Do you ever ask yourself if you’re happy? Have you figured out what happiness is in the first place? Do you believe it to be achievable?
Ostensibly, happiness is what everyone wants, but there’s a lot of debate about what that looks like, and whether it can last, and how you know when you have it, and whether you even appreciate it when it’s there for the taking.
Sean and I have talked a few times about when/whether we’re happy. Not in terms of our marriage – we know we’re happy to be a unit. And not in terms of whether we should be happy – we are so fortunate in life, we surely have access to all the puzzle pieces needed for happiness. But day-to-day, in general, are we actually happy?
Perhaps the more pertinent questions are: what are those puzzle pieces? and which pieces really count?
You’ll be glad to know that I found the answer for us all – at the donkey sanctuary.
Essential Requirements for a Contented Life. Right there on the wall of the Learning Barn, complete with grommets.
Looks like a simple enough list… but I’ve been pondering it and I’ve come to see that it is actually profound.
You see, I’ve been fretting as summer comes to a close, because of a feeling of incompleteness. I’m a teacher – I get more time off than any other profession – how could I possibly be discontent?? What kind of ingratitude is that?
I had a fun summer – spent two weeks staffing at Camp NeeKauNis (with kids), visited with family and friends, picked berries, cleaned out the garage with Sean, purged a bunch of stuff, visited Story Book Park and Wild Waterworks and the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada with the kids, visited Niagara-on-the-Lake with my hubby to celebrate our 13th anniversary, attended my school board’s two-day Learning Fair, took an Elementary Choral Conducting course, painted my son’s new bedroom…
Very productive, with lots of fun things in it. So WHAT IS MY PROBLEM?
I think the problem is my mindset. As you know, I have a robust guilty conscience. Naturally, I feel guilty about my teacher’s summer, since my husband gets the same ridiculously insufficient amount of time off per year that most Canadians in the workforce get. So I feel the need to get tonnes of sh*t done every day, to justify my summer… And also to make less for him to do, so that he feels at least a little more relaxed.
It ends up that I don’t feel relaxed – except for the times that I schedule in relaxing activities. And as you may have noticed, I did not blog all summer – for the second summer in a row. Why? Because it never got to the top of my To Do list. Because I feel weird about prioritizing it. Same goes for the other artistic projects I have started in the last three to six years: they don’t ever get to the top. Even though I know they provide me with happiness, on a deep-heart-level.
This makes me bananas.
I mean, I’ve read Big Magic. I know in my brain that I’m supposed to DO CREATIVE THINGS, unapologetically. That it’s valid to make time for art, even – or especially – when life is crazy. And nobody likes that person who works constantly and suffers on purpose and then complains about it. It’s just that… there’s so much other stuff that needs doing.
When we went to see the donkeys on Labour Day weekend, it was a beautiful, peaceful day. Those donkeys, although they’ve been through hardships, are great at chillin’ and soakin’ up the love at this point in their lives. Happiness is all around. We feel it and it makes us smile. It’s time to learn from their paradigm.
What was on that list again?
“Do I have enough of the right kinds of food to eat?” Hmm. The “right kinds” of food, they say. Am I eating stuff that’s actually food, or is it actually modified/hydrolyzed/hydrogenated/blah blah blah? The more I pay attention, the more I see that what I eat affects my mood and energy level dramatically. (It’s amazing, in fact, how many of us ignore this direct causal relationship.) Sean and I are eating mostly plant-based nowadays, and we both feel a lot better when we’re on that track. And yet I still ignore it quite often. Silly human. So, Dilovely: eat what makes your body happy (as well as your mouth).
“Can I get away from wind, rain, sun, and snow?” Yes, our home is more than adequate. I can’t deny that there were moments this summer where my productivity suffered due to our lack of air conditioning… But not many, considering. And in the winter, I think every day about how lucky I am to have coziness as an option, thanks to my home.
“Do I have access to fresh, clean water to drink, even on the hottest and the coldest days?” YES. I’d like to take this moment to express my gratitude for the water. I am so, so thankful that I live in a place where water comes right out of the taps and is safe to drink… And this same place has countless beautiful rivers, lakes, ponds, and streams that support so much life. It is an abundance of riches that we ALL need to protect… Because water is also the most important thing. Period.
Space to move and exercise
“Do I have enough space to move around, in keeping with my biological needs?” To me this says: GET OUTSIDE. Run around. Get some fresh air like your mama toldja to. We never regret having gone outside, especially to get some exercise. Our biology needs it.
Freedom of choice
“Am I allowed to make choices about how I live my life each day?” Whoa. This question is deep. Have you ever read a book set in a place where citizens are super-oppressed and/or fear for their lives? And then looked at your own life and marvelled at how you can freely go to the grocery at 10:30 pm or meet friends for coffee wherever or have a university education and a job even though you’re a woman or take your kids to the park without worrying about gunfire? It’s good to be acutely aware, sometimes, of how free one’s life is.
But also. On a daily basis, I (and I’m sure many many others) box myself into a state of near-constant obligation. I brought myself here by freedom of choice, but if I were making thoughtful choices about how I live my life each day, wouldn’t I, I don’t know, blog more than once in three months?
Of course, lots of us, a lot of the time, have a lot of things happening in our days that we wouldn’t choose, but still have to deal with. In that case, I’d argue that the other points become even more important.
Proper social context
“Do I have the opportunity to live with my own kind, and relate to them as I would in my natural environment?” Humans are social animals – we need to have peeps. We need to be with them, relate to them, in person, authentically present. And for the introvert animals, we also need to have times without so many peeps. Neither of these things is too much to ask.
Mental and physical stimulation
“Is there variety where I live?” This one makes me think, too. Do I do the same thing day in, day out? I know Sean and I both have those moments when we feel that drudgery – although Sean perhaps a bit more than I, because my job is never boring. We need to exercise our brains, do different things, challenge ourselves, get into the flow, feel alive. This also is not too much to ask of our modern, civilized lives.
Boom, there you go, the contented life in a nutshell. Do you have one?
Dear lovelies. I’m afraid this blog post is not as thoroughly-crafted as some… it doesn’t have the cohesive arc I wish it to. Probably because I’ve been trying to get it done for over a week, ha. You’ll have to forgive my rustiness; it’s been a while.
But I do like what this list does. It makes me think about what is ESSENTIAL in life, and what I already have to be grateful for. Donkeys don’t do any unessential crap. If we humans could cut down on activities that are both A) unnecessary and B) don’t make us contented or bring us happiness, then we’d be living more like the donkeys. That’s an idea worth pursuing.