A few years ago, I decided to eliminate the word “happy” from my vocabulary.
After spending my entire life wanting to be “happy” and never succeeding, I realized that I set myself up for failure. Happy was always something I wasn’t. It was never achievable.
Without looking to be happy or wondering why I am so unhappy, I simply exist. Suddenly, I stopped wondering what was wrong with me because I had no imaginary construct to strive toward that I was always just short of achieving. It was the closest that I’d ever become to being…well, happy. When you eliminate “happy” from the world, there is no such thing as unhappiness.
It’s hard to eliminate “happy” from your dialogue.
Think about it:
Are you happy?
Is she happy?
Is she really happy?
You seem so happy.
I’m so happy to see him so happy.
I just want to be happy.
And of course, the big one: what makes you happy?
I haven’t used the word “happy” in so long that the question takes me by surprise, but instead of turning my nose up at it, I decided to stop and think about it. I didn’t have to think too long.
Meet Alistair Peck.
Alistair is a now a two year old ball of white fluff with four legs, floppy ears and a wagging tail. I can say this with complete certainty as his tail is almost always wagging.
He sometimes smells.
He barks to protect you from the vacuum cleaner. He has an unexplainable fondness for a stuffed animal named “Lion.” He likes to give kisses (although I’m sure he is just licking your face). When you’re upset, he knows to come sit in your lap. And I can say very clearly, very confidently, that he makes me happy.
Before Alistair came into my life, I watched family members, coworkers and friends talk, first, of baby fever and then give birth, and I felt nothing. Meanwhile, I was crippled with jealousy walking by the dog park watching dog owners play with their dogs.
I assumed one day I would wake up and maternal instinct would come over me like Prince Charming and a big house and a white picket fence. None of those things came. Neither did happiness.
But Alistair showed up. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Sometimes I think I shouldn’t be happy because I don’t have the rest of it: the prince, the house, the full-time job with benefits (I am writing this at a time I definitely don’t have that), the children. But I wonder if the unhappiness caused by the lack of these things is my unhappiness at all, or if it’s society’s impression of what exactly “happy” is.
Ever since the concept of marriage has turned from a financial agreement to a romantic notion—or because the concept of marriage has turned from a financial agreement to a romantic notion—women have been complaining that society’s expectations of them are unrealistic. No matter what niche a woman falls into: single spinster, single mother, working mother, lesbian lover—she complains that she is expected to achieve an unrealistic ideal set forward by society.
And yet, even women (and men) who don’t believe in marriage (because it originated as a financial agreement and then turned into a romantic notion), or who won’t get married because not everyone can get married, are looking for a partnership.
My most feminist friends, my most anarchist acquaintances, are still looking to find The One.
And so, when you haven’t found the one, and on some days, you don’t care to look, you feel even worse about yourself than you already do because you aren’t married, don’t own a house or have a job, don’t have a significant other or don’t have or can’t have or don’t want children.
Different people need different things. We all have different sized holes to fill in our lives and we all have different ways to fill them.
Most people choose courtship, marriage, buy the house and have the kids. Some people are genuinely content with this route. Some find solace in homosexual relationships, non monogamous lifestyles, or sexual relations with no commitments. Or some combination of all of the above. And what makes most people unhappy with other people’s choices is usually what makes them uncomfortable. And so they judge.
Instead of figuring out where the holes in my life come from and trying to fill them, I would like to think that they belong there. Holes are good. They make us who we are. There’s no such thing as complete. We are never done, never finished, never whole. Whole is like happy.
Yesterday morning, I was walking Alistair down my block and a woman coming toward us kneeled down to accept his wet, sloppy licks on her face.
“You know, I like the four legged babies,” she said.
“Me too,” I replied.
“You know, I like them better than the two legged ones,” she said.
“Me too,” I replied.
“That’s why God made it so I can’t have any babies,” she said.
“Me too,” I replied.
She got up, Alistair and I said goodbye and we were on our way. All three of us, I’m certain, in that moment were present. We were filled with joy. We were…happy.
Editor: Brianna Bemel
Jennifer Leah Peck is a writer, teacher and arts administrator. Her elephant journal blog focuses on women’s health and sexual issues based on her own experience with endometriosis. As a fiction writer, she never thought she had any non fiction writing to share; now she wishes she didn’t. Jenn writes and lives in South Philadelphia with her dog, Alistair Peck.