“Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.” – William Butler Yeats
I’ve always had a thing for trees – climbing and sitting in a crook, staring up into their highway system of branches, plotting to hide in Disneyland until it closes to secretly live in the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse. For science this year, my kids are studying botany, and I started thinking about going to Sequoia National Park for the ultimate summer vacation. What better way to wrap up a year of botany than experiencing the largest and oldest living things on earth? Then I realized, holy cow! How on earth have they survived over 2,000 years with pests, people, climate changes, and fires? What would it take for them to die? Could they, theoretically, live forever? What’s their secret to living for so long?
Yeats and Bob Ross would have gotten along. Yeats understood that happiness is essentially growth, and Bob Ross looked at a growing tree and saw a “happy tree”.
“We are happiest when we are growing.” No quote has ever launched itself into my psyche like that one did. Over the weekend, I turned 37. I freaking LOVE birthdays! I really don’t understand people who don’t celebrate their birthdays. You’re one of the survivors of the year with all the craziness going on on this hostile planet, and you’re not going to bother with some cake and a party outfit (or better yet, some pie, because that’s really where the magic’s at)?
I always see my birthday as my own personal New Year’s, and I set about with naive hopes to “be awesomer” in the next year. It usually doesn’t add up to much (except my husband’s growing cynicism that the garage will ever get cleaned out, or that I’ll stop wearing PJ’s for most of my day). But something actually clicked last year on my birthday. I took an entirely different approach to life, and it’s got me writing again.
Four years ago, I stopped writing. I went to this “inspirational” blogger’s conference, got completely depressed about my blog, and just walked away from it altogether. But I’m a writer, and I became a writer who was no longer growing. Three years later, I was sitting on my bed without even the ability to tear up as I told Lukus emotionlessly, “I feel like a shell of a person. I’m just going through the motions of survival, but I’m not ALIVE.” Even though I wasn’t writing, I was doing a LOT. I was homeschooling my kids as well as 5 other children in my home, I’d just had a baby, I was helping start up a new prayer group, and my husband and I had just opened a men’s retail store. But when I wasn’t mindlessly checking off my to-do list, I was just sitting in my house all day every day with no motivation to do or care about anything. It took a pretty significant life change to wake me up again.
Last year, our business partner was no longer able to run our fledgling shop, which meant that I’d have to take over. It would be the first time in 8 years that I’d worked outside of our home, and I was thrilled. It was hard rearranging life, especially since we had a toddler and we didn’t want to put our older girls in school. Thankfully, we were able to hodgepodge a “homeschool by proxy” scenario that made it possible.
I LOVED working the shop. It was peaceful (unless I turned up Pandora for a 1-person dance party). I met cool people and felt engaged with our community. I took pride in being a business owner, and best of all, there was plenty of time to read. I was thrilled with my new role and my new life. I was doing something that required new things of me, that challenged me differently than anything else ever had, and that helped me recognize parts of myself that I didn’t know were there. I was growing, and I was feeling awake again.
Then, of course, it was time for yet ANOTHER change. We sold our store, and quite honestly, I’ve been going through withdrawals. I’m back to full-time SAHM status, and that’s a major challenge for me. But I read a good piece of advice once: Whenever one good thing comes to an end, be sure to replace it with another good thing. Otherwise we find that that time has been absorbed back into mindless habits. For me, my “good thing” will always be writing. And this time, I have a much better idea of what it is I’m meant to write about…how to be like a tree: growing, and therefore, by Yeats and Ross’ definition, happy.