Happiness and Contentment

In a book I’m reading, a character described herself as happy but not contented or satisfied. Can you be happy if you’re not content? I thought happiness and contentment were pretty much the same though, though some people equate happiness with a more robust feeling than contentment, sort of like an inner effervescence that bubbles outwardly to affect those around them.

But then, what do I know. I say I’m happy, but what I really am is at peace, contented, grateful, accepting of my life. Anything more than that, at least to me, seems to be overkill. People make a lot of effort to be happy, though happiness was never my goal in life. I was more interested in reading, learning, trying to lead a meaningful life. I do enjoy the moments of effervescence, though there’s always a letdown afterward, but I don’t live for them.

Unless I’m wrong about what happiness is?

(A pause here while I look up “happiness” in an online dictionary.)

Well, that sure was productive! According to the definition I found, happiness is the state of being happy. Sheesh. So I looked up “happy.” “Happy” is defined as an enjoyable or satisfied state of being.

Now, of course, I’m more confused. Or maybe the author of that book was. Unless by “happy” the author meant being problem-free, able to get or to do whatever one wants? The character certainly had that, at least up to the point where she was killed, ostensibly for being too happy.

I don’t suppose it really matters what happiness is, how it is defined, if we pursue it or wait until it finds us. It’s something each of us knows we have.

Actually, no. That’s not true. Studies have shown that happiness is found mainly in retrospect. When someone is involved in a challenging situation that takes all their time and energy, they don’t realize until later they were happy. In fact, often while going through this “happy” situation, people think they are decidedly unhappy.

So what does it all mean? Who knows. I don’t, and that author sure didn’t. Maybe you do?


What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

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In Between

I’m sitting here at the computer, playing endless games of solitaire, and dozing off. I didn’t even know it was possible to fall asleep at the computer, but I have a hunch I could fall asleep anywhere right now. The long days of caring for my father must have been more stressful and exhausting than I thought. Or maybe it’s that for the first time in more than a decade I don’t have to listen for calls of distress from the old and/or dying. There is only me in this borrowed house (borrowed from my father’s napestate pending probate and sale). There are no life or death matters to take care of, nothing major for me to accomplish (though I have a few minor obligations and things I promised to do).

During these years of caring for my father, I often blogged about my plans and possibilities for after he was gone, but at the moment, I have no desire to do anything but just float through my days, dealing with whatever comes my way. And to dance, of course.

Someday soon I’ll have to pack and put my stuff in storage in preparation for . . . I don’t know what. But now, there is no reason to do anything unless I feel like it.

I’ve always loved these in-between times. I remember as a child only being happy walking to or from school. It was a joy to leave the house in the morning, and a joy to leave school in the afternoon. But being either place didn’t particularly thrill me.

Some of the best times Jeff (my now deceased life mate/soul mate) and I had were when we packed up all our stuff, moved out of whatever house or apartment we were living, and headed across country to find a new place to live with no clear idea of where we were going. Leaving gave us such a wonderful sense of freedom that was all too soon offset by the need to find a place to live. I remember a truck stop in Utah, a motel in Iowa next to a rain puddle as big as a pond, a traveler’s oasis in Nebraska. All prosaic places that brought us a night of happiness.

And now here I am, in transition once more.

I understand now why I don’t want to settle down anywhere, why no place (except the dance studio) brings any thought of joy — being settled seems to be a sort of entrapment for me, and I am through being trapped. I suppose it’s silly to think this way — we are trapped in so many different ways — trapped in our minds, our ever-aging bodies, our society, our laws — that the secret must be to find freedom and wonderful possibilities within the entrapment.

But tonight is not a time to think of such things. It’s a time to bask in the quiet freedom, to know that these walls don’t bind my life, to feel the flutter of possibilities. And, apparently, a time to fall asleep at the computer.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.


Life After the Death of a Soul Mate

What I love most about blogging is that sometimes when I start writing a post, new or buried thoughts percolate to the surface, ending up on the page and surprising me with insights. Yesterday, when I wrote Living Offline, I had no idea I was starting to look forward to the rest of my life. I’ve kept my head down, plodding along, trying new things, meeting new people, visiting new places, and apparently, somewhere along the line, I went through a renewal of sorts.

Many people who had gone through a grievous loss have told me that it takes three to five years to find a renewed interest in life, and so it is with me. In just a few days, it will be three years and seven months since the death of my life mate/soul mate, and I find myself involved deeply in life, not just with such difficult matters as looking out for my 96-year-old father and dealing with problematic family members, but also with taking care of myself and my well-being.

Sierra Club conditioning walkI’m physically active, eat right, and have accidentally become part of an intelligent and talented coterie. I say “accidentally” because when I joined a group of walkers, I didn’t expect to end up going to art shows that feature members’ work, hearing one member in a choir of madrigal singers, and seeing others dance. Because of these people, I’ve also learned not to fear old age. Although people of all ages walk with us, some of the most active members could be considered elderly, but I can barely keep up with those in their seventies. I have no idea what life has is in store for me, of course, but I do know that getting older doesn’t necessarily mean getting feeble. It just takes a bit of luck and a lot of physical activity and mental stimulation.

Grief goes in cycles, so chances are I will still be experiencing occasional grief surges (especially on the weekends when I can’t feast on the endorphins and friendship of the group walk), but now I know the truth: there is life after the death of the person who connected you to the world. There is even laughter. Maybe even joy.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

There Are Worse Things Than Not Being Happy

The other day I saw a quote on Facebook: Just because I am laughing, it doesn’t mean I’m happy. Just because I’m smiling, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to cry. I just believe in not emphasizing the negative.

There are worse things than not being happy — living a lie, for example. According to a team of researchers led by Iris Mauss at the University of Denver, “Valuing happiness is not necessarily linked to greater happiness. In fact, under certain conditions, the opposite is true. Under conditions of low (but not high) life stress, the more people valued happiness, the lower were their hedonic balance, psychological well-being, and life satisfaction, and the higher their depression symptoms.”

In other words, living a lie and pretending to be happy is exhausting and stressful and can make you even more unhappy.

Other studies have shown that we are seldom happy in the present. We are happy in retrospect. Think of some of the happy times in your life. Back then, were you aware you were happy? Chances are, you were involved in living and didn’t bother to stop to think how you were feeling. Happiness is elusive. If we go chasing it, we don’t always find it. If we stop chasing it, happiness often finds us. And even if happiness doesn’t find us, being unhappy is not necessary emphasizing the negative.

When my life mate/soul mate died, I had no intention of sharing my unhappiness here on this blog. I’d intended to keep it private, but I became so frustrated with writers whose characters blithely went on with life despite devastating losses, that I figured someone ought to tell the truth about how it feels to lose the one person who connects you to life. Because of my grief writing, I gained support, friends, and a mission — to tell people that it is okay to grieve, that it is important to grieve, and that they will survive. If I had kept my grief to myself and pretended everything was okay in my life, I would have missed out on these positive results, and in the end, I would have been even more unhappy.

It has also been a blessing to be able to reach out to other bereft. Grief is so isolating that it brings comfort to know that others have felt this same sort of all-encompassing loss, and the only way to do that is to be vulnerable and show the hurt. This is not being negative. It is being realistic.

Being realistic sometimes seems pessimistic, sometimes optimistic, but it is neither. It’s seeing the truth of the matter. A pessimist magnifies the negative side of the truth, and the optimist magnifies the positive side, but neither are being realistic. Nor does being realistic adversely affect the outcome of a situation, because a realist knows that no matter how bleak the future looks, there is always a possibility that things will work out.

There is a chance that I will find happiness in the future or it will find me, and if not, well . . . at least I won’t have the stress of living a lie.