The Pursuit of What?

I live in a part of the world where the sun isn’t supposed to shine in February. And yet earlier this month, we enjoyed three or four consecutive days of sunshine – a welcome mid-winter break for even those who claim to embrace the rain.

Sunshine means trips to the park and plenty of backyard time. But all too soon, we return to the regular clime of rain and fog.

Birds have discovered our simple feeder and perch frequently to snatch a sunflower seed or two. Despite the chatter of the birds, the backyard remains a dreary sight this time of year. Soggy ground, patchy muddy grass, empty garden beds. The trees look dead. A thick layer of grey paints the sky, and the clouds take up permanent residence over our house.

When I was 19 or so, my aunt gave me two books on Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as S.A.D., for Christmas. Since I wasn’t depressed, the present didn’t rank up there on my best ever holiday gifts list. Instead, it made me consider the perception that I was presenting to the outside world (or at least to my aunt). I drew the immediate conclusion that I presented as a depressive, and worked frantically to conquer this notion by smiling more, maintaining a “life is good” perspective, and always, always, always, responding to the question “How are you?” with “Fine! Great! Terrific!”

I felt compelled to say things were going swimmingly when they were anything but. A straight A student in high school (except for, ahem, physics), my college grades weren’t stellar. I made a bunch of friends with perfectly nice people with whom I had little in common (except for one fabulous woman who I am grateful to still be close to today). I no longer played sports and so lacked for the support of a team. College days were… tough.

Fortunately, those days were just one phase of my life, and it concluded when I got my degree, a job, an apartment, and a relationship — all within a month! I was having so much fun and rarely looked back.

Thus began my life in the “real world”, which was and is immensely more gratifying than college.

I never did crack open the S.A.D. books, nor did I ask my aunt what compelled her to purchase them for me. They stayed on a bookshelf gathering dust for many years. But I never quite forgot about them, and from time to time I wonder about how or if S.A.D. played a role in my life during those challenging college years. Research suggests perhaps as many as 10 to 20% of the people in the U.S. have a mild form of S.A.D. and millions more have a serious case of the syndrome.

We live in a time where books like The Happiness Project, Stumbling on Happiness, and The Happiness Advantage are best sellers. Even the Dalai Lama has written a couple books on happiness – exploring its art and essence (and actually, they look pretty good).

Men and women seek happiness, or so they claim. But is it happiness that is truly the universal goal? And if so, should it be?

I am a person who cherishes joyful moments. I recognize them and they warm my heart. Amidst the stress and drama that parenting + jobs + bad economy + mixed messages from all sources (i.e. A brilliant new study suggests red wine protects the heart! No! Another claims it causes cancer!), I am able to capture many real life flashes of love, wonder and satisfaction. And for me, these moments matter more.

Happiness isn’t the goal for me anymore.

Living the very fullest life that is possible for me takes precedent.

And so even as the clouds surround us and the rain continues to fall, I know that I am in a good place.

The soul would have no rainbow if the eyes had no tears.

Native American Proverb