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Yesterday, another blogger, some twenty years younger than I, asked me this question. I wrote back and let her know that I needed some time to think through an answer but that I would get back to her soon. And I did. But the answer did not come readily or easily.

Fifty years ago, I was a young mother with a toddler, the sunshine of my life. We were living in a shack, a tiny two-bedroom house with plywood for siding and walls that didn’t quite meet the ceiling in places. My former husband and I were university students trying to earn our teaching certificates. I brought in some income by cleaning for a wealthy woman who had cancer, and he worked the swing shift at a lumber mill. Late afternoons and early evenings were my oasis in a desert of hard work and stress—all I was required to do was to enjoy my young son. Just as an oasis in a desert of sand and burning sun makes the journey tolerable, that time spent with my son made my day bearable.

During those early years as wife and mother, I knew—or thought I knew—that once we earned our teaching credentials and found work, our living circumstances would steadily change for the better. I dreamed of a future that included living in a nice house in a small town where our son and any future children we might have could grow up and enjoy life and where, later, my husband and I would enjoy a retirement that included taking trips to exotic locations and simply growing old together, financially secure and happy in our relationship. When my dreams came true, I would truly be happy—so I thought.

My dream of future happiness seemed entirely reasonable at the time, and it appeared to have a good chance of becoming reality. After all, I didn’t want anything outrageous like a yacht or a mansion—I just wanted lasting, loving relationships with my spouse and children, relationships that would withstand the ups and downs of life and be comforting in our old age. What I did not know was that my dreams of the future were preventing me from seeing the reality of my present, that in the then-present, I was locked into a domestic violence situation and my children and I were suffering. After each incident of abuse, I would say to myself, “But if I just try harder to keep the peace, things will get better. Then we will be happy.”

And then one day shortly before Easter in 1981, all my dreams of future happiness evaporated before my eyes, suddenly, like the poof of smoke that obscures the reality of a magician’s trick: I walked in on my former husband as he was in the act of abusing our daughter and saw and felt the terror on my daughter’s face. Later, as I dialed the police station to report my husband’s behavior, I knew profound changes were coming, and they did come.

I was totally unprepared, however, to see my dream of future happiness disappear before my eyes. Never would I realize my dream of growing old with my spouse, taking trips, and “riding off into the sunset” together. That was NOT going to happen! I could no longer say to myself, “But if I just try harder to keep the peace, things will get better. Then we will be happy.” That dream was gone, gone, gone! And I had no replacement for it. Nope! The present was all I had, and I was forced to deal with it. If you have read my series of essays titled “Fallout,” you know that I did deal with the then-present, and you know the extent to which my dreams changed after I placed that call to the police. You know my story.

As a retired psychologist friend says, “With awareness comes change,” and she is so right! Through my own introspection and determined efforts in therapy, I have become aware of my past reality, much of it, at any rate. I say this with reservations because it seems that when I think there are no more shadows waiting in the wings of my psyche, one will emerge and take center stage. Now, at my present age of 74 and considering my present degree of inner awareness, the nature of my dreams has changed, and along with that change has come a change in my experience of happiness.

For one thing, at this stage of my life, both my dreams and my happiness are now, right now. I divorced in 1983 (see “Fallout”) and have remained single. I decided on that August day in 1983, after returning from the courthouse where I signed the final papers, that my priorities were to be 1. raising my daughter and 2. becoming my own best friend. Those two priorities have guided my life for the past thirty years.

When I left for graduate school in 1987, I felt that I had done all I could to prepare my daughter for her life as an adult—she was almost twenty and was living in her own apartment—and it was time for me to focus on my own life. Between the years of 1987 and 2010, I earned graduate degrees and enjoyed a thirteen-year teaching career which I loved. While going to school and teaching, I spent time in therapy and gained some understanding of my past. Until I found my present therapist in 2010, however, and received a focused diagnosis and effective help, I seemed to make slow progress toward becoming my own best friend. Since I have been freed from the demands of work and have been seeing my present therapist, though, I have made quantum leaps in getting to know myself and becoming my own best friend.

So, finally, after all these years and all these words, am I happy? Yes, I believe I am. Somehow, my innate curiosity about life and the tendency to always seek out the good in my experience have survived the tumult of my childhood and twenty-year marriage, and those traits have helped me keep my head above water and have saved my life, my sanity, and my ability to experience happiness and contentment.

Now I am happy in the moment, or if not in the moment, I am happy at the thought of the very near future. Where once my happiness relied on thoughts of what might be in the far distant future, I now can find my enjoyment in anticipating a special movie arriving in my mailbox in the next few hours. And then, as I watch the movie, I am content to be sitting in my recliner and simply watching the movie. The thought of eating lunch with a friend makes me feel happy, and when the time comes, I find myself happy being with the person and enjoying our conversation. I am happy when I post an article to my blog because just thinking that perhaps somebody will find my message useful in some way makes me happy.

So after all this verbiage, my very short answer to my blogger friend’s “Are you happy?” is “Yes, I am.” Call me a “thrifty keeper” or “Pollyanna”—I don’t need much to be happy. I am happy because I have chosen to be happy. That choice is available to everyone. Becoming my own best friend has helped me identify that choice and embrace it.

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