Sunday, August 16, 2015

Hanging On To Happiness

Today would have been Mme Mère’s 99th birthday. 



It’s been two years since this Force of Nature left us, ever so quietly, in the early hours of an otherwise ordinary Monday morning.  A most uncharacteristic way for an opera singer, who knew the value of a great exit, to take her leave, but, then, maybe that’s why she chose it.  Always leave them guessing. 




Mme Mère was beautiful, brilliant, talented, creative and charming, but whatever else she was, she was not a happy woman.  Of course, she had moments of happiness, but they never lasted long.  She was good at having fun, but not good at being happy.  Fun and happiness are only distantly related.  The former comes from without, while the latter comes from within. 






She spent most of her life in psychotherapy and on various psychotropic drugs, but nothing ever did the trick.  Each new psychiatrist, therapy, medication held out the hope that, this time, we had found the key to opening that inner room where she kept her happiness tightly locked away.  But we never found it. 




As a child, I thought everyone’s mother was like mine, although not as beautiful or as talented; but, eventually I began to realize that there was a whole species of happy people out there, and that I was happy when I was around them.  I felt disloyal, but, there it was.  God had played a cruel joke on my poor Mother and given her a child with a sunny disposition.  The two things Mme Mère hated most in life were Republicans and happy people.  A happy Republican was like waving a red flag in front of a very unhappy bull.  To be honest, she didn’t really hate happy people, she just thought they weren’t very bright. 

“Happiness is for the feeble-minded.  We’re not put on this earth to be happy,” she’d tell me. 

Of course, our Founding Fathers disagreed with Mme Mère. 





Thomas Jefferson even went so far as to ennoble the pursuit of happiness by putting it in our “Declaration of Independence.” 

I spent most of my life trying to make Mme Mère happy, and an equal amount of time trying to figure out why I had only limited success.  I read everything I could get my hands on on the subject of happiness.




What is it?  Are you born with it?  Can you develop it?  Can you choose it?   Can you help others achieve it? 

And then, I ran across a little book of 192 pages, and it changed my life. 





First published in 1998, this book finally provided answers to most of the questions that not one of Mme Mère’s mental health providers was ever able to answer.   

The author, Dennis Prager, politically conservative (Don’t let that throw you off!)  has his own radio talk show, and once a week he has a happiness hour.  During that hour, I’ve learned as much from his callers as I have from him on the subject of happiness. 

One caller’s comment will forever remain with me.  She had five children, one of whom was chronically unhappy.  After spending years trying to “fix” the problem, she finally realized that there was nothing more she could do for her unhappy child.  “I didn’t break her,” she said, “and I can’t fix her.” 

I have given this book to many friends struggling with similar issues in their lives, and all of them have found something in it to help them cope.  Of course, my Mother refused to read it.  Read something written by a happy Conservative???!!!   You must be kidding!!

As we left the cemetery on the day we laid Mme Mère to rest, I looked up through my tears to the Good Lord and said quietly, “O.K., Lord, it’s your turn now.  Let’s see if YOU can make her happy.”  

It’s been two years.  I wonder if He’s had any luck yet. 

23 comments:

  1. Dearest Marie/Thérèse,
    What a sad story in fact... about a woman so talented and beautiful but yet lacking the happy-vitamin!
    She for sure is happy where she is now; the struggles are all over and she's at Peace and for you only the fond memories will surface and remain. Let the unhappiness drift off...
    Sending you hugs,
    Mariette

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    Replies
    1. What lovely words, ma chère Mariette, and so true. You would think that such a woman would have found her happiness, but it was not to be. I think of her with only the sweetest of memories.

      Big bisous,
      M-T

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  2. Maybe the Buddha got it right. I find that daily meditation helps be to happiness.

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    Replies
    1. There is much to be learned in contemplation and meditation. You are so right, Josephine. My quiet times are very restorative.

      Warm regards,
      M-T

      Delete
  3. MT,
    Your mom's story gave me much to think about this AM My beautiful, loving mom came to the US as a baby from Europe. . Although she loved fun, there was always an underlying sadness. Her escape was books, movies & particularly music .All of which I love. Coming from an immigrant family, she probably always felt like an outsider.
    She wound up marrying my dad - a gregarious man who was the total opposite.

    My closest friends had moms that were upbeat, even though they had their own trials & tribulations. I was comfortable around happier people.


    My husband is always upbeat, very positive, successful & believes anything is possible.. His brother is exactly the same. Friends & family are amazed even to this day, that these two came from parents that were so the opposite. How did this happen. I am not sure. They did have a large extended family on both sides with some happier people who gave them lots of attention. Maybe, it just rubbed off. ..

    I did realize one thing though, both my mom & my husband's parents thought of themselves as "unlucky" . "they never got the breaks".. everything was against them, etc. Name the popular negative statement, they probably believed it. My husband & myself believe you make a lot of your own luck; always have choices & we count our blessings every day..

    Thank you for this thought provoking post. It brought back lots of memories.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I believe the current way of expressing that feeling of always being "unlucky" is thinking of yourself as a the perennial victim of something or someone. I see it all around me and it saddens me, too.

      I hope some of the memories I evoked in you were happy ones.

      You characterized my post as thought provoking, which I find most flattering; however, I must say that your Comment gives much food for thought, and I am most grateful for it. I always look forward to your thoughts and the way in which you express them.

      Many thanks for sharing your stories and yourself with us,

      M-T

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  4. MT,
    I had the same perspective as your Mère did; believing that the less intellectual or artistic one was the greater the satisfaction in accepting "an ordinary life" and therefore finding happiness. Perhaps her hopes were high, and her dreams went unfulfilled, perhaps she felt disappointed by others not reaching the mark that she held for herself. Or perhaps it was because she choose a partner that roamed, whatever the cause, I hope her soul encountered what I found- happiness is a choice. And while it does seem that one is not analyzing or thinking deeply- happiness is akin to forgiveness- one has to stop the mind from negative thoughts and accepts good- for themselves, to find freedom.
    I interviewed Dennis Prager and he rubbed me the wrong way w/ his segregation of religious views.
    I would have liked to have known your Mère- after all she produced you!
    Linda

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    1. She would have loved you, Linda. I think she hoped that I would fulfill those disappointed dreams for her. The irony was that my younger brother was in the process of doing just that when his life was cut short at 31. She lost the fulfillment of those dreams and I lost my soul mate.

      Your comments are always so beautiful and insightful.

      Warmest regards,
      M-T

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  5. What a poignant story. I'm sorry your mother was unhappy, and that you had to deal with the effects of it. It's a tough thing. I struggled with depression a good part of my life, but I would still categorize myself as happy, fortunately. And I hate to tell you, but I'm a conservative too. Mme. Mere might not have liked me!
    I'm glad you stopped taking responsibility for her happiness. That's a big burden.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You needn't be afraid to reveal that you are a conservative. Mme Mère may have had problems w/it, but I do not. That said, however, you have other qualities that she would have admired as do I.

      It's not easy to talk about one's battle w/depression. I admire your openness on the subject. It would be wonderful if we could all be open about our struggles in life. After all, I believe we are put here on this earth to help each other.

      Many thanks for stopping by,
      M-T

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  6. Comment sent directly to me by my friend, LuAnn:

    "I know people like that who are constantly seeking it as if happiness is having a perfect life. Well written M.T. Glad you found the book to help you cope. I’m sure your Mom was very talented and she sure was beautiful like you. Hopefully this post can help others change or cope. Xo."

    ReplyDelete
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    1. You are so right, LuAnn. If we have to depend on achieving the perfect life to be happy, we'll never get there. Life is imperfect and so are we.

      xoxo, M-T

      Delete
  7. Comment sent directly to me by my friend, Cathy Z:

    I enjoyed this post so much. I always wondered about helping those who are not happy, since I’m more of a happy person. ;) You are right, you can’t fix those who are unhappy, you can just love them anyway. I will have to check out this book. So glad it has helped you.

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    1. Yes, Cathy, in the end, that's really all you can do -- you just love them. Let me know what you think of the book.

      xoxo, M-T

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  8. Thank you for your honest and heart tugging post. It gave me a great deal to think about with my own mother. It is true that we cannot fix people, no matter who they are and how much we love them. We have to love them the best we can without losing our own joy. Thank you for sharing your story.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I struggled a bit over whether or not to share this part of her life, but it seems to have touched people so, in the end, I'm glad I wrote it.

      So glad it gave you something to think about.

      Appreciate, as always, your comments,

      M-T

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  9. ((((M-T))))

    I was born with the happiness gene - it's more precious than anything else I could imagine in my life. I feel like a little ball of sunshine, and I try to share it with others. To live without this would be unimaginably sad.
    love,
    Janice

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    Replies
    1. How wonderful! I have always felt your positive energy in our private emails. I'd say that you are even better than a little ball of sunshine. You provide warmth and light to those around you and they can look at you directly w/out having to shield their eyes.

      Keep shining, my Friend,
      xoxo, M-T

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  10. This comment was sent to me by an old (not in the chronological sense) friend and high school classmate of mine, Susy D, who knew me way back when:

    "I love this story of your beautiful mother! As you know, those of us that we're born with a " happy disposition" are very blessed.

    I always enjoy your blog, but this one was special.

    Keep on smiling,
    Susy

    ReplyDelete
  11. Wow! Not only did our mothers embrace lipstick, they were similar in disposition.....check out this old blog post of mine..
    http://ginger-bred.net/blog/?p=556
    Candy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think we are the daughters of kindred spirits. I will be popping over to check out your blog post on the subject. Can't wait. Thanks for stopping by, Candy.

      Cheers, M-T

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  12. I so enjoyed this post. It's been 2 years since my European mother died, and I miss her terribly. Yet like you, I spent years trying to make her happy. She could have fun, but was never really happy. I am not certain if the war scarred that part of her forever, or what it was. I'm going to read the book you recommended. I am blessed with an optimistic, happy self, but would love to understand more. Thank you for sharing this.

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    1. Dear French Garden House, I'm so touched that you enjoyed this post and that it spoke to you in a way only someone who has gone through this experience can know. Your observation about the effects of the war on that generation is a very interesting one, which gives me food for thought.

      If you pick up the book, I would love to know if you found it helpful.

      I took a quick look at your beautiful website and will be back for a longer visit. So many beautiful things!!

      Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts on this complicated subject.

      Cheers, M-T

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