Sitting at home on a Sunday afternoon, I heard my phone buzz from the other room. New text message. I ignored it for a while to read my book, but the lure of an outstanding message was too strong. When I got to the kitchen to read it, I saw it was from a good friend.
Are you happy?
At first, I found the question odd. People don’t generally text me questions like that. I wasn’t sure if this was some kind of set up or joke he was playing on me. I responded:
Ummm….generally yes, but I feel like there’s more to this question. Or should I clap my hands?
Naturally, I turned to humor and deflection versus vulnerability. We texted back and forth a bit, and I even turned the question on him thinking maybe he needed to talk about whether or not he was happy.
Once I realized his question was sincere, I pondered it for a while and thought about my current situation. The past year gave us plenty of unrest in the news, but also in my personal life. I lost a long relationship, lost my grandmother, watched my other grandmother lose her memory, watched my 11-year-old niece severely break her leg, and watched my sister say goodbye to her beloved dog. Don’t get me wrong, I had a lot of incredibly amazing and positive experiences in the past 12 months, too, but the negatives felt thicker than usual last year. In a lot of ways, I felt lost and unsettled.
But I asked myself anyway, “What do I have to be happy about?” And you know what? Thoughts started flooding in — so much so that I stood there with a smile on my face and realized, below the fog of chaos, how great my life really is. I thought of the fortune (yes, from a cookie) that I have on my refrigerator reminding me, “You have so much to be thankful for.”
As a regular to meditation and actively doing my best to cultivate gratitude (sometimes more successfully than others), this was one of those moments of clarity for which I strive — all from a text message that brought me back to what’s really important. I wasn’t unhappy before he texted, but I wasn’t actively aware of my happiness until he reminded me to think about it.
So I texted him back:
My full answer is I’m definitely happy. My life is packed with things to be grateful for. I have the best family on the planet, amazing friends, a house of my own, a great job, my health, the freedom to travel and see the world. What’s not to be happy about? Am I satisfied? Not always. But am I happy? Fuck yes.
I realized that it’s not only ok, but also realistic to be both happy in life and unsatisfied with your current state of affairs. In fact, not being satisfied can help drive you toward greater things. Life may not be sunshine and rainbows all the time, but I still own my happiness. I alone can create it or lose it by allowing external factors to shade my perspective on life.
Thinking about it later, I appreciated that his simple question (or deep question, depending on how you look at it) made me stop to be present with all the things that bring me joy. It let the two of us connect in a way that wasn’t typical for us. More than anything, it inspired me to ask others the same question to help them remember the things in their lives for which they’re grateful. Happiness is contagious. Spread it like wildfire.
Originally published at medium.com