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Happiness: a work-in-progress. Photo by Flickr user Aline Tavernier (Creative Commons license).

Happiness: a work-in-progress. Photo by Flickr user Aline Tavernier (Creative Commons license).

I still can’t eat solid food without ouch. Every second of my day is planned. I live with my parents. All my money belongs to someone else. Life was bad for a few years. Damn if I’m not somehow happy, though.

I had that thought yesterday while sharing a chocolate malt milkshake with my son. I thought, I’m happy. Then I thought, Where did that come from? Then, How do I know that?

Maybe it doesn’t matter how I know, but maybe it does. I started digging into it. Here’s what I came up with:

  1. No matter what is happening—in the world, in my life, or in my chaotic brain—I return and return and return to the page. Writing is my constant. It’s the most me thing about me. I have written through the best and worst times of my life. It doesn’t leave me, and no one can take it from me.
  2. My boy needs me to be happy, and my boy makes me happy, even when he’s being a little stinkbomb of contrariness. Being happy for someone else can be incredibly difficult, but when that someone else is a child, your child, who is genuinely happy himself? It’s easier.
  3. All the bullshit is temporary. Somehow, I’ve managed to remember that. I will eat again. No one ever has enough money. Life WAS bad, but I’m healing. Anxiety and panic attacks don’t last forever (right?), and there are real, practical things I can do to manage them (right.).
  4. Little things make me smile again. Like chocolate malt milkshakes. Like baby deer eating in the yard. My boy picking me a flower. Reading in the sun. Making all the green lights while speeding out of town to go to the lake. My friends publishing books. And they aren’t wistful smiles, like, I wish I could truly enjoy this but I can’t because everything else sucks. They’re wow, who cares about all that other stuff that sucks?
  5. Slowly but surely, my confidence is returning. I trust the sound of my own voice. I trust the decisions I make. I trust my gut. Yes, I second-guess and fret and worry—some days way too much. But I know the difference between worrying about a decision I’ve made and being too afraid to make a decision. It’s a huge difference. I act now, daily, and know I’ll survive all the outcomes, large and small. If there’s one thing I do besides write, it’s survive.

Some days are happier than others. Some nights are long and sleepless. Sometimes I look in the mirror and I don’t look happy—but I recognize myself.

So there it is. Knowing myself, being myself, even while chaos swirls around me, is my definition of happiness.

What’s yours?