I’ve been thinking a lot lately about “happiness” and what it means as a goal for mental health. I think I don’t love that goal, and probably haven’t in awhile. I mean…I want to be able to feel happy when I’m surrounded by loved ones or doing something I enjoy…and there have definitely been times where that’s been impossible as my depression darkened my every day. If I can’t even achieve “happy” in some situations then I know I’m successfully treating my depression.
But I don’t know if “happy” as a general status is something I am capable of anymore, or if it’s even a status I care about achieving. There is so much in the world that worries me and keeps me up at night that I’m not sure “happy” as a general level of existence is something I could be even given the best circumstances. When I don’t have extra things going on that I enjoy…TV shows I’m watching or conversations with friends or time with family…I’m never just basking in happiness. And I’m okay with that. Honestly? I’ve decided I’m not sure if anyone else is either. The more I talk with people the more I accept that most of us are not existing in a state of “happy” as default.
I’ve decided as long as I reach “happy” on runs with friends, or at book club, or hanging out with my family…then I’m okay.
I think what I’ve decided more is my goal lately is peace. I want to be able to achieve a peaceful existence where I don’t feel like my heart is constantly in tumult. And unfortunately lately…tumult is my status quo. It’s the election season and my devastation that Trump will probably get elected again seems into every quiet thought. The personal challenges of people I love worry me as I try to find ways to help them. The environmental collapse around us overwhelms me, systemic racism and people who are blind to it angers me, and the stubbornness of misogyny – still ever-present – saddens me.
So I hope for peace. Maybe you reach a certain age and awareness of the world outside your bubble and that’s the best you can hope for. I think it was easier to strive for happiness when I was so focused on raising kids and caring for my family and my career that I didn’t think too far outside my home. But my kids and my family needs me less and less every day and so I’m suddenly more aware of the strife beyond my reach and I can’t just forget about it.
I still seek out my moments of joy and happiness by taking myself to Indigo Girls concerts and playing games with the kids or Christmas shopping or watching cooking TV. But that general baseline of “happy” is no longer something I worry about. I want to find peace. I want to do what I can to make the world better with the resources I can spare, I want to educate myself on how to support others with more resources, and I want to be able to sit alone in silence and find moments of calm in the storm.