January 22, 2009

the pursuit of happiness

There are times when you fritter around in a dull fog waiting for happiness to find you. There are times when it dawns unbidden and radiates everything; you lift your face and glow to the bone. And then there are dark, raw times when you must fumble for a lasso and hoist what's left of you into that tall saddle away-up-there and charge full-gasping-hard after happiness, because the blasted beast is hoofing it for the horizon and it ain't likely to wander back on its own.

Breast cancer taught me about that last one.

Hey, wait a minute. Look at that. How utterly psychiatric of me to conjure up a lasso as a metaphor for this. Because right after I was diagnosed, that ubiquitous pink ribbon looked like nothing but a noose to me. Prior to August 3, 2007, I doubt there was a single pink ribbon under my roof. But within a week they were marching through my door on everything -- cards, books, hospital binders, pamphlets, tshirts, flower arrangements, socks, baseball caps, you name it. They were everywhere. I hated everything about breast cancer and that included all those stupid pink nooses that had invaded my life like sugar ants in a jam factory. I wanted to scream them to shreds, torch them, hack them into pink confetti. Anything to make them go away.

As months passed, I realized my survival had depended on so many things that were funded by pink ribbons. I began to see them not as a noose around my neck but rather as a lasso that charity had laid in my hand.

Did I just digress? Maybe not.

As a survivor I have had to lock down hard on the pursuit of happiness. It's common for cancer survivors to take anti-depressants long-term, particularly in the year after the battle is over and everyone thinks life should get back to normal -- that's when post traumatic stress settles in. That's rough stuff. I don't blame anyone for resorting to the happy pills. But every pain med I took after the surgeries made my life feel like a post-it note with no sticky. I wanted my sticky back. So I passed on the Effexor prescription.

I committed to take happiness seriously. Pray for it. Study it like a school subject. Read Psalms daily and ponder Philippians, the book of joy. I subscribed to The Happiness Project. I searched for quotes about happiness and copied the ones that either rallied my spirits or slapped me upside the head.

That quote collection has been floating down the left margin of this blog for many months, and I've read them over and over. I love those quotes, and they have served me well, but I think it's time for something new. So with this post, I'm moving them out of the margin and into the archives.

“There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy.”
~Robert Louis Stevenson

"For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am in, therewith to be content."
~Paul, in prison (Philippians 4:11)

"You can never get enough of what you don't need to make you happy."
~Eric Hoffer

"The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers."
~M. Scott Peck

"Indeed, man wishes to be happy even when he so lives as to make happiness impossible."

"There can be no happiness if the things we believe in are different from the things we do."
~Freya Stark

"Happiness always looks small while you hold it in your hands, but let it go, and you learn at once how big and precious it is."
~Maxim Gorky

"One filled with joy preaches without preaching."
~Mother Teresa

"Happiness is a form of courage."
~Holbrook Jackson

"It is only possible to live happily ever after on a day to day basis."
~Margaret Bonnano

"The enjoyment of God is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied... Earthly fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, children and earthly friends, are all shadows. But God is the substance. All earthly delights are but scattered beams. But God is the sun. All earthly delights are but streams. But God is the ocean."
~Jonathan Edwards


Melissa said...

Beautiful. Thank you for writing this. I so resonate with everything you said, and know to the bone that hard battle for joy. I, too, held the Effexor and Celexa prescriptions in my hand, then threw them away. Then slogged through the slough, crying out to Jesus, and clinging to His word--sure that there had to be a way back to happiness, with such a Saviour as He is. There's a way. And I'm grateful. I just want to thank you for so eloquently bearing witness.

A blogland friend and fellow sojourner,

Lady Why said...

Thank you for this beautiful post. It blessed me more than you can know!

Julie said...

Thank you so much for your post. Breast cancer touched my life in a different way. I lost my mother after a very brief 29 day battle with cancer. By the time she was diagnosed, the cancer had already spread throughout her body and was at stage 4. Blessedly she did not know. She never asked the stage she was in and so we continued on in hope that she would be better, until the day she ended up in the hospital and died ten hours later.

I was an only child and extremely close to my mother. It has been difficult to sojourn on without her. There are so many times my children will do or say something and I think 'I need to call mom and share...' God is merciful and has placed so many wonderful Titus 2 women in my life, but I still battle with the sadness of losing her.

I cannot claim to know what you have been through and I am sorry you and your family were put to this test. But please know that your wonderful words have helped many people.

Tommy said...

I very much enjoyed reading this post. I would that we all would work so hard to cultivate happiness in our lives.

Lisa said...

My dear sister,

Thank you for this post. I cried tears of sympathy and joy over your words. I've not battled cancer, but I have battled with happiness. After my miscarriages I went through dark and miserable days.

The way I knew that I was coming through, each time, was when I could sing again. I'd catch myself singing a hymn while washing dishes and realise that I was praising the Lord. I didn't necessarily want to be praising the Lord, but I was. :-)

"For the LORD shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody." Isaiah 51:3