Happiness is Overrated
By Brooke Wolcott
Her doctor came by our room and said the results were positive, confirming her diagnosis for Cystic Fibrosis. She explained, “But it’s not just a childhood disease like it used to be, where people don’t live to see their teenage years. Now the average life expectancy is up to the late thirties!” So there I was, holding my 4lb baby girl, looking into her eyes and my whole world just stopped. A disease with no cure. You wonder how much life she’ll live, and how hard her years will be. You would do anything to take her place and take the disease upon yourself. It’s not fair. You cry in the shower, you cry lying in bed, you cry while driving, and anytime somebody asks you to explain what the diagnosis means. You watch her develop and grow, and on the good days, you forget she has this “invisible disease” at all. And on the bad days, you let your mind wander down the path of fear and anxiety.
But here’s the thing, caring for a child with a chronic disease brings an entire new perspective to parenting, and life in general. It helps highlight the things that really matter, and dims the more insignificant things.
You realize quickly, that you as a parent cannot shield your children from feeling sadness, pain, or embarrassment. So rather than trying to protect our kids from the inevitable hard things, the best thing we can do is walk with them deep into the middle of their hardest days, and face them, head on. I’ve watched my kids go through multiple surgeries, therapies, and treatments for their medical complications. I am always astonished at their resilience and I admire them.
Something I hear a lot of parents wish upon their children, even adult children, are sentiments like “as long as they are happy” or “do what makes you happy.” And I think the sentiment is typically geared towards things that we have the power to change, like leaving a toxic work environment or a toxic relationship. Or maybe choosing a career that doesn’t yield as much money as another career, but it provides more passion. By all means, I am not saying to stay in something destructive that you have the power to change. But that is not what this is about. I think the danger of chasing happiness is we are setting ourselves up to crumble when challenges do come. The idea that if a relationship doesn’t make you feel warm and fuzzy and special every single minute, that it must be wrong, and you must leave it. Or if you love your job, but find there are some really annoying parts that you’d rather not have to do. I don’t believe that is merit to immediately run to the next “promising” job or relationship that is sure to have zero downfalls. Happiness is not wrong by any means, but it is not the main objective in life.
For my daughter, getting hooked up to her machines every day for her treatments definitely don’t make her happy. Actually, a lot of days, the hours of treatments are paired with tears and dread. Three year olds don’t love to sit still or be told what to do. But by not choosing what makes her happy in this current moment, will yield much more benefit for her health and longevity in the bigger picture.
Disease or no disease, rich or poor, single or married, life will assuredly hand us both trials and joy. It’s time we learn to embrace the grit. I’m still learning this myself. We’ve become really good at running far from challenges or anything that brings discomfort. Or better yet, numbing them and pretending like they don’t exist. It would not be fair for me to expect my daughter to have all happy days, especially if/when her lungs start to fail and the simple task of breathing is difficult. No, I wish for much more than happiness. I wish for strength, for bravery, for perseverance, for honesty, for compassion, for kindness, for humility, and love. These are the things that help us face those really terrible days, and thrive.
I think of some heroes who have changed the shape of history with their boldness and passion and wonder if they felt “happiness” while making enemies to promote rightful change. I would never wish hardship or disease on anybody. But let’s stop idolizing happiness and its false promises. We may not get to pick our circumstances, but we can choose how we react and walk through them. I hope that we are raising a generation that can embrace life’s challenges and use them for good.