What is Happiness?

I’ve been gone for a while.

Mentally.

Pressure kept building while I did my best to ignore it.

I stopped caring.

Stopped being happy.

Then someone took a tiny crowbar and entered my heart. Suddenly there was light on the horizon instead of the dark clouds that consumed me so intensely. Happiness once again warmed my skin. Love filled my pores. I realized I still had some purpose.

Sitting in the airport yesterday, she challenged me on something I said. She always challenges me.

It’s bittersweet.

Emotional.

I told her that she makes me want to be better. But did I really know what that meant? I said that I want to have the life where I can make someone else happy.

Seems easy enough, right?

She challenged me. “So for you, being better means making the people you love happy?”

At first I thought a simple, “Yes” was the answer. But I was boarding the plane and had a few minutes to think about it.

At what point does making someone “happy” destroy a relationship? Does it involve avoiding an argument just to make someone happy? Is it conceding just to avoid conversation? Is it the irrational belief that just by saying the right things everything will turn around and be ok?

Maybe I thought so. I’m not sure.

I would be challenged on that statement too.

Getting to my seat on the plane, I understood that’s not happiness.

It’s avoidance.

I’m good at avoiding. Diverting.

I’m happy when I can make someone happy, but not because I am looking for the things that make that person happy. I want happiness to be natural.

No, I NEED it to be natural. It gives me purpose. It gives me life. It gives me love.

Maybe I can overcome my struggles.

There is hope.

Hope.

Not just hope that I can “fix” something…hope that I don’t need to try to use happiness to fix the unfixable.

Hope.

Reflecting on the “what ifs” in life

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After a week in Washington DC, and then a week in Dallas, I decided to take back-to-back four day weekends.

It was VERY needed.

Too many after-hours “get togethers”, hot temps, high humidity, and airports.

One thing that I completely enjoy living here in Montana is the ability to go fishing for some massive trout.

Fishing is an interesting activity, especially when doing it by myself. Each day I spent at least four hours out on the water with nothing to do but think…and recharge.

After the mandatory thoughts about if my bait is still on after casting, do I have enough leader, is it the right bait, and if I should put on bug spray, my mind started wandering to more reflective thoughts.

Mostly I spent many hours thinking about “what if”.

Having just recently turned 42 and dealing with depression, I have been doing a lot of reflecting on my life, and how it would have been different with some of the decisions I made through the years.

Probably the most important decision I made early on was to join the Army. I joined the summer of my senior year in high school, mostly because I really didn’t have any plans for when I graduated. I wasn’t the best student, and honestly I never really considered what was going to happen when I was no longer in school. College wasn’t an interest, but neither was working in fast food.

It’s hard for me to imagine my life had I not joined. The Army allowed me to travel the world. It allowed me to see how my life growing up was really sheltered to the struggles people in other nations suffered. This was way before the Internet age, so the only real knowledge I had about poverty and suffering was the commercials about the drought and starvation happening in Ethiopia. That was basically it.

I knew nothing about Somalia, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, or any other war-torn country. Terrorism was something that was happening in Ireland. Racism and gangs were newspaper articles.

But much of my time reflecting on the “what if” goes back to the day I decided not to reenlist. Where would I be in life had I decided to stay in? As much as I struggled in High School, once I was out I became a sponge for knowledge. I re-took my ASVAB and scored very high. In fact, when it was time to reenlist the recruiter told me that I could have nearly any job I wanted in the Army and could choose whatever base I wanted.

I was seriously considering becoming a combat photographer. But I was too young and dumb and figured I could just get out and become successful wherever I landed.

It was a major wake-up when I landed here in Montana with no skills, no job, and no money.

That was 20 years ago.

A lifetime ago.

Where would I be had I stayed in?

We have been in war forever. People I served with have died in battle. Would that have been me too?

Would I be married? Would I have children?

I know that I wouldn’t have the son I have now. Wyatt is the most important thing in my life. Yes, he even rates above my wife. That may sound harsh, but it’s true. I think she would say the same about me.

That’s one thing that I always thought about in the movie “The Family Man” with Nick Cage. He ends up with the woman he should have, but the children are not there. Yes, they will probably have them, but would they be the same?

I always think back to that time in life when I made that big decision. Many times I think my life may have been better, but a major piece would be missing.

I think I made the right choice.

Death and Grieving as an #Introvert

images3 I’ve really struggled this week to type the words on my screen for a couple of reasons. The first is because I am taking notes on a possible book I am thinking of writing about my life experiences as an introvert working in a professional environment. Writing a book is sort of a bucket list item and I can’t really think of anything else to write about, so there you go. The other is because I have been struggling to find the words for dealing with grief. We’ve all dealt with death before. I consider myself lucky, in sorts. You see, I have seen plenty of death. I’ve seen it happen to people that I didn’t know. I’ve seen it happen to people that deserved it. I’ve seen it happen to plenty of people that didn’t deserve it. My sister passed away from cancer a few years ago. She was almost 40 years old. I wasn’t there for it. My grandfather passed away from a heart attack when I was only a few months old. I never knew him. My grandmother passed away from congestive heart failure back in 1994. I spent nearly every summer at her house learning about yard work and gardening. And cooking. I wasn’t there to see her go through the struggles of life/death because I was away for the Army. In fact, I flew home, had the funeral the next day, and then was back on a flight back to my unit. I wasn’t there. Recently, as in just a couple of months ago, a good friend of ours lost her teenage son to Muscular Dystrophy. I’ve known him since he was born, and watched as this disease destroyed his body. 11263866_10206974926396403_1418449672_n The weekend of his funeral I was out of town with my son at a wrestling tournament. Once again, I wasn’t there. A few years ago my “work wife” (just Google it if you don’t know) lost her baby. It was heartbreaking. She still had to have a C-Section to give “birth”. I cried at work in my little office. My eyes are watery now thinking about the moment I found out. She had, and still does have, the biggest smile of anyone I have ever met. She and her husband are awesome. I talked to her every single day at work about her pregnancy symptoms and the things that my wife (The Hippy) did to help her through the days. Suddenly that wasn’t going to be happy conversation. For weeks I struggled with what to say when she came back to work. Instead, we went to her house and brought some food. When she answered the door she looked broken, but smiled at us. Since the funeral for the teenager who passed from Muscular Dystrophy, two more of our friends (one very close) have been diagnosed with cancer. Our close friend found out she has Stage IV breast cancer. Treatable but not curable. Her daughter is in my son’s kindergarten class and they are best of friends. In a moment of “those things kids say”…we had a conversation with our son about the situation. We wanted him to be somewhat prepared. He’s an extremely bright kid. Makes me proud every single day. He was just selected for Montessori. But the next day at school he went to all of the classmates and told each of them they better be nice to his friend because her mom is going to die. Fortunately our friends understood, but I was still a bit nervous when I called them to give them the heads up before they found out from their daughter. Another mother from one of my son’s friends is also being treated for Cancer. Last week I got a message from someone who I have become Facebook friends with. He lives “across the pond” and was going to visit us in Montana with his wife. They have to delay their trip because his brother-in-law has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and does not have long to live. They have two children. So, needless to say (but since this blog seems to be somewhat therapeutic for me, and hopefully for the few readers), the past couple of months have been weighing on my mind. Remember when I mentioned that I consider myself lucky, in sorts? Well, I said that because I have seen death, but not been with close friends or family as they went through that process. As “luck” would have it, I have not had to deal with it in person up until recently. My conversation with our close friends after my son was sticking up for his friend tore me up inside. I didn’t want to have the conversation to let them know what happened, but they were so awesome about it. You see, the introvert in me doesn’t want to be a part of any of it. I’m not a talker. I don’t know what to say. Change that, I know what to say, but in my mind it’s too clichéd and empty. “So sorry to hear.” “You are in our thoughts.” “If you need ANYTHING, just let us know.” When my “work wife” smiled at us when we went to her house after they lost their baby, I finally had something relevant to say, “I’m so happy to see your smile.” When she came back to work, I told her how happy I was to see her back. I didn’t really have anything else to say. They now have two beautiful sons. It’s tough for anyone to have these conversations with people we care about. Whether it is via Facebook, email, telephone, or in person at a funeral. As an introvert, I pick and choose my words wisely. I would rather say nothing at all rather than say something stupid, or clichéd, or empty. So I struggle. We all struggle. We all grieve differently. It’s not because we don’t care or are indifferent, we would just rather say something truly meaningful from the heart.