Happiness Might Actually BE a Warm Puppy

Yesterday one of my friends posted this on Facebook.

My friend is a great person, talented and brave. She faces the obstacles of her life with grace. She has a sense of humor and passion for right over wrong. She continually attempts new and difficult things. I like her a LOT. One of the things she’s best at is friendship. I noticed that early on because I’m NOT good at it. And, as Vonnegut has written, she’s interesting.

I’ve thought a lot in the past few years (because I’m older) about what my life has actually amounted to. I think that might be a thing we humans do. I have no idea if that’s a cultural thing or not, but whatever. It doesn’t matter. I’m in this culture and I have done it.

There are limits to us. Time limits. Financial limits. Aptitude limits. And the limit of having “no idea what’s going on” which, in my case, is persistent. (ha ha). But I think, at this point the biggest limit is something I didn’t even used to believe in — luck. Luck started to emerge in my frame of reference when I was in grad school, working on my thesis with my thesis advisor, and talking about Horatio Alger’s heroes. “The thing is, Martha,” said Dr. Richardson, “you’ve got it all going for you. You just need some luck.”

Huh? Wait a minute, isn’t this America where we can realize our dreams if we work hard enough? He went on as if I’d actually SAID that. “Those Alger heroes ALWAYS meet someone who can help them materially. That’s luck. The other thing is those Alger heroes don’t aim very high. They just want to improve their lives.”

I thought about happiness over the years, too. It’s not something OUT there. It’s what I do with what I have where I am. I guess I figured THAT out several times over the years and forgot it, but it seems, finally to have sunk in (maybe). I made peace with that “goal” by assessing my life and thinking of the things that make me happy — walking with my dogs makes me happy. Painting and writing make me happy. The profession I held for a long time made me (mostly) happy. I came around to the idea that it is in the things I DO that I find happiness. Because of the nature of those things that make me happy, I’m not great at friendship. Every time I read an article that says friendships and social connections are good for us I think, “We’re not all the same.” That’s not to say I don’t value my friendships and social connections — I do, very much, but…

Nothing is free. One of the happiest times of my life was when I was writing Martin of Gfenn. The evening I finished my first complete draft, I found myself in a dark, empty house I got THAT. “Where is everybody?” I’d been living with all those interesting people for a few months, and suddenly I was in a lonely, dark, and rather chilly house. I’d done something I couldn’t even talk to anyone about, really, without sounding like — at best — an obsessed freak at worst an arrogant asshole. Writing is NOT social. In the process I’d gone places the people around me were not going. It was a great experience and, at the same time, profoundly alienating.

The other aspect of luck — Goethe. Goethe wrote a lot of stuff before he became famous, stuff that interested NO ONE. He was crap as a law student. He fell in one hopeless love situation after another. The guy was going NO WHERE. Then, as he was involved in and attempting to recover from yet another hopeless love, one of his schoolmates killed himself. This led Goethe — as catharsis? to write Sorrows of Young Werther. Nothing like it had ever been written before. I’m not sure he even imagined publishing it. BUT it hit the world at exactly the right time and changed Goethe’s life. Suddenly, he was famous and that fame trailed him everywhere he went. The book caused a rash of suicides by lovesick young men in imitation of Werther. Terrible. Goethe had to live with this all his life. So — he got the fame he wanted as a writer and with it?

What if all we ever did was aspire to do the best we can with the hand we’ve been dealt by fate? I don’t consider fate to be the same as destiny. Destiny is out there somewhere; fate is closer to home. It’s the family into which we’re born, the gender we’re born with, the era into which we’re born, the culture — all the so-called external realities of our lives. Add to that whatever mental and emotional equipment we happen to have. I truly believe I was BORN wanting a dog. Similarly, I started writing stories before I knew how to read. I always drew pictures.

So what’s a successful life? It’s difficult in our society which remains absurdly competitive. No one would feel like a failure if — having done the best they could with what they have — there weren’t some kind of external conditioning about success. I hate that competitiveness. It makes it impossible for us to take others as they come or not to be resentful of someone who’s achieved something we think we should have achieved. We judge others and believe they’re judging us. What if we weren’t judging others? What if we’re NOT? I don’t know.

I once knew a Turkish guy — a junkie, as it happened, who was a very famous (in Turkey) photo-journalist. He’d gotten into heroin while he was photographing the Turk’s war against the Kurds. He told me a lot about the horrible things he’d seen, and I saw some of his photos. Good god, and was the world interested? I don’t remember that it was. He wasn’t a “good person,” by any means. In fact, as much as I liked him, I’d say he was a bad guy — conscienceless and driven by his addiction, but he was very very interesting and the moment we met we felt kind of an electric connection. During our conversation he said, “No one knows another’s pain.” Obviously that has stuck with me. I only saw Oktay once though we had many later phone conversations. Encounters like that are, I think, sometimes thrown in front of us to give us information we sorely need. Since no one DOES know another’s pain, who the fuck are we to judge anyone, even ourselves?

At this point I believe that the purpose of our individual lives is to enjoy the life we have. “Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?” Ecclesiates 3:22


11 thoughts on “Happiness Might Actually BE a Warm Puppy

  1. A bosun Mate I knew in the Navy shared this with me when I was a 19-year-old troublemaker ““luck is what you stumble upon in life. Providence is what God plans for you, and planning is how you thread your way between the two without getting crushed.” first-class petty officer John O’Toole, Bosuns-mate USN. I don’t know how accurate what he said, but it seemed to work for him.

    • I like that very much. I think of Providence that way, though I’m not sure God has planned anything for me, honestly not sure but not skeptical. He has definitely given me some gifts for which every single day I’m extremely grateful, one of which is the will to live (which I’ve needed a few times) another is nature to which He led me as a child when I was beginning to see how really stressed my family was. It was as if He said, “I’m here, little one. Just come here and talk to me and it will be OK.” So I always have. 💚

  2. As you note, Horatio Alger’s heroes are improperly understood. He did not say that hard work and perseverance will bring you wealth. (They will, however, keep you from being totally destitute.)

    His message was to be alert for the opportunities that come your way. When one does pop up, jump on it. His message was also to put yourself in positions where those opportunities are most likely to occur. It is a life philosophy for people who aren’t afraid of “No” and consider failure to be another step on the road to success.

    As a largely unsocial person, I tend not to be where opportunities arise. When they do, I’m not the first person anyone thinks of. Still, the best job I ever has was due to jumping on an opportunity that was way above my pay grade that I really shouldn’t have been able to capitalize on. It changed the course of my life permanently and dramatically.

    There is something true and worthy in Alger’s lesson, but I don’t think it suits everyone. You need very thick skin to keep at it, and being a “people person” increases your chances greatly.

  3. I liked the music video! As for happiness, I think there are many components and one of the biggest is mental attitude. We can accept things or rale against fate. We can smile or frown, and although having a lot of money can make life easier it doesn’t contribute too much to a state of happiness. I’ve lived frugally most of my life and have been happy most of the time (safe a few angsty teen years).Even when working for SWMNBN I was personally happy and it drove her nuts! Hehe! But I digress. I love your description of writing as going places and being with people that exist only in your imagination! That kind of total immersion is amazing and I’ve done it not as a writer but as a reader. It is a kind of magic that we still possess!!!

  4. Happiness – “It’s what I do with what I have where I am.” I agree wholeheartedly with this Martha. We all have crap that happens in our life, but most of us can find some light in the day to day, even if on those darkest days it’s stepping outside and looking up.

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