The other day a fellow from British Columbia won a $6.5 million lottery. He is an unemployed father with four children. He had a $20 bill in his pocket and he spent $19 of it on the lottery ticket. "It's all based on my dad's numbers. It took 20 years. There have been times I can't play the lottery because I have no money to play, but somehow on that day, everything worked out. My father passed away in 1997, so I feel that my dad has sent me this blessing." He says he doesn’t want the money to go to their heads, but he is going to pay off his bills and now that he can afford passports, he is going to take his wife and family on a trip to Disneyland. The fellow looked so happy when he was receiving his cheque, I was happy for him.
This led to a discussion at work yesterday with several of my co-workers, “What is happiness?” “Can money buy happiness?” Well, yes and no. For me, happiness means the absence of anxiety, and of course, having money takes away a lot of anxiety. A lot...! But I suppose it can also bring new anxieties. I wouldn’t know, however, because I have never experienced that particular problem.
For many years my life was filled with anxieties. After my husband died, I was a single mother during an era when landlords could refuse to allow children to live there, when employers could refuse to hire a single mother, or alternatively, could fire her if her child got sick. I spent so many years tap-dancing from one crisis to another; it was all I could do to maintain some semblance of normalcy. My main concern was that my daughter was healthy, well-educated, and had childhood fun. She was a very bright, funny, intelligent child, but sometimes I felt completely inadequate, and my anxieties ruled my very existence. I was in a constant state of worry. Worry, worry, worry... And then one day, several years ago, I woke up one morning and realized that many of my worries and anxieties had fallen away. I felt this very strange, foreign feeling. What was this odd feeling? Happiness... I felt happy, serene, and content. And the feeling lasted -- first for one day, then a week, and then a few weeks...
Could this be for real? I didn’t have any more money than I had before; nothing in my life had changed. But then I realized I had changed. Oh, I am still a worrier, believe me – but my overall feeling is not one of discontent or despondency, but rather of contentment. What on earth has caused this? I have no idea. I do know that I have learned to be happy with the smaller things in life, rather than the extravagant. I’m happy when I open my mail box and find my New Yorker magazine there. I’m happy when I get a good night’s sleep. I’m happy when my friends and family are safe, healthy and enjoying their lives. But I also understand that awful feeling of anxiety, and its two cousins, depression and ennui. They can stop folks from living and enjoying their lives.
Sketch with Trees
There is a theory that folks can teach themselves to laugh, and they will automatically feel happy – fake it till you make it. Perhaps there is something to that theory. As my mother used to say, “Life is short, and you’re dead a long time...” We should learn to enjoy this wonderful gift of life, and not let the anxieties get in the way of our daily enjoyment. I know that is sometimes difficult to do, and I suppose it depends on where our priorities lie. If you get the chance today, stop and smell the roses, or go for a walk and crunch leaves, or listen to your favourite music – whatever makes you happy. We still can’t change all the awful things that life sometimes throws at us, but we can learn to balance the good with the bad, the sunlight and shadow, the yin and the yang. It's our choice. I wish I had learned that lesson years ago, but it’s never too late.