Default: Happy

Image by Moyan_Brenn, via Flickr

There are two basic states of being: default happy and default unhappy.

This is the insight that leaped out at me me almost as soon as I started reading Chade-Meng Tan last week. Some people are happy all the time, except when something bad happens to them. Other people are unhappy always, unless something good has just happened.

Christian and I have a running joke about “brooding artists.” I know a few of them, and sometimes I am one. It occurs to me that my whole life, I have been a “default-unhappy” person. Always a little melancholy, always searching for what went wrong, rather than what went right, when thinking back over a day or an event.

This is not who I want to be.

I realized most of the people in the world who drive me crazy do so because they’re never happy. That unhappiness may manifest in different ways–neediness and abrasiveness are the two that come to mind first—but at the heart, it’s basically default-unhappiness.

I don’t want to be that person.

I want to be a person who wakes up in the morning, walks through my days, and goes to bed more or less happy with my life and circumstances. Because that is what we were meant for. We weren’t made for regret and self-flagellation, for scowls and feeling like the victim at every moment. We weren’t meant to carry around a vague anxiety like a backpack we can’t take off (or, since we are a superhero family: like Doc Oc, fused forever to his metal arms).

So I’m embracing this concept of meditation, and finding that it is virtually identical to what I first learned when I was trying to deal with anxiety issues. Then, I called it “letting go.” Now, it is part of every morning I spend sitting in nature, attempting to quiet my mind and be still in the presence of God. It reminds me a lot of what Thomas Merton talked about in Seeds of Contemplation. The difference is that this is more practical in its instructions, and so I feel like I have some guidance, instead of stumbling around trying to find my way on my own.

It’s been a week, and although I’ve still gotten angry with my children, I feel like my anger has been well in my control, and possible for me to let go of quickly afterward, instead of ruling the next several hours. I am pausing frequently during my day to take stock, when I feel that default-unhappy trying to kick in, and release it. And Christian and I are recognizing that there is value in this for our increasingly bickering children, too. So as of last night, we’re making it a part of family bedtime prayer routine.

Will it help the eleven- and seven- year olds get along better, and teach the four-year-old to find his inner empath? Only time will tell. But it seems like a better option than trying to discipline it into them.