About fifteen years ago, standing at the kitchen island while we prepared to leave for the library, I asked my mom for book suggestions. “Have you read anything by Vonnegut?” she asked. “You might like Cat’s Cradle.”
She was right. I did. And I liked everything else of his that I could get my hands on. Vonnegut’s dry retorts; and simplistic, straightforward style connected with me in a way that no literature had before (or since). Several main (and powerful) themes run through his work, but one that I find myself focusing on more as I grow older is his view on happiness. Vonnegut believed in the sanctity and importance of happiness: of recognizing it, of embracing it, of carving out space for it in the day-to-day noise. The above quote is one of my absolute favorites, and I had the pleasure and opportunity to share it as part of a larger reading at my dear friends’ wedding.
These days, I’m making a conscious effort to acknowledge and appreciate the little things that make me happy: the smell of lilacs, the smallest gesture of kindness, laughter with those I love; the strength in my legs and the sweat on my brow. I savor more of these moments, and in doing so, I give my heart time to stretch and make room for them – for future moments. I savor them because I remember what it feels like to lose sight of what happiness feels like, and I never want to find myself in that place again.
Things happen in life that turn the sky dark, that fill the air with a claustrophobic and dense humidity that makes it hard to acknowledge what’s not immediately necessary. I am an eternal optimist – at times, perhaps, to a fault. Even for Pollyannas like me, happiness may not immediately or readily appear in that mist. It may hide in the nooks and crannies, or it may present itself fully and openly once the darkness lifts. I’ve found that neither of these scenarios matter if you don’t acknowledge it in whatever form it takes.
Carving out space for happiness – honoring the way it makes me feel – and allowing it space to breathe and grow is something that I’ve made an attempt to do lately. It’s those moments of happiness that I carry with me during the foggy times. It’s those moments, in part, that make us human. It’s those moments that help us to balance, that lift the weight, if only momentarily. Appreciating them, acknowledging them, and allowing them to sink in — at least as much as I allow myself to grieve, wallow, or stew — has been working for me. Life is hard – and honoring the negative feelings can be just as important – but these days, I actively work to spend more time in the light, regardless of the forecast. I have a lot to be happy about. There are many reasons why I love Vonnegut: learning how to live in my happiness was an unexpected bonus.