‘Cause I’m (reasonably) Happy


My consulting travels recently took me to Indianapolis. I posted up in an office that had been vacated just days earlier. Somebody had been 86’ed, shit canned, pink-slipped, workforce reduced.  Book shelves and desk drawers were empty. (I know because I checked) There were no photos, no stapler, no box of Kleenex on the desk, no abandoned pad of Post-It notes. There was, however a small affirmation taped to the computer monitor which had been left like the skeletal remains of a former FTE. It was a Post-It note sized copy of the Serenity Prayer.

I thought I knew it. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference…”  but I had never read nor seen the rejoinder, which includes in the last line, “…that I may be reasonably happy in this life…”

Oh, well! Nobody ever told me that part. I ripped that Serenity Prayer right off that monitor and with the same dusty piece of tape, stuck it inside the back of the composition book I cart around. I figured this to be a more dignified ending to someone’s act of faith rather than being tossed into the computer bone yard along with the monitor.

Reasonably happy, my mother might have considered even this modicum of expectation a stretch. I was unloading dishes from the dishwasher one morning, my mom was sitting at my kitchen table and I was neck deep in the choking demise of my so-called marriage. For some inexplicable reason I felt the need to defend, to a woman who’d been married four times, my decision to divorce only my second husband. In between the cereal bowls and the silverware, I distinctly recall crying out in frustration and anger, “I just want to be happy, Mom!” She clanked the sugar spoon in her coffee cup for another brisk round and said, “who ever said you get to be happy?”

Wow! What a comeback! What a concept! Now, let me provide some context. I know it grieved my mother deeply to see me so unhappy. I also know that growing up in depression-era Oklahoma, working from the time she was 14 to take care of herself and eventually five kids, I know that this had an effect on her. “Happiness is overrated,” she concluded and rose to take her leave, leaving her breakfast dishes on the table.

Okay. I will submit that some interpretations of what constitutes happiness are misguided and ill-informed. I know you can’t buy happiness at the fucking mall. I know you can’t depend on another person to give it to you. I know it is never absolute. Life is hard. But, I also know that you will never reach the level of being even reasonably happy unless you take the time to study what in fact, actually MAKES you feel that way.

Seems fundamental, right?  But I remain amazed and astounded by how many people I know who can rattle off 9,000 things that piss them off, or makes them sad or jealous or bitter, but at some base level, they have never taken stock of what gives them joy.

Blessed are the identifiers, baby. I know full-well what makes me happy:

  • I am happy when I hear birds. This is for all seasons. I need to be at ground level, close enough to the earth, to hear it, to smell it, to be able to look out a window and witness what my natural surroundings are telling me. I don’t do well in closed-up environments. Being embalmed would be a step up from this.
  • I am happy when I’m with my dogs. I do not function well when we are separated. They don’t care for it much either.
  • I am happy when I write. I compare this to breathing.

Sure, it would be perfect if I never had to don a pair of polyester slacks again in my life. Yeah, it would be great if I never had to ride the elevator up to the corporate sensory deprivation chamber for eight hours a day to earn my pay and of course, it would be divine to be able to pat my dogs on the head, sip coffee and look out the window for downpours of inspiration EVERY single day instead of just a precious few. But, at least I know what makes me happy. Moreover, when I feel it, I ring the fucking bell.

This is what I want to share with you. RING THE BELL !  When you feel happy, peaceful, at ease, caught up, satisfied, sated or sane, roll around in it. Register the moment, record it, imprint it, Instagram it into your psyche. It’s conditioning, and it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do! The more you do it, the easier it becomes and it occurs with more and more frequency. Instead of trying to eliminate what provokes our anger or anxiety, maybe all of us need to focus a little bit more on what trips our happiness switch.

What are your happiness triggers?

Last Saturday I was working in the yard. It was hot. I had not tied a bandana around my mammoth forehead like I normally do and the sweat was pouring down my face, stinging my eyes like crazy. I came in, grabbed a wash cloth from the closet, ran the water until it was warm and buried my face in it. I inhaled lungs full of happiness because it instantly took me back to three summers ago, when I was on the road, writing Off the Leash. That fresh soap smell prompted memories of pure bliss, when all I needed was a bed, a clean wash cloth at the end of a long day and my dog waitin’ for me to call it a night. I was unreasonably happy. Then and now. It’s simple, really, downright serene. Prayers answered. I remain indebted to my unwitting and unknown benefactor who left behind a copy of hers. God bless you dear, whoever you may be. Write when you get work.

Here’s a little foretaste of the season, ya’ll. Kansas Prairie at Sunset

Welcome summer!

About Jean Ellen Whatley

Writer. Dreamer. Sometimes schemer. Journalist/memoirist/observer and sometimes constructive irritant. Prisoner of demon muses. Mother to four humans and two dogs. In my spare time, I delete phone numbers of former boyfriends.

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  1. Jean, thanks once again for making me stomp my foot and laugh out loud! And then get deep quick and realize I love your writing. It make me happy! Along with family, kids, dogs, friends, learning, memories….I could go on.

    • Mimi!
      Just saw this and I can just SEE YOU stompin’ your foot and laughing. That’s good, my friend, that’s a good thing. Yeah, honey, I go to the deep end of the pool pretty fast….but I always come up, baby, always come up. Thanks, doll.

  2. Hi Jean – I won your book in a blog giveaway and enjoyed it (left a good review on Goodreads). What I’ve found is that snippets of it pop into my head sometimes when life happens or when I’m doing something that parallels something in the book. I’ll have to read it again now. :)

    I receive your blog posts via e-mail — good idea to do that, because otherwise I wouldn’t have known you were blogging. Keep me on the list, and I’ll add your blog to my blog reading list on my own blog. (Whew, that was a mouthful!)

    Love this particular post! You’re right — we so often focus on the negative and forget about the many things that bring us joy and, let’s face it, keep us from going off the rails. I’m with you on the birds. My home office is upstairs, nice and comfy, well outfitted for writing, and I haul my laptop to the kitchen table so I can enjoy the big-picture windows looking over my back yard and all the birds that visit my bird feeder. My family just laughs at me. :)

    Anyway — glad you’re blogging, and I loved your book and this post. I’ll tweet it to share. Enjoy a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend!

    • Hi Lisa,
      Thanks for this! The comments on my blog were getting snarled in my spam filter. (Ugh…just think about being stuck in spam…) Anyway, how wonderful to know you! And thanks for following me, I so appreciate another kindred spirit, fellow writer and somebody who even NOTICES the birds. Peace and love to you. Jean