For those on the quest to be happy…

OK, actually, this secret for how to be happy would work no matter your age. It’s just that you might not be ready for it until long after you’ve duked it out with life for several decades.

For the past few years, the most frequent (and best) compliment people have paid me is, “You just seem so happy.”

Only seems right to share my secret.

But First, I Want To Paint You A Picture Of Two Of My Friends. I Kinda Hope The Second One Isn’t Reading This. 

But if I’m going to be honest here, I can’t shy away from telling the truth. 

Happy Midlife Woman

The first friend is, well, I’m not sure which adjective fits best. 

She’s usually happy. But more than that, it’s like she’s content. Maybe it’s a sense of deep inner joy. 

If you sneak up on her, you might find her standing outdoors in the grass, embracing the breeze. It’s like she’s got a weird secret language going on with the birds, the leaves, the clouds, the very air around her. If you don’t catch the slight upturn to her lips – not like a maniacal grin, but a decidedly happy countenance – you can still see the same state reflected in her eyes.

It’s not like everything in life has gone well for her. She’s seen some truly tough times, some even gut-wrenching. But you might never even know the particulars. Any heaviness her heart has felt is clearly relegated to the past. She’s the kind of person who’s here, now, in the present. When she looks back, even at the hard parts, it’s clear to her that all of it brought her to right where she is now, a great place. She learned valuable lessons from every struggle and challenge along the way.

Every morning, she’s so grateful to have gotten another day. She says that the days seem to be moving at double-speed now, and their brevity prompts her to appreciate them even more.

It’s possible she’s one of the most optimistic people I know. Maybe eager or delighted are better words. Whatever the word, this thing about her – it’s real.

Not Happy in Midlife

The second friend, to be blunt, is toxic. 

She’s always complaining. Even when she tries to couch it in “I’m not complaining” tones and phrases, it’s still complaining. 

She throws the best pity parties ever, complete with party favors for her guests to take home and despise forever. 

Maybe she finds comfort in spewing her negativity wherever she goes. Or maybe it’s more a matter of feeling somehow righteous because she can spot stupidity, selfishness, or tragedy in life. Not sure.

But I know she’s got an insatiable thirst for sympathy. Every conversation somehow loops back to a wound, slight, failure that makes her happiness impossible. She visibly relishes the telling of her tales of woe, like they taste like honey on her tongue. She might be an artful storyteller. Or else, her skill comes from having rehearsed and retold her whiny stories so many times to so many audiences that she knows when to pause, when to gesture, when to trail off in despair. Not sure.

What’s really weird is that it’s like you can see all of this self-pity on her like she rolled in it. There’s no sense of self-respect. She’ll people please to the point where it’s revolting to witness. Out of the blue, she can fly into a rage. She seems to have such little regard for herself that she turns “low-maintenance” into a gross caricature. 

Like, she literally scored a zero on this quiz:

High Maintenance Quiz

Worst of all, I know she sometimes wakes up enough to realize how she’s showing up. It grieves her. She gets remorseful. But even in that pitiful and despairing state, she’s still angling for someone to feel bad for her and prop her back up.

Actually, that’s not the worst part at all.

The Real Worst Part Is That My Toxic Friend… Is Me.

But to be fair, so is the first friend.

I remember living as the self-pitying wretch back when I was much younger. For sure, that was life in my 20’s. Maybe as a teen, too. Certainly through my 30’s and into my 40’s. Regrettably, she still makes an appearance now and then in my 50’s. I plan to outlive her by many decades, though.

I kinda hate that bitch. Those closest to me have seen her so often. I feel embarrassed to point out the ugliness they kindly look past in me. She’s got to go. For everyone’s sake.

Want to hear my plan for crowding her out of my life forever? It centers on the secret I’ve discovered about how to be really happy in midlife.

How to be happy, in seven little words and a properly placed semi-colon:

“Gather the happy; don’t stack the gripes.”

Sometimes happiness is most clearly seen in the middle of the darkest days. It’s probably the contrast. When everything seems dismal, the tiniest delight sparkles like tinsel. It’s a tiny joy, so tiny that dozens can fit into the palm of your hand. 

Inconsequential delights, when I gather enough of them, take on some heft. We’re not talking about the typical things someone might say qualify – like falling in love, laughing with a friend, hearing you’ve inspired someone, or even biting into a perfectly crisp slice of thick bacon. 

Asshole Kitty

It’s truly tiny happinesses:

  • Watching the breeze make the stand of trees out our window dance in the first moments after I wake
  • Feeling in my bones the certainty of God’s presence and love and undeniable grace. 
  • The ridiculously simple joy of the sensation of scooting my foot into my slipper
  • Pouring the perfect cup of coffee into my favorite mug
  • Sitting on the porch swing with my sweet hubby while we drink coffee, look at what’s grown in the garden overnight, and listen to the birds
  • The blissful feeling of him washing my hair, conditioning it, and combing it smooth
  • How my weird flock of chickens rushes the gate when I bring them cracked corn
  • The puttering-around pleasure that comes from refilling my 27 water globes (who knew plants were so doggone thirsty?)
  • That giggly delight of watching our asshole kitten do something really cute and sweet. (BTW, a couple of days after this photo, he broke that flowerpot.)
  • The sheer delight of setting in for a day of work doing what I love to do best

Oh, and I scoop up all those “bits of happy” almost every single day. It’s glimmer does not dull with use. If anything, these fractional moments become even more delightful with repetition. 

They also seem to compound, building on each other. So, I continue to heap them on top of the pile throughout the day. I gather the small delights that crop up daily in the same spots along my path.

I used to think something big and great had to happen to really be happy. 

There had to be some grand rescue effort, where happiness swooped down and banished the worst of life’s blues. Maybe I’d come into money. Or somehow be discovered as a supremely talented something or another. Maybe I’d find a friend who’d love and chose me on purpose. Or maybe I’d one day do something remarkable, significant, and that would make me feel special.

But with some growing up, I came to understand that everything boils down to a choice. I choose my experience, my outlook, and where to put my focus.

Midlife Be Happy

Focus is crazy powerful. It magnifies whatever falls in its path. 

Small irritations become murder-ready misery-boosters. But tiny good bits become hefty delights. 

A thanks-filled moment becomes a good mood. That good mood fuels a day where it’s easy to take inspired action, to work in the zone of genius, to relate well with others, to feel proud of how I show up.

Choosing to gather the happy is not always my default mode. But it’s a world I can create, and the world I love living in best. 

So, the plan is to do what works. As often as I become conscious of thinking about this one phrase, I think it on purpose. It is: I live in bliss. 

Every moment is a choice. When I choose to gather the happy and enjoy it, it’s like flanking the toxic pity-party girl. From the front, all she can see is the dazzling handfuls of happy little gems, all piled up. Some brush against her and give her hope she might one day hold that much happy. From the rear, the happy and healthy me stands as living proof that everything that needy, dramatic, and pathetic wretch longs for so desperately is only one choice away. Given enough practice, all that happy will dissolve the miserable lady into vapor. 

But for today, I am grateful to have grown this much. I know there’s a long, long way to go. And I know that growth usually hurts a lot in the moment. As a wise mentor told me:

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” 

Any of that resonate with you? Would you do something with me for a sec? I’d love it if you’d take a moment to look in your heart, in the part that’s whole, healthy, happy. What tiny moment do you notice in your everyday life that sparks joy in you for as long as you stay in the moment? Can you describe it? Would you share it in the comments? 

I’m thinking that by sharing these tiny delights with each other, we might find ourselves nudged in the ribs the next time we encounter that same moment in our own day. 

Midlife Wisdom


P.S. Are you writing a memoir?

Hey, if you’re writing a memoir or autobiography, I’d love to help you. On the right side of the screen, you can request free weekly memoir-writing prompts. It’s always easier to write from something than to stare at a blank page!




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