Home Articles Happiness is … (Reflections on life and parenting)

Happiness is … (Reflections on life and parenting)

I’ve been making a list of beautiful things.

I don’t know why I started this project. I suppose it was to remind myself of all that’s good in this world on days when I need reminders. I’m not sure the decision was quite that conscious or deliberate. I just started listing, and it’s taken on a life of its own.

Here are a few highlights:

14. Notre Dame Cathedral. I was lucky enough to visit this masterpiece of architecture the summer before it caught fire. The fact that I will never see it again the way that it was then makes me sad. But remembering the beauty of the French people standing before the burning building arm-and-arm, singing, is part of Notre Dame’s magnificence.

25. Ice cream. I love the way people’s faces light up when they are handed a cone heaped with their favorite flavor. Young children and the elderly, I have noticed, get the most excited. I think perhaps only when you are very young or you are very old do you truly understand the exquisite perfection of ice cream.

26. Fireworks on the 4th of July. There is something lovely about the fact that Americans from all walks of life still stop everything to sit together in the grass side-by-side to stare up at the sky and quietly ooh and aah over the glory of fireworks.

102. Ferris wheels and swings. Ferris wheels have lights and are gorgeous at night. And as for swings, I love all swings, but especially the swing carousels that spin in circles at the fair. When I hold my arms out like an airplane, it’s the closest I have ever come to experiencing the sensation of flying. I lumped them together, because that’s how it should be.

207. Hammocks. Some of the best afternoons of my life were spent in a hammock, and the mere glimpse of a net slung between two poles, or better yet, two trees, always makes me happy, even if no one is using it. The promise of the hammock is always there.

Why am I sharing excerpts from my list? It’s because I have realized something lately — something I wish I would have considered earlier.

When I was a new mother, there was so much I worried about. I knew I needed to protect my children — keep them safe and alive. I wanted them to be healthy, to have sleep and eat nutritious foods. I felt it was my job to teach them things: practical lessons and moral ones, too. And I wanted to instill in them self-confidence — the kind that would get them to try for the things they really wanted and the resilience to bounce back when they didn’t accomplish what they set out to do.

But, like most parents, what I wished for more than anything was for my children to be happy. I have come to realize that happiness isn’t something you accomplish. Rather you discover it, like when you decide to pick up that pretty shell at the beach, and you take the time to stop and admire it for its beauty.

Happiness is exactly like that. You find it in the tiny things that surround you, but you have to pay attention.

Many people confuse happiness with joy. Joy is fleeting. It’s delicious and amazing, but it doesn’t stay with you the way happiness does. Joy is Christmas morning. Happiness is a dog snuggling with you on the couch. One happens to you and is momentary. The other you participate in, and it lasts.

The best way to give your children happiness is for you to find it yourself. The next step is to share it with them. Sit with them on the beach at sunset. Go for a walk in the desert after the rain. Read a book together. Play in the mud. These are the things they will remember.

And they will learn to discover happiness themselves. And share it with others — even you.

It’s the single greatest gift you can give your kids. And yourself. So, I guess I’m glad I started this list. I only hope that it never ends.

301. Cartwheels.

402. Bonfires.

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