Yesterday I turned 39. I've rarely had an issue with age or growing older. Most years, I truly feel like it was better and more fulfilling than the last. 24 was a little rough. I was out of college but still didn't know what direction I was going. I had youthful dreams that needed to die but they didn't go down without one heck of a fight. The first couple of times one truly faces reality is rough (and often heartbreaking). I'm not melancholy about 39, but the closing of a decade is certainly a time to re-prioritize. I've never been the kind of person who is okay with just surviving. If I find myself in that situation, were I am merely treading water and not actively becoming a better person, a more loving wife, a stronger parent, a greater influence for good, I start to feel trapped and caged and impotent.
Over these past couple of years, what it means to have a fulfilling life has changed and grown and developed. For so long, it was just generically "happiness" but I'm realizing that happiness is really just the bi-product of a truly fulfilling life. Happiness isn't about circumstances, it is a constant choice, a lovely result, but not the core. I've come to realize that a clean house makes me happy. That said, it is the hard work and the diligence to become master over consumerism that really makes me happy; the external ramification being a clean house.
Having "good kids" makes me happy, but truthfully, it isn't how they act that makes me the most proud. I am most proud when I watch my daughter devour books in her free-time rather than watch TV. I am most proud when I catch my son using restraint, rather than lashing out. When they show self-reflection by being kind and generous and thinking through decisions rather than just responding. It is watching my kids choose the responsible path rather than the easy one that makes me (and them) so happy. Even more so when they do make a mistake or fail and handle it with dignity It is knowing that in intentionally raising children with discipline, integrity, consistency, support, and love they are capable of mastering their own destiny that brings true happiness.
Success makes us happy, but the truth is that succeeding on natural ability alone is not what facilitates happiness; it is the work and effort that creates the feeling. It is over-powering a natural tendency for selfishness or laziness or practicing incessantly in order to over-come a weakness that makes one the happiest. It is not the external success as much as the life lesson of self-discipline learned.
It certainly isn't money or a better house or possessions that make people happy. It feels like it could. Jake and I are constantly dreaming about: just one more financial hump or just a couple more house improvements or if my job would only get busy again so I could work from home or those adorable new shoes (Jake is ALWAYS saying that). If we only had new windows or solar panels. Those things may be excellent and they may be good for the environment but they have no ability to actually create sustainable happiness. What does create happiness is controlling our middle-class American propensity for consumerism and self indulgence. The mentality that possessions and accumulations and money will lead to happiness is an awful trap.
I won't go on forever with examples (I probably could), but the worst trap is that someone else makes us happy. Whether it be finding a soul-mate, or a spouse or a baby or a golden-doodle... My husband makes me happy, but it isn't him (sorry babe), it is the relationship of trust and growth. It is the constant iron sharpening iron of becoming better people together that is truly fulfilling. That kind of effort and support and vulnerability has an awesome bi-product of happiness. A friend who says, "You are perfect just the way you are" is not going to bring the kind of long-term fulfillment and happiness that comes from loving, truthful, honest, and hard communication about your zipper being down or your favorite shirt being too tight or the weakness in your parenting or the prejudice in your soul. True happiness comes from being held accountable and responsible, not from being merely outwardly liked or shallowly complimented.
So, in an effort to intentionally appreciate and enjoy the last year of my 30s, I'm embarking on a little journey. Each day, I will take a picture of something that makes my soul rejoice. I'm starting with my little family because I would be remiss if I didn't. That said, hopefully this will morph into something less superficial. Hopefully it will make me reflect on not only the things that outwardly make me feel happy but also the root-- on what really matters.
Feel free to join me, even if you aren't in the last year of your 30s. I'd love to see what brings a smile to your soul... you can follow me on the FMC FB Page. I'm not going to make sure they are all perfect pictures. I'm not going to worry too much about the order they are in. I'm just going to compile 365 things that make my soul smile at this stage of my life.
Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be -- Honest Abe
One of my favorite quotes by a great leader... and this year, once again... I'm making up my mind to be very very "happy".