the constant wishing I were dead (and with a lot of hard work and compassionate medical care) I fought like hell to live.
And, I promised myself that if I ever did find happy again I’d handcuff it to myself and make it my prison buddy like that warden did to Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis in “The Defiant Ones.” We’d have to work together to survive no matter how much we might not like one another.
Now. I live in the real world just like you — not in Munchkin Land where lollipops and cute tights are mandatory and everybody’s born happy. I’m not over the rainbow. I know exactly what I’m saying: Happy is good. But being happy is hard sometimes.
Being happy isn’t easy when a job has to get worked, bills have to be paid, a family has to be supported or a parent is seriously ill in a life-changing way. It can feel nearly impossible when it’s a child who’s that sick.
But I still try. I focus like it’s a yoga practice. I try to find one thing to laugh at (usually me) and one person to laugh with. I try to change places with at least one person who’s done me wrong (traffic trolls are quite useful for this exercise).
I work my techniques ‘round the clock: There’s laughing with the innocents — cute babies, funny pets. (Come on, people! Those are gimmes!) There’s laughing at life’s little comedies (locking myself out of the house, dropping my comb in the toilet). There’s laughing because the hits keep coming.
(“Oh my God! Really?! This is going to happen NOW on top of everything else?!) And there’s laughing to keep from crying — that survivor’s trick of laughing at the hard stuff so the soul can endure.
Look, I know plenty of things aren’t funny. (Like that time in my life when illness literally made it impossible to laugh in a heart-connected way.) But many things are. And I figured out that in my life I can sometimes make a choice: Will I laugh or cry about unwittingly wearing my deodorant pit-stained blouse inside-out to the corner store? (Yeah. I’ll tell you about that some time.)
I also figured out that where there’s humor, there can be learning and healing for what’s hurting me. And where there’s humor and a willingness to laugh at myself there are openings to happiness I might not have otherwise stepped through.
Like right now I’m taking a dance class at my local fitness center. (Yep, at 50 y’all! Something I wouldn’t have done ten years ago.) I ain’t shame!
I treat it like going to da’ club. (Except young people don’t have to get all creeped out about an old lady up in da’ actual club.) And, yes, I love it. Though occasionally I do feel kind of bad for the other folks in the class because when I “work it” I can look a bit like some combination of getting the Holy Ghost, scenes from “The Exorcist“ and that old “Stop, Drop and Roll” PSA.
But hey, that’s their problem. Not mine. Because in my inner cosmos deep, deep inside Mel’s head I’m putting it down like the test-tube baby of Baryshnikov, Michael Jackson and the long-haired Asian lady from Soul Train.
I.am.GETTING.IT! And, I’m laughing. And, I’m happy.