I’ve read Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, and I check her blog fairly regularly. We think alike, I think, and I am drawn to her methodical ways and her “make a list and get it done” attitude. I am nowhere near as methodical or productive as she appears to be (books and blogs are good at hiding her dust bunnies), but I do take inspiration from her work. One piece of advice, I can’t remember if it came from the book or the blog, was to make the bed every day. Since reading it, I have adopted it, and it really does make me happy. It sounds so insignificant, so trivial, but airing out the bedroom and making my bed each morning helps me set the tone for the day. It takes seconds, but it gives me a feeling of accomplishment. It may be the only thing that gets done that day, but at least the bed is made.
And that’s kind of where I begin to falter, because, truly, on some days, that really is all that gets done, and the rest of what gets done is half-assed and graceless. Sometimes, my days are more about surviving than living a meaningful life, and when I am in survival mode, the happiness crap makes me want to spit nails. It makes me crazy to think that millions of women are managing to succeed and thrive and be happy, and all I can think is “Sixteen more hours until bedtime.” I say those words to myself and feel the awful burden of the happiness imperative. On some days, it’s not the ordinary stresses of being a mother of three boys that wears me down, it’s the fact that I’m not in or actively pursuing a state of bliss. I feel like I’m failing when I am failing to feel happy. Where have I gone wrong???
Well, of course, I haven’t gone wrong because happiness, like despair, is a transient state, and you can’t have one without the other. “The stronger the sunshine, the darker the shadow.” I can say that to myself a thousand times a day, but I still can’t shake the glossy appeal of Happy. It’s like the insidious appeal of home decor or fashion magazines: we can all agree that the images on those pages are fiction, what we see is not real. What is not real, is, by definition not attainable, but we still strive, don’t we? We still measure ourselves against the glossy fictions. Sometimes, the happiness advice that is doled out in column inches on the pages of national papers and magazines begins to feel like the anorexic model to me. It is not healthy to aspire to that kind of thin; it is not healthy to aspire to constant happiness.