Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Secret to Happiness

I usually try to save up all my bad luck and blow it all at once in one long day.  It’s kind of like getting immunized against the flu, the mumps, the measles, the chickenpox, and the plague in one big old mother of a shot.  I figure after that I should be good for a couple of years before another wave of wonderful heads my way.

Here’s the problem—I’m not in charge of Trouble.  And Trouble has a mind of its own.

So what’s the crisis this time?  Another expensive car repair. We took our truck in to the mechanic for a little ol’ brake job and some routine maintenance.  He said it should be two hundred dollars less than it ended up costing us. And I responded, this check should be good at the bank.  He didn’t even smile as he handed me the keys to our gold plated Chevy.

If we weren’t mechanically challenged, we could handle things like this ourselvSes and save the cost of labor.  But the love of my life and I have something in common—we don’t know how to fix stuff. We’ve tried, believe me, but we gave it up years ago for the sake of our marriage. I’m no good at fixing busted things (I don't even like to sew buttons back on), and my husband resigned as part-time handyman after I asked him if we could afford for him to make any more repairs.  I had to give back my Wife of the Year award after that.

When things break down, I break down.  Okay, I panic.   

Like that time when we smelled smoke in our house.  My husband is a fireman.  It’s a really bad idea for a fireman’s house to burn down—it’s so embarrassing.  We had no idea where the burned wiring smell was coming from, but I was pretty sure it was something electrical. 

That narrowed it down. 

I ran back and forth through the house, trying to think what to grab if the whole place suddenly burst into flames and came up with . . . pretty much nothing.  It was late evening, and I was more worried about being bra-less than homeless, so I put one on under my jammies, grabbed my wedding rings, and ran outside with a flashlight. I had no plan, but I was clothed and bejeweled. 

The Rock of Gibraltar under pressure—that’s me.

Once, years ago, the dishwasher broke and, as gallons of water spewed out from under the sink flooding our whole kitchen, I stood in fascination—completely paralyzed—waiting for the water to stop of its own accord.  When it didn’t, I began running back and forth from the front door to the kitchen with my head in my hands moaning, “I don’t know what to do! I don’t know what to do!”  My teenage son, meanwhile, went outside and shut off the water at the main valve, and my daughter grabbed towels to mop up Noah’s flood.  Together, they singlehandedly shored up the dam.

At least I raised smart kids.

I am worthless in a crisis, I tell you.  If it wasn’t for the doctors in the delivery room, there’s no telling how long I’d have stayed pregnant before doing the intelligent thing and giving birth.

I’ve discovered the root of the problem, though. It’s that little phrase, should be.  It sounds so harmless.  But don’t be fooled.  It’s not. It’s as deadly as a two-year-old with the sniffles. Just cozy up to that little bit of innocence, and you might as well cross two weeks off your calendar right now, cuz you’re going down.  And it’ll be ugly.

Things are never as they should be.  If things were as they should be, chocolate would have no calories, clocks would have no faces, and good novels would have no endings.  Gas would cost us pennies, houses would be self-cleaning, and teenagers would all be grateful.  Government would be intelligent, nothing would be clearly ambiguous, and mornings would always be good.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve fallen under the spell of unrealistic expectations.  That’s where disappointment comes from.  Not from your husband. Not from your wife. Not from learning the truth about Santa.   

Disappointment comes from unrealistic expectations.

The secret to happiness is having realistic expectations.  I don’t usually know what those look like—reference Paragraph One above—but I’ll try to take a stab at it.

Realistically, you must understand that everything you need to get to work on time is going to break down at exactly the moment you pull out of the driveway.  That’s Murphy’s Law—if something can go wrong, it will go wrong. My husband says that the law of our house is that Murphy was an optimist. But you know you’ll get through it just like always, so stop running back and forth with your head in your hands crying, “I don’t know what to do!

In other words, don't be like me.

Does this mean we shouldn’t hope for a brighter day?  Nope. All this means is that I had a bad day today and then I came home and whined for twelve hundred words at your expense because I ran out of chocolate.  Writing has fewer calories than chocolate.  But chocolate has fewer readers.  And, it’s possible, that after you finish reading this tome, I will have fewer readers, too. So let me leave you with these words of wisdom written by a bunch of cowards too afraid to take credit for them. 

Keep smiling, and one day life will get tired of upsetting you.”

Well, that’s just stupid.  Life lives to upset you.  Let’s try again. 

Always ask God to give you what you deserve and not what you desire. Your desires may be few, but you deserve a lot.”  

Are you kidding me??  He’s not Aladdin’s Lamp, you know.  And do you know how nice He’s already been to me?  If He gave me what I deserve, there’d just be an oily spot on the ground where I used to be. That’s the last thing I’m asking for. Where do they come up with these things?  One last try. 

Life is like a kaleidoscope, you get lots of views. So forget what people say and cheer up.

Well, I don’t even know what that means.  Forget what people say and cheer up?  Because life is a kaleidoscope?  That’s what you get when you listen to strangers on the internet. Nothing but nonsense. Thanks, but I’ll just wing it from here.

I think when life gives you lemons and then knocks over your pitcher of lemonade, you just go get a mop and clean it up.  You don’t have to break down.  But in case you do, don’t beat yourself up for feeling disappointed.  And stop listening to folks who keep trying to should on you.  All you need to be happy again is to do what I do. That's not the same as being like me.  Don't be like me.  Just do what I do. 

I climb inside my gold-plated Chevy, drive up to my favorite barista's gold-plated window, put five bucks down on the counter and repeat this mantra:

 I’ll have a café-mocha vodka-valium latte to go, please.

I’ve said it twice this morning.   I feel better already. 


  1. I love it! Oh, after a few sleepless nights with a sick kid and all manner of craziness around here, this was just in time. For what it's worth, I'm only useful in other people's crises; I turn into a puddle of tears in the face of my own. I've found that a bottle of red works just as well as the mocha vodka valium... in my humble opinion. :)

    1. There's nothing as exhausting as a week of nights with a sick baby. :( Hang in there - and enjoy that bottle of red with a little chocolate chaser!

  2. I never cease to see the irony in my life. I am the voice of calm in some people's worst nightmare. I'm the ear that hears and the lifeline they cling to. But give me a small flood in my house, an unknown clunk in my car, a friend failing to reciprocate in an expected manner, or even being too pressed for time due to my own procrastination... And I'm trumped. I internally curl up into the fetal position, pull the covers of self pity over my head, and blast a morose cacophony of "what am I gonna do NOW?!" over the loudspeakers in my mind.
    It really is a darn shame that I can't keep even keeled perspective when I actually need it.
    Thanks for the encouragement! Definitely a word I could bear hearing a few times.

    1. I think that's why we need one another, Mendy. We need a voice of reason when we get hit from behind - we need somebody to have our backs. It's always easier to comfort others in crisis because it isn't OUR nightmare - it's theirs. I sometimes feel ashamed of my meltdowns. But I've lived long enough now to have seen that EVERYONE has a melting point. There's nothing wrong with disappointment. There's nothing right about becoming a defeatist, either. But honesty about not having it all together? That's priceless. Next time you get ready to party to the sound of a morose cacophony, call me in for back up - I'll bring the lattes!