I call my dad every Sunday. He's 84 and doesn't typically have much to say, but I listen with both ears whenever he does. This week, he didn't disappoint.
"I don't understand why people ask if you're happy, he began. "What the fuck does that even mean: Are you happy? Yea, I suppose — when I was a kid, and we were going to an amusement park or somethin' — maybe I felt a little 'happy' that day, but was I happy? How am I supposed to know if I'm fucken happy? What the hell kind of question is that anyway: Are you happy? How 'bout this: I don't fucken know, and it's none of your goddamn business if I did."
If you're wondering who was dumb enough to ask MY father this question, join the club. When I asked him, he just laughed and said, "No one. I just figured that's what they were thinkin.'" But the man does have a point. What IS happiness? How do you know if you're truly happy or just momentarily joyful?
The image below, taken the morning of my third "final hearing," six months after filing an emergency motion of contempt — approximately one year from the date my contested divorce (which lasted three years) was final — marks one of the worst days of my life. It was the day I nearly had a nervous breakdown. I may have even punched a wall or two. But hey, at least my outfit was on point.
I'm wearing the same shirt I wore to my daughter's National History Day competition that summer: the event that prompted this photograph. I guess I was hoping a patriotic color scheme might score points with the judge, but that never happened. Instead, I shuffled back home from the courthouse and lay my head down on evidence that never got presented. Then, I proceeded to sob until my eyes turned blue, snapping a photo to commemorate my strength. You see, my attorney never showed up to court that day, said she got "stuck in traffic." It would be another three months before a judge would hear my case.
The irony about this photograph is what came next. The morning of our rescheduled hearing, I was called to testify in front of a new judge. When asked what led to this hearing, I saw an opportunity. I told her everything I was never allowed to mention previously, intimate details that should have been addressed long ago. Her jaw dropped.
She let me say what really happened instead of skimming over critical information. For once, I felt heard. It was glorious. She then asked what I wanted, and when I told her, she gave it to me. It took three days for the smile to wear off. Was I happy? You're damn right I was—still am, even on days that may seem bleak and hopeless.
You know that eerie stillness in every horror movie, right before somebody gets whacked, where the music gets super edgy, and your heart begins to race? That's what it's like for people who suffer from anxiety. We worry incessantly about things we cannot control, intangible things that haven't happened but could, like what if your car breaks down on the highway and a psychopath stops to help, or the twinge in your knee requires surgery not covered by your shitty healthcare plan?
I have anxiety, and so does my father, so much so that he now worries that people are wondering if he's happy. I sometimes question if all that constant distress is a comfort to him—like maybe he thinks he can't function without it. What is he getting out of being so anxious? What are any of us getting out of it?
A mind is a powerful machine that plays a lot of tricks. It tells us to be afraid when there's nothing to fear and makes us second-guess ourselves, even if we are 100% certain. Whatever the case and whenever it happens to me, I try to find something constructive to occupy my mind, body, and spirit, like rage cleaning, going to the gym, or writing. I also talk myself down when panic sets in. I do this by asking a simple question: Is the thing causing me to suffer happening now, or am I just worried that it could?
If this sounds familiar, you already know the answer. If something terrible happens, you're not going to have time to stand around, worrying if it will become a problem because it will already be one. And what do we do when we have a problem? We fix it. Yes, shit is going to happen; that's life. You're going to have car problems one day, most likely when you need it the most. You might even lose your job. And let's be honest, inflation is about to kick all of our asses. But imagine what our minds could accomplish if we stopped worrying about things out of our control, made-up stories that may not ever come true.
Are you happy? If you're unsure or the answer is no, take a step back and look at what's going on in your life. Is the thing causing you to suffer happening right now in this very moment, or are you just worried it might?