Let Anne T. Donahue Tell You About Happiness
A couple of weeks ago, in the midst of various life discomforts, I was catching up on some internet reading when something crossed my screen that grabbed my attention from the start and would not let go. I even had to stop for a work call in the middle, something that would normally send whatever article or blog post or, with my attention span, tweet into the abyss—forever forgotten. Not this one. Despite closing the tab (a reading death sentence), I not only remembered the piece but actively sought it out to finish reading.
The piece was Happiness by Anne T. Donahue who, coincidentally, was nice enough to not only respond when I reached out requesting permission to post it here for all of you but to respond positively! For convenience, you will find her piece below, but I encourage you to click on her name above more.
Look, I know this is my thing, and I’m supposed to publish my stuff, but the fact is, sometimes people say things better than me, and that’s ok. I’m content to defer occasionally, and this is just such an occasion.
The moment before you need more happiness?
by Anne T. Donahue
Right now it’s unseasonably warm (we’ll worry about that later!), my allergies are raging (whatever!), I’m eating a breakfast wrap and listening to the Reality Bites soundtrack outside (I PUT TOGETHER A PATIO TABLE!) so it’s safe for me to announce: I AM HAVING A NICE TIME.
And this feeling is new for me! Not the niceness, but certainly the acknowledgement that on this beautiful morning I feel happy. Happiness, as we know, is terrifying. Since late 2019 (and for about three decades before), I assumed happiness was a feeling chased immediately by its opposite. Happiness is fleeting! It is, as Don Draper once infamously said, the feeling before you need more happiness! Anxiety has manifested in my life as the quintessential warning that SOMETHING BAD CAN ALWAYS HAPPEN. Thus, greeting happiness meant lowering the armour I’d built up for years and years and basically welcoming a tragedy.
But guess what: the tragedies happen regardless. As I’ve written about before, the universe isn’t watching the ins and outs of my life, waiting for an in to present a worst case scenario. No one is sitting on a golden throne in the sky, watching me and deciding that now is the time to really show me who’s boss. Everything is fleeting! So why depreciate happiness? There is an ordinate amount of shoes that can/will drop at any time — has white knuckling through reality stopped them from dropping and wreaking havoc on everything? It has not!
It’s a bummer to exist in the state of “Oh, I knew this would happen.” (Even though for the record I, a person who is always right about everything, did know.) And since our time here is short and certainly not guaranteed, it’s an even bigger bummer to look back on huge chunks of existence and realize that in moments of joy and niceness, I followed so many of them up with “Yeah, but shit’s probably about to get worse” only to realize in retrospect (now-ish) that I was simply having a lovely time, no footnotes or caveat in sight. I sucked the fun out of my own room, Debbie Downer-ing as a means of self-preservation.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what happiness actually is and looks like lately, especially since Easter always makes me miss my Dad (a weird thing, but true!) and his birthday just passed (next year he would’ve turned 69 — nice). And I think back on those Easters of yore and I realize I wasted so much time not stopping for a single fucking second and acknowledging that I was having a nice time. I was having a nice time at family BBQs, eating inordinate amounts of ham. I was having a nice time in my springtime clothes, playing outside without a winter coat. I was having a nice time driving around, listening to music and singing my fool heart out. I was having a nice time doing nothing! Often, when I think about my most nice (ist?) times, they don’t revolve around anything outside the ordinary: in my favourite memories, I’m just living my life, stoked as hell to exist under the sun.
I know some people will categorize this revelation under the umbrella of “mindfulness” but because it seems like everybody I don’t like has an absolute boner for that word, I will avoid it at all costs. Instead, I think I’ll call it acknowledgement. The acknowledgement that I get to be here, the acknowledgement that in this moment, I’m listening to music that makes me happy and eating a wrap that comes with a hashbrown inside. (It’s revelatory!) The acknowledgement that yes, I can feel my arm burning via the UV, but honestly it’s going to snow next week so why not soak up all the vitamin D I can? (I will go buy sunscreen in a few.) I’m looking down at Barry (my robust French prince of a cat), eating grass and squinting up at me, stoked as fuck that he gets to enjoy a leafy buffet. Will he throw up in a few hours? He will! The hairballs are plentiful! But is he thinking about that? No, man! He’s just wondering why in the year of our lord 2023, I’m blaring the shit out of Lenny Kravitz. (Because he’s on the Reality Bites soundtrack, Barry. Jesus Christ.)
It is terrifying to understand that no matter what precautions we take or how carefully we are not to get too used to feeling anything outside of pure, unadulterated dread, bad things will always happen. I hate knowing that life isn’t mission-oriented and that after a series of pitfalls and buzzkills at the hands of those spinning shells in Super Mario, I will never actually defeat the one true boss and will always have a plethora of trials and tribulations set out before me. I don’t like knowing that more people I love will die one day (I’m fun!), or that I have feelings upon feelings to sift through and always will, or that the news is a constant reminder of how scary things are in a universal sense. But I think I hate even more that when given a chance to think, “Hey — this moment is actually very okay right now!” I’m the quickest to add that it will end, things always do, so I might as well get used to misery.
I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to miss any more nothings that add up to a lifetime of something. I’m tired of walking on eggshells or chasing every positive thing with the reminder that all things end for the sole purpose of being able to say that I “knew something like this would happen.” It hasn’t helped. It hasn’t prepared me for the big stuff. Instead, it’s left me looking backwards, wondering what the secret was to my fleeting youthful happiness. Which, for the record, I’ve come to see as simply the acknowledgement that I was alive and having a good day and a good time, or that the way the sun was shining in a specific moment made me feel like it all might be okay.
Now that it’s warmer, I can hear the planes fly overhead a little more clearly, I can hear the birds singing, and I can roll my windows down to soak up the light a little more (and to inhale as much pollen as possible, evidently). And I keep thinking about a core memory: me, at my Nana and Papa’s, sometime around 1991. I’m in their backyard, watching my Grampa mow the lawn and waiting for my Nana to finish watering the garden. I’m on one of those old outdoor recliners where if you’re not careful, you’ll fall through the plastic slats. I can hear airplanes and birds and the mower, and it’s warm but not too warm, and I know we’re going to have sausages and burgers for lunch. My Nana will cut me up some cucumber which, to this day, is the best cucumber I’ve ever had. I have no idea what will follow lunch; whether I’ll nap or read a book or play with my Barbies, and it doesn’t matter. I am, in that moment, just happy to be there. Everything that means anything is so small and seemingly inconsequential, but guess what: it obviously wasn’t.
I don’t think I’ll ever lose the morbid or macabre streak that runs through me (which is fine! I do like the multitudes that I contain), nor will my anxiety ever completely disappear and leave me as plucky and happy as that wee, cucumber-loving girl. But what’s the harm of revelling in the experience of being alive? Of knowing that I get to write this piece while sitting outside, listening to the kids next door play, listening to Big Mountain (“OOH BABY I LOVE YOUR WAYYYY”), and that no other day will be like this one? That this moment is my only real guarantee? Something horrible could happen in ten minutes, but maybe it won’t. Maybe something great is heading down the pipeline. Or maybe, the Holy Grail: sameness. Simple, underrated sameness — even boredom. I love boredom! What a novelty! So if you can read this, universe: hello! I know you’re busy, so don’t worry about keeping track of what I’m doing or feeling right now. For the first time in a long time, I’m just happy to be here.
For more from Anne, visit annetdonahue.substack.com.