What exactly is happiness? What does it look like? What does it feel like? And how do you know when you have it?
I have spent so much time of my life chasing after happiness.
Let me be the first to tell you: I’m a bonehead. For so many years I had it all wrong. Before I get ahead of myself and flip to end where I’m all enlightened and shit, let’s take a look at what went wrong, so very wrong.
I’ve met enough people to know that people approach life in very different ways: some prefer to discover their path at the same time they walk it, whereas other prefer to know their destination ahead of time and plan out their route step by step to ensure a timely completion. While some find bliss in the unknown journey, others embrace the feat of arriving at the destination. The high-strung, destination focused type- yea, that was me, times ten-thousand.
By the time I reached college I had formulated a mental checklist of accomplishments that had to be achieved in order to live a happy life.
- Graduate college
- Fall in love and marry a good, hardworking man who comes from a good family
- Get a dog
- Develop a career
- Have a few babies/raise a family
I realize that these milestones are not particularly odd or extraordinary. In fact I’m sure they were on your own list too while growing up- okay okay, maybe not the dog one, but most of them. It’s human to dream of and visualize the future that we want to build for ourselves. I grew up dreaming of working part time, raising two or three kiddos, baking and having a house with a lot of land far away. I wanted to be a counselor or coach of some sort. I wanted to help people, to inspire and motivate others. I longed to make a positive impression on others’ lives.
Somewhere along the line I convinced myself that accomplishing these milestones were the ingredients to a happy life. Early on the lure of the ingredients in the recipe of happiness motivated me to be dedicated, show resolve and stay the course. Armed with an arsenal of high-lighters I studied a lot- dare I say it too much in college and grad school. Instead of being motivated by my idealistic future happiness, I became wholly unsatisfied in my present life. I began to believe that I couldn’t be happy until these mile markers were achieved. Or maybe I wouldn’t allow myself to be happy. I’m not sure exactly which one it was.
Feed that bergen a troll? Am I right? Amiright???
Troll-less, I was.
Empty, I felt.
Lost, I am… or maybe it’s now a was.
Two years ago my happiness check-list was one baby short of completion. I nearly had it. Happiness was within my reach!!! Yet, I didn’t feel happy. I felt unfulfilled as a stay-at-home mom, then felt like the knowledge I worked so hard to earn at graduate school was seeping out my pores while working at the running store and then the worst part arose- the more interested I became in running, the more disconnected I felt with my husband. In my darkest moments I worried that I was somehow drifting backwards, farther and farther away from the life I wanted to live. I felt empty, lost and confused. How could I feel this way when the checklist was nearly complete?? Deeply unsettled I desperately tried to push these feelings down inside where no one, including myself could witness their destructive nature.
What did I do instead? At first I rationalized to myself that I needed one more baby and then life would feel full and complete. I even alluded to these thoughts in a post written in early September 2015; I remember going out on a run during what was many children’s first day of school. As I ran through the local neighborhoods I witnessed many seemingly happy families snapping First Day of School pictures on their front porches. I finished the run in tears and told my then husband that I wanted another baby. I didn’t feel done yet.
One fateful day in October 2015 the walls came tumbling down and I realized my marriage was over; it had been slowly dissolving for years, but I repeatedly ignored the signs and focused on the check-list. I held that damn check-list tight to my chest that it began to blind me to living and enjoying my life in the moment.
Seven months post-separation I was rattled with anxiety over now being a single mom who had to pay bills, raise a child and muster up the confidence to build a career all on her own. But what career path should I take? I could work at a college counseling center, go into private-practice, work with children or in a hospital. The options were endless. But which option would lead to happiness? Rattled with fear and anxiety, I didn’t know what to do or what path to take. I was in post-divorce shock and was starting to shut down. During the many months of job searching and cover lettering I sought out advice from my parents, my sister and even my new boyfriend Chris, “What do I need to do to be happy? I wish someone would just tell me and I’d do it! What do you think I should do??”
My parent and sister did their best to console me, advise me and point me in the right direction, but their words never truly quelled my worries. Chris said something different, something new that I’d never thought of before.
Figuring out how you want to live your life is a soul-searching, gut-wrenching process. Don’t rush it. But know that only YOU can answer that question….People need to stop chasing happiness. Happiness is intangible. It’s a feeling, a state of being… it’s not a badge to be earned. You don’t catch happiness, you experience it. People who chase happiness are often the most unsatisfied, and likely to be more depressed souls out there. Just live Kass.
His words rolled over me.. I heard what he was saying and yet it still took me another year to fully process their meaning.
Last Sunday I spent the night in Connecticut with Chris and Lillian. I gave Lillian a bath, read her some stories, sung her a song and put her to sleep by 7:30 pm. I walked down the stairs to find Chris but he was nowhere to be found. The sun was setting and the air felt cool. Maybe he was outside watering? Or weeding? I walked around the house in my bathrobe and nearly missed him. He was laying in the grass by the side of the house looking up at the sky. Quietly I approached him. What are you doing silly boy? …. I’m watching the planes fly from New York to Europe. And the clouds move. And listening to the birds chirp. Sit. Lay down.
So I did. I felt the breeze on my face. I watched the sun set over the horizon. Side by side in the grass, we held hands in the quiet night. For the first time in a long time I let my mind get completely lost in the moment.
The next day back in Boston I wrote Chris this poem…
We lay there in the grass, we two.
We lay there with absolutely nothing to do.
Nothing to do but feel the cool breeze on our skin,
And bear witness to the chirping birds filling the empty air within.
We watched the planes sail across the sky,
And gazed upon the sun-kissed clouds passing us by.
As the day turned to night we lay there in the grass, we two.
We lay there with absolutely nothing to do.
And I was sublimely happy.
The more I live and learn the more I realize that happiness is not a prize to be won. Happiness is allowing yourself to exist solely in the moment and allowing the warm moments in your day to surround you, fill you up and make you smile. The mind is rarely allowed the opportunity to fixate on a single moment in time. Instead, we often churn through to-do lists for the day and fears about the future. We spend our time organizing, planning and preparing for the future- all things that are by no means “bad.” And yet all of the goals and destinations can be dangerous a dangerous game. They can make us lose sight of what is right in front of our eyes each and every day: the peaceful world during morning miles, the tickle fights between Lillian and myself, the warm hugs, COFFEE (happiness in a cup), hearing Lilly sing in the bathtub, the I love you’s and the many, many more moments that comprise a day.
It’s high time I learn how to walk the fine line of embracing the warm, cheerful moments within my day, while also setting goals for myself for the future.What’s interesting is that I’ve been able to train with this approach for a while: I train for PR’s, but I don’t approach every training run as if it’s going to make or break my marathon. That level of intensity will lead to one unhappy runner and burnout. I’ve used my run time as my morning reboot before my work day.
How will I do this with my career, my relationship, my Lilly-time? I don’t know.
But I am sure of one thing-
I’m done with chasing happiness.
Can’t stop. Won’t stop. Never stop running.
The Lone Runner.