I was a young 20-something-year-old, fresh out of college and immersed in securing a position that I could define as a “career” vs. a “job.”
“Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” I recall the HR manager asked me.
It was easy to answer then. “To be secure with a job in a career path I love.” Followed by, “To be a great asset to the company, so much so that I am working my way up to director status.”
That was my goal. It happened.
I remember that same 20-something-year-old girl who chased the dreams of love and marriage. Defining myself and my aspirations by the next phase of life. Remaining hopefully that soon I would be sporting a diamond on my left finger and setting a date for “I do!” Finally, it happened.
I look back now and can recall the moment that the ideological shift of worshiping my own professional success took a backseat to building a family foundation. Not long after I was pregnant and months later my daughter with big beautiful eyes stared back at me. My dream of hearing “you’re promoted” turned to, “Come here, Momma.” It happened.
Up until then, I was chasing life situations. Goals that I could check off a list. Been there, done that, to-dos being accomplished in this thing called life.
Then something happened. I quit chasing things. Instead my mind raced to my feelings and emotions and I defined myself and every success in my life by how I felt that day.
I am 30 years old. Wow. I am going to just go ahead and congratulate myself here and now for announcing that so boldly. I am 30 years old and I have fought the majority of my life to be happy. Let that sink in a second. I know I am.
Happiness has become somewhat of a dream we are all chasing, especially as Americans. We have become obsessed with being happy. You hear it all the time now, more so than ever before. “How does that make you feel?” we ask our children. “Are you happy?” Your boss asks you during your review. As we check off life achievements we place happiness on the pedestal. A high reaching pedestal, I might add, to jump after.
I crossed that road this year. A co-worker asked me in a pretty raw, vulnerable meeting, “What motivates you?” I looked up and without missing a beat I answered, “Happiness!” I could literally read her thoughts through her non-verbal response. But, then she vocalized it and said, “Well then we aren’t aligned.”
That conversation haunted me for days, weeks and months after. Not because of her response, but because of my answer. The happiness answer.
It is not that it is not true. It is very much true. I want to be happy and happiness does motivate me. Who doesn’t want to be happy? But, why am I chasing it? When it cannot be chased.
The reality is that we as adults are chasing this very thing and as parents, we are the worse. If not for ourselves, for our children. We are so focused on making them happy humans. Think about it! I will use myself as an example to really let this sink in.
I was obsessed with taking Lo to a real pumpkin patch this fall. It consumed me. I had to do it! In fact, it ruined a good Sunday with my husband because plans to attend one fell through. Lo napped at an odd time, right in the middle of the day and our hopes, well my hopes of pumpkin patching it, well they faded. In my mind our day together was shot. I felt more and more like a failure as I scrolled Facebook as she peacefully napped, seeing other moms and dads out at a local farm partaking in their fall event. I placed my success as a parent on accomplishing this task. I wanted to give her that experience and I wanted to see her happy, make her happy.
We finally did it. Yeah for us! But, we never stepped foot into the pumpkin patch itself. My daughter instead was happy, content even, with the sliding boards that scattered the farm. She giggled over the bouncy balls that were thrown about a lawn surrounded by a hay bale fence and she stomped around in glee in a Silo filled with corn kernels. In fact, the farm had an over abundance of options, and more entertainment than could ever keep my two-year old laughing and playing for hours, maybe even days on end. Although, after an hour she climbed into the stroller and was ready for a nap, grabbing her blanket and binkie and quietly watching the hundreds of kids play around her, as I pushed her through the field.
The point is she had no clue we drove two hours to this farm festival. She had no clue that this was the one thing her own mother drove herself crazy for weeks to accomplish. She could not tell you if you asked her right now what we did and where we went. Yes, she was happy at the time, but she also was content during the commute home as she watched Frozen from the DVD player and she was laughing as we stopped at Panera Bread to get her Mac N’ Cheese for dinner.
To dig even deeper, I am sure if we never even went, and spent that weekend at home on the swing or playing hide n’ seek for the 800th time, my daughter would have sported the same smile and giggle.
We become so paralyzed by the notion to make our kids happy. Whether you are like me and must take your child places, or you feel the need to buy them the latest toy craze or you cannot leave the super market without buying a toy, we fail to realize we are buying them the happiness we are chasing. We see it all the time, kids want to engage with us. They want to have small, meaningful connections. We as parents create yet again, this idea that we must make our children happy and we chase this happiness dream for them. And, as I stated above happiness cannot be chased.
Happiness is not a goal. It is an emotion that is the result of decisions made or living within a good moment.
I do not care if my daughter is happy.
It is not my job to make her happy. Instead, it is my job to make good decisions for her, until the day she can make them for herself. It is my job to worry about her being a productive human being that is respectful and decent in this world, that knows right from wrong, that respects authority, that appreciates morals and that can appreciate the life she has been given. It is my job to build her a strong foundation so that she can stand tall and shine. Maybe the most important thing I can do is to love her and care for her and to make her feel beautiful and important. To make her feel valued. It is my job to build her core and her self-confidence, much like my very own.
I realize my daughter is the focus of everything I do now. She is the source of every decision I make and the only reason my dreams that became my realities, sometimes feel like my nightmares. Chasing after a finish line that I believed once I ripped through the ribbon, happiness would burst from the other side. Although, each and every time, I looked back, I realized happiness doesn’t just sit there like a trophy waiting to be grabbed.
When we place all of our dreams and goals on happiness we fail. Why? Because no matter how wonderful or perfect one’s world may be, just as happiness may exist in it, so does sadness, failure and exhaustion. They easily can creep in and destroy ones happiness. Maybe it lasts for 5 minutes, an hour, a few days or weeks, the point is happiness will come and go through our lives. You cannot chase it and catch it.
Instead, contentment is what we should strive for. I can feel defeated from a bad day, but still hold my head high because I am content. I can feel like a failure of a mom because I don’t want to work 55+ hour weeks with a daughter at home, but feel content as I lay my head on my pillow to sleep knowing my daughter has a hard working, independent mom she can one day look up to.
And, for our children this too should be what we strive for. Who cares if they are happy? You are going make them turn off a video game for dinner, take away the iPad out of punishment, make them finish their peas, set them in timeout, tell them, “no,” tell them “we cannot afford that,” and send them to their room. Guess what? They will not be happy. They will be hurt, sad, mad, frustrated, and probably yell, “I hate you,” and slam a door in your face, maybe even a couple times before they turn into adults and move out. But through the emotions, when happiness cannot be found, when you have worked hard to create a decent human being that is loved, they too will lay their head on their pillow and feel contentment and not even know it. And, that, well that is why I could care less about happiness and that is what I define as success worth chasing.
This post originally appeared on www.backwardsnhighheels.com.