Tuesday, December 31, 2013
New Year's Eve
I'm not really big on New Year's celebrations but I do feel hopeful. Lately I try to strive for hopeful every day although some days all I can do is strive for an absence of the sorrow, despair and ennui that hovers constantly on the outskirts of my mind. How's that for optimism?
The thing is, what does a "Happy New Year" really mean?
I generally tell people I did not have a happy childhood and it slips off my tongue without much thought. I can think of a lot of happy memories from childhood. I spent tons of time with my sister, Carrie, who is two years older than me and was, by far, my most favorite person in the world when I was a kid. Anything that involved playing with Carrie was fun. Rollerskating with Carrie and my best friend, Molly, pretending we were Charlie's Angels and the Bay City Rollers were our boyfriends? That was the epitome of fun. Summer was always filled with happy memories of swimming, playing outside after dinner until it was dark, sleeping with the windows open. Sure, there was happiness. But the whole of my childhood is also colored by my parents' divorce, the subsequent bitterness and passive aggressiveness between them, my abusive step-father and the way all the adults in my life consistently put their needs ahead of mine and neglected my safety and well-being. I know that's a big charge, but I make it with confidence that I have worked hard to heal from all of that, as much as I can.
College was not that happy, either, although I had some great friends and I had fun and I laughed a lot. I also drank too much, blacked out almost every weekend and did many unspeakably embarrassing things while blacked out that still cause me pangs of regret and humiliation when I think of them. I did untold damage to my already-fragile self-esteem. I did learn one or two things, though.
The alcohol abuse continued into my 20s, accompanied by an eating disorder and some bad "boyfriends." Finally, when I was 27, I started seeing the best psychologist in the world and have been taking Prozac on and off for most of the last 18 years.
So my "happiness" throughout my life has been affected by my parents, relationships, my own actions, chemicals and/or pharmaceuticals and probably more by genetics than any of us really realize. When someone asked me in my mid-30s if I was happy, I answered quite honestly, I have no idea. What's the baseline for happy?
Obviously, happiness is subjective. What feels like happiness to me could feel totally different to someone else. There's no way to measure it. So why do we go around wishing each other a happy new year? And all those resolutions we make to achieve The Happy New Year? They are pointless, although I'm sure I don't need to tell you that.
What I think we should really be hoping for is just a good life, not so much a happy life. Who says we are entitled to happiness?
When I was a senior in college and beginning to anticipate the "real world" that awaited me after graduation, a friend of mine gave me a book called Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow: Discovering Your Right Livelihood. I was obsessed with this book for several years as my charming and naive idealism convinced me that if I was happy, then that meant I was doing what I was supposed to be doing with my life. And obviously, by this logic, if I was unhappy, I was clearly doing something wrong. I believed this was true with every fiber of my being. This one belief ruled my life and I felt so passionately that this was The Truth, the one, most important philosophy by which I should live my life. I agonized over it every day, convinced that if I could just figure out what made me happy, then everything else would be clear. I would feel peace, I would understand my purpose, all my decisions would be easy. First, find happiness, then smooth sailing.
Wow. It's so stupid it's almost cute.
Maybe I have simply replaced on silly, naive belief with another but yes, I am prone to this type of thinking. It's the only way to fight back against the crusty, old cynic in my head. I want to live up to my daughter's view of the world as a relatively good place.
And that's my message as we usher out 2013. I have to go now and feed the birds, maybe help some little, old ladies cross the street. After that I might get raging drunk with my sisters and entertain my nieces and nephew with my ability to make lengthy speeches composed entirely of swear words. Just kidding. I try to keep the alcohol consumption in check these days (but I do swear a lot). However you ring in the new year, I hope you feel happy or peaceful or just feel good. Life is hard. We just have to do our best.