DAILY PRACTICE: happy by choice

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It was that time of evening when shadows are long.  I was well into my second drink on the patio when a nearby conversation struck me as haunting. I paused my imbibing and instead began listening carefully.

“What I have figured out — especially from keeping tabs on people I’ve known forever — is that people never really change.”

The conversation was coming from my right, where two young women — not much older than myself –were playing catch-up over a shared bottle of Prosecco. Blond and simply dressed they were both beautiful in an easy, tawny, and self-assured sort of way.

“I mean, the essence of who they are just always stays the same – like Catherine Carter. You do remember her, right?” This was addressed to the girl’s ponytailed friend, who nodded in the affirmative from across the table.

“When we were growing up, she was always very much a perfectionist, right? Just always brooding. Very inward, very cererbral.  Always writing or reading or going about doing some project while the rest of us hung out.  It wasn’t weird but it was. And, now –she’s cute, she’s got a good job, she goes out with us sometimes, but she’s the same. And whenever you see her… I don’t know….” The girl trailed off and began again. “It’s just obvious that she has a really hard time being happy where she is.

I stopped listening then. The empty seat beside me seemed even emptier than before. I looked down at my notebook, the only companion that night. It was filled with to-do lists. Projects.

On the way home, l thought of Catherine. Who they described in grade school was me. Who they were describing as an adult — was essentially me. Nearly me. Almost me. This was a fact both unsettling and unsurprising.

Patterns of behavior can be difficult to change, but a few of mine must. I do find happiness elusive and difficult to find but I do know that much of it must be a choice. When my dad would drop me off at school in the morning the last thing he said before I closed the door and he drove away was ‘Now, Choose to make it a good day.’

it was the same mantra in grade school and middle school, it was the same in high school, it was the same when I would call home from college, and if he was around now he would be saying it to me still.

Dad was on to something. For as soon as I  even begin to think of his phrase, and the way his gap-toothed smile grinned at me from outside the passenger window, any lingering clouds of malaise begin to slowly dissipate. I don’t need to try to be happy. Instead, happiness becomes a definitive choice. An intention that eventually grows into it’s own expression.