My husband got a call yesterday asking whether our family would be willing to be interviewed at home by ABC News for a report on large families and happiness. Our toddler refuses to wear pants when he is at home, so I am thinking that it was prudent of us to decline. However, just thinking about it has left me pondering two important questions:
First, am I happy?
Second, how does my understanding of happiness compare to what an ABC producer might spin as a happy family?
I know enough about sociology to know that how I really feel is not statistically relevant to an actual study, so what follows is not an attempt to justify or refute any sort of research, just a bit of public naval gazing, exactly the kind that my husband would prefer to avoid. Then again, his public self expression comes in the form of Japanese poetry about Philadelphia sports, so who should be more embarrassed?
When I am really honest, I have to admit that my happiness is quite easily shaken. In a very human way, I am happy with the first sip of a gingerbread latte and unhappy when I look at the laundry pile, etc. But on this feast of the Immaculate Conception, I also know that with a large family I go to bed each night worn out and sometimes worried, but content in a very deep way because I am confident that I have said to God, in the big decisions of my life, Thy Will Be Done. When I lay awake unhappy it is usually because I can think of lots of small chances I had that day to say “yes” to the Lord and failed, and I am trying to teach myself to rely on Confession and a fresh start, and to accept God’s forgiveness.
My temperament tends toward melancholy, it runs in my family, so happiness is something that I have to really try hard for most days. One of the ways that I do this is to limit my exposure to the outside world. I know that for extroverts this would backfire, but for me it is just happiest to be at home, on my own schedule, thankful for what I have, reading to the children by the fire. When I go out in the world I tend to do too much coveting and comparing, and I also find it sort of exhausting. When I get cabin fever, I am well served by taking my children on a nature walk or long bike ride rather than out to a busy playground or shopping center.
Today is an out in the world day for us. Mass feels like something that we have to “fit in” between a birthday party, ballet, piano lessons, and a doctrine class. The stress of having to be in several places at once this afternoon has been weighing on me all week. The problem was solved by one phone call this morning and a tough decision — the children who have piano at the same time as the birthday party will go to piano and not the birthday party. The children who are supposed to nap during the birthday party will go home for a nap and miss the party. The children who do not have other obligations will be dropped off at the party and then picked up by grandfather. The present will come out of the stash in my closet and be imperfectly wrapped by a child. Dinner will be a casserole out of the freezer (Thank God for that!). These are some keys for my sanity — stick to the schedule, say no, ask for help, prepare in advance. Later on, I will take the girls to ballet, where it happens to be observation day, and I will get a gingerbread latte and watch my girls dance and I will be happy.