|Allison and Lexie, March 2011|
I saw a movie yesterday that triggered this question in my mind: Another Year, a British film made last year that follows the life of a couple and their friends and family through four seasons. It's not a movie that could have been made in this country, as the plot is nonexistent; it just portrays the people and their relationships to one another. There were long moments without a sound track where we just watched the play of emotions across their faces. One of the characters, Mary, is a middle-aged co-worker who kept imagining that her life would take off and be different if only some imagined event (a new car, a new man) could transport her there. Her lack of self-awareness as to how much of her unhappiness is of her own making is something I recognize, both in my own life and in the lives of those around me.
Perhaps it has something to do with having been thrown into the crucible of family last month, but I couldn't help but think about how differently my relatives approach life. I guess this is to be expected, but we rarely have such an opportunity for reflection. And how much of what I see is real, and how much of it is my own projection onto my family? I cannot get outside of my own head, my own family dynamics, to see things as they might appear to outside observers. All I can do is examine how I feel and contemplate the inner workings of my own mind.
I think I was a happy baby and am a naturally happy person. But if something occurs in my life that causes me pain (either mental or physical), that event becomes the center of my existence for either a shorter or longer period, and everything else going on fades into the background. I suppose this is normal, but it amazes me how often I change my internal focus from one thing to another. Most of the time it is outside of what I think I can control, but sometimes I wonder. Watching Lexie or watching Mary (in the movie) in their differing approaches to life, I wonder if there is something I'm missing that would be obvious if I could only gain a different vantage point.
When my son was little, I read him stories from Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne. I especially liked the character of Eeyore, a sad donkey who always sees the world through the eyes of a confirmed pessimist. It always made me smile when I encountered his character, because it seemed that nothing could ever happen in Eeyore's life that wouldn't be terrible, and it wasn't the event, but the observer, who determined the outcome. Reading those stories gave me perspective enough to realize I might be able to change my life by changing my viewpoint, and that nothing outside of me would change until I changed my attitude.
This is one of the reasons I love to read well-written novels and memoirs, because reading gives me a different perspective through which to view the world, my own life, and the lives of those around me. When I think back to my twenties, I remember being transported and fundamentally changed by some of the books I read at that time. Going back and re-reading some of them was like reading them for the first time, because I was different, changed by the earlier reading of the story, and no longer either as receptive or innocent as the young girl who was my former self.
Happiness may not be a learned behavior as much as a choice one makes. Just as I bring my mind back again and again to one point in meditation, perhaps the trick to happiness is to choose it over and over.