Anyway, I was reading an advice column the other day, as I do, and there was a letter from a woman whose husband was considering petitioning for custody of his sister's kids, since said sister is in the habit of abandoning the kids with them, anyway. (OK, fine: I went and found the actual column so you can read it, too, if you want. Beware: these columns are addictive.)
There are some lines in that column that has stayed with me since I read it:
I’ve come to see “how I saw us ______,” whether it’s “building our family” or “starting our careers” — or any future we envision — as a false promise at best. We can want and dream and plan, but life always gets its say. Always.
And so I see the path to happiness not as the milestones we strive for, but as a mind open to the opportunities, even beauty, in what we receive.
I love that concept, the idea that the way to happiness in life is to learn to accept the randomness of it, the uncertainty about what might come — and to commit to the idea that you will look for the beauty in what you receive.
Obviously, some things that we receive in life are harder to accept than others. There are things that could happen that I do not think I could see any beauty in. I am not especially prone to anxiety, but if I am going to spiral into an anxious fugue, it will usually be because my mind has started spooling out increasingly horrific "what if" scenarios.
So what I've been thinking about since I read that column is the idea that although I cannot know what life will hold for me, I can commit to try to accept what comes and build the best life I can from the circumstances I am given, and if possible, find the beauty in whatever comes.
So far, I have been given pretty good circumstances. I have no guarantee that will continue, and I can never have that guarantee. All I can do is try to plan in ways that favor a continuation of good circumstances, and that I hope would provide some buffer against bad circumstances.
I've been thinking about what it would take to really embrace that, and what, if anything, that would change about how I'm living my life. I don't have answers to those questions yet, but I'm finding them useful questions to think about.
I have also been thinking about how "happiness" seems like an inadequate word to describe a state in which you can accept what life brings and look for the beauty in it. The word that keeps coming to mind instead is "grace." I know that is not the Christian meaning of grace, but I don't think it is necessarily incompatible with that meaning.
I've started a project of reading books that explore different aspects about what "a good life" looks like and how to have it. That project is quite stochastic. I add books to my reading list as I come across them, and my scope for what fits is quite broad. Maybe the common thread among them is a search for a secular form of a grace, a way to find and embrace the beauty in our imperfect world and to build the most we can out of our imperfect, uncertain lives.