Right now I am happy. And I truly believe that when I feel it, I should say it. It compounds the feeling and makes it twice as strong. Writing it down makes it even stronger. That is why gratitude journals work. If you’re happy and you know it, write it down.
My parents gave this to me. They never, not once, asked asked us if we were happy. But they often, out of nowhere, would say it. “I am happy.” There was a call and response that was uniquely theirs. I am happy, one would say, and the other would answer with one of these interchangeable phrases: It doesn’t get better than this. It’s good to be alive. Life is rich. I am better than I know how. They, each in their own way, lived this to the very last and the legacy runs deep.
They only said it if it was real. They said it in the shadow of the great pyramids, when drinking cider on the Rhine, over cocktails on a rooftop in Rome. But they also said it at the breakfast table when the marmalade was good; when cracking crabs on a screened porch; when the needle dropped on a great song; or when one of us made them laugh.
Fake happiness was for other people and other feelings were not to be discussed. “I’m bored,” I said once and only once. “There is nothing more boring than a bored child,” my mother responded. And she went on to recite Robert Louis Stevenson: “The world is so full of a number of things, I am sure we should all be as happy as kings; .” My parents worried about our well being (sometimes more than others) and curated life in the most amazing way. But finding and identifying happiness was our job.
They were not happy all the time. Misery did not skip our house. While happiness could burst through any veil of gloom, it could not be controlled or put upon to stay for one more cup of this or glass of that. Happiness came and went… and always came back. When it did, no matter how fleetingly, it was greeted and named.
Long ago, I was on a walk with my boys in the woods. One of them looked up at me with an earnest yet joyful smile. ‘Mommy,” he said, “I’m in an ‘I love life’ mood.” Without intending to, I’d passed on one of the most most important gifts that was given to me: the ability to name happiness boldly, unselfconsciously, and without apology.
You don’t lose empathy points for moments of happiness in a crisis and you don’t gain empathy points for being gloomy. Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings of another— all of the feelings. So if happiness shows up at your door during a global pandemic, invite her in. Name her. Greet her. Welcome her. She’s here to help.