So, my middleaged friends, does happiness lead you toward the ability to find fulfillment in your life, or is it that doing the things that fulfill you leads you to happiness? I ask because I’ve been feeling happier lately (coming off a rough year) and have begun doing fun things again and I’m not sure which came first. If I feel like crap but continue to do things that bring me joy, will that lead to happiness? Or do I need to begin finding happiness in my routine daily life in order to be motivated to do the things that fulfill me? Ugh, blah blah, happiness blah blah fulfillment blah-dy-blah-dy-blah.
I thought these self-indulgent but maybe necessary MAW thoughts today as I had a fulfilling adventure. It was, in fact, quite risky but very exciting. I’ll tell you about it, but you might want to skip ahead if you’re squeamish in the face of danger. The reason I took so many risks this incredible fall day is that I decided that on the road to a fulfilling lifestyle (jargon alert), it is necessary to step out of your comfort zone.
1. Hopped on my bike. At the end of my neighborhood, about to cross the busy street to the bike path, I pressed my handlebar brakes and nothing happened! The front brakes were completely disconnected. I nearly shot out into traffic but luckily my rear brakes engaged (OK, I had pressed them both at the same time, so really there was no danger, but there could have been). I jumped off the bike, investigated its workings, and managed to reengage the brakes using nothing but my bare hands. Clearly, in addition to being a fearless adventurer, I am also a professional mechanic.
2. I cycled four whole miles along the bike path. Along the way, I encountered two toddlers on training wheels who distractedly swerved into my path. Also several wild dogs; they were on leashes, but they looked quite fierce.
3. I parked my bike in some long grass (potential snake habitat!) and crossed a treacherous, turbulent river using rocks as stepping stones. Maybe it was more like a babbling brook (or a chuckling creek? murmuring stream?), but the rocks were damp and even moss-covered. And the mud on the other side was quite slippery.
4. On the other side of the creek, I found a stand of pretty trees with a variety of low branches and hung my camping hammock. It was a lovely spot, with a ceiling of green and yellow leaves overhead and the sunlight streaming through in places, but the tree branches groaned when I hopped aboard and they may or may not have been dead and one of them could have snapped at any moment. I curled up with my book but started to swing and I dropped my Kindle. The hammock almost dumped me out when I reached down to pick it up. There was a soft carpet of leaves on the ground, but I’m pretty sure there was also a log underneath. Or a rock.
5. I pulled out my snack: cauliflower with Ken’s Steakhouse Creamy Light Caesar dressing. It tasted great, but I don’t know: after spending an hour in my backpack on anautumn day with temperatures at LEAST in the mid-seventies, that creamy dressing could very likely have been rancid. (I’ll let you know tomorrow.)
6. I saw several bees.
7. A yellowing leaf fell from the trees above — onto my head!
8. I took a picture of the trees to show you the loveliness that I was experiencing but just then, the setting sun dropped below the branches and seared my retinas, nearly blinding me. (I also took a selfie and was quite pleased with the effect of the shadow of a tree branch across my face. But then I realized that it was actually a shadow of my arm holding the phone in the air, which wasn’t as satisfying.)
9. I dutifully drank from my water bottle to combat the dangers of dehydration, but then had to pee quite badly. I feared my bladder would burst.
10. I peed behind the pretty trees. I could have been arrested! Or contracted a rash on my unmentionables. (That happened to me one winter. I was snow-shoeing and sat on a downed tree to relieve myself. Ended up with lots of itchiness and bumps on my bum. Stop laughing, Angel.)
Also, I biked the entire four miles home (take that, you overly enthusiastic exercise fanatics who call themselves my family), got out of breath, and realized I had forgotten my new asthma inhaler! I’m not used to living with the constant danger of, you know, wheezing. Oh, I also heard some vicious-sounding ducks arguing. I didn’t see them, but they could have seen me… AND, when I got home, I felt something itchy, looked down my shirt, and there was a bug crawling up out of my sports bra. Who knows what the hell that was.
But I survived, and I’m here to tell you that I feel great: beautiful day, constant adrenaline rush, exercise, cool breeze on my face, the sound of a turbulent… sorry, babbling brook. Blue sky.
I’ve also been adding other fun things in my life, things I love to do that I don’t do often enough: I joined the church choir to get more singing and music in my life; began a new exercise class, as I’ve mentioned; and I auditioned for a local opera theater’s production of Pirates of Penzance and actually got cast! Yes, if you are in the Fort Collins area at the end of Feb/early March, you can see me play a maid (My God! I am Broadway Baby: “Hell, I’d even play the maid, to be in a show.” Anybody?) Also, Lizzie will be playing a maid. Mother/daughter maids, I guess. Paul says I’m stepping on her toes and should let her perform on her own, but for God’s sake, I’m the one who gave her the love of theater, and I’m the one who said I was auditioning for Pirates. She jumped on MY bandwagon. So back off, dude…
All joking aside, this is a serious question: why do I sometimes spend months at a time, or even years, avoiding the things that make me happy? Why does it take so much effort to find fulfillment, passion, and fun? And why don’t I do these things often enough?