Life Goals: Happy vs. Contented

CND campfire

I have a confession. I hate the “Happy Song” by the dude in the ten gallon hat.

(I couldn’t find the only video of that song that I like, but I found this instead and it’s hysterical. And includes hats. You don’t have to know American Sign Lanuage (ASL) to see the humor. They are hearing brothers with deaf parents, and from what I can catch, they are just signing “flower, pain, love, all year – PAIN, horrible!” So funny.)

I love music, and I love the look of goofy hats, but I utterly HATE the happy song. As in, I have to stop myself from screaming “change it to NPR or else!” at my tween son when it comes on the car radio.

Another confession.

I’m tired of the phrase “it’s all good.” I will say that the cartoons that go with those t-shirts and mugs of little stick people camping and enjoying flowers are awesome – takes me right back to being a residential camp counselor and to be honest, living a “happy song” kind of life. It was a blast…work hard doing fun things with goofy little kids, weekend parties, beach sunsets, card games and summer romance.

camp letter

BBC camp

A few decades later, I know now that what made those times so happy was that the middle-aged and beyond leadership was masterful at harnessing our insecurities, raging hormones, and gullible personalities by:

1:Making us work dawn to dusk. If we weren’t taking care of kids or getting activities ready we were expected to find someone who needed a hand or a poison ivy vine that needs to be hacked or a campfire skit to be planned.

and

2:Expecting that we should otherwise be

a) Doing something prayerful or reflective. Or,

b) Doing something outlandishly fun or crazy to burn off aforementioned                                                 insecurities, hormones and guile.

But, and…

please forgive me if you are a positive psychology research professional or a maker of affirmation posters….because

it’s not all good,

(attatched link is powerful and empowering – it is about domestic violence and is communicated in both American Sign Language and captions,)

and I’m sick of media and the world, particularly the American world, trying to cram the word “happy” into my face and life.

It’s exhausting.

I had a brief but great conversation with a friend about it this weekend. We were at a get together where some acquaintances, rather than hearing what we were saying about some very real and tough life realities, they replied with: “smile and the world smiles with you” and “oh, you can do it”, or

“BEEN THERE, DONE THAT”,

and: “if I can solve that same life problem, you can too, and here’s an App for you to tap!”

Having shared our frustration on the topic before, and because we both try to not blurt out the constant sarcastic flow of venom that we secretly share about the saying “been there done that” kind of mind-set, we had to pull ourselves aside from the conversation and debrief before saying or doing something regrettable.

I suggested that we go find some full-bodied Muppet type of costumes and come back to the party just to throw things off, but we decided to reapply our lipstick and enjoy how Ninja we feel in dangly earrings instead.

CND path

This is what we came up with – and it’s that the real reason, I now know with complete certainty, that I was so happy during those summers on the lake. The thing is, there wasn’t conversation or debate about what “happy” has to be at camp….for any of us. We weren’t trying our hardest to keep the campers constantly jovial – that was impossible. As a matter of fact my dearest memories are of consoling home sick children, of trying to point out to the popular kids that an awkward one was being left out. Of the chubby kids who were falling out of their clothes and the skinny ones who could barely keep them on. My favorite camper was a boy who was deaf and started the week out being very rough with the other boys because he know he was being picked on and made fun of without the single exchange of a word.

I am really attached to the memory of him slamming that wooden screen door on another kid when I was at the front of the line trying to get that stinky, mud covered, whining group of little guys out of the rain and into the cabin so that they could climb in their bunks and be homesick in peace.

Why? Because

it wasn’t all good. And I’m not afraid to remember that, or look at what sucks in life.

Agreed, I am a bit too drawn to the dark side of things, but that’s why God gave me a family who tells me to knock it off when I a become annoying and dogs who shame themselves if I ignore their request to fetch or go outside for a pee break.

This quote better says what I’m trying to say. I’m trying to say that what I’m shooting for is contentment, while, sometimes, the world seems to be all about happy:

“I want first of all… to be at peace with myself.

 

I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can.

 

I want, in fact–to borrow from the language of the saints–to live “in grace” as much of the time as possible. I am not using this term in a strictly theological sense. By grace I mean an inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony. I am seeking perhaps what Socrates asked for in the prayer from the Phaedrus when he said, “May the outward and inward man be one.” I would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God.”

 

― Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

 

Oh, and about the angry Deaf kid? He ended up having a great week. And he stopped punching and slamming.

Why? Because the other camp counselors and I listened to him first, and distracted him next. We signed in American Sign Language that “angry” happens, and that other boys being mean is not “fine.” And, we tried, in no uncertain terms, to tell him that slamming and hitting was not going to lead to friendship.

My other favorite memory from that week? (I can’t believe I can still pull this out of my brain. It was like, 30 years ago.) We were trooping through the summer heat and itchy fields after one of those scuffles. There had of course been a  “shape up boys!” talk with both kiddos and my rough and tumble little friend fell to the end of the line for a good old-fashioned sulk.

I doubt that I had to fake my exhaustion or frustration about the whole thing as I trudged them toward the pool.

He then suddenly broke protocol and was of course tattled on: “He’s out of line! Why is he allowed to get off the path! No cutting!”

For which, and this makes me tear up every time I think of it, I was delivered a huge bouquet of weeds with a couple of wild flowers and a most beautiful and thankful smile. Guess he found a way to be at peace with himself, even if for a while.

The thing is…if we hadn’t squared up to the rain and the slammed door there wouldn’t have been any flowers for him to pick. Know what I mean? Jelly bean?

 

 

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