A few months ago, I received a group email from a long-time publishing colleague, Rick Campbell. Rick was publisher and editor of The Medical Post newspaper during the years I wrote a monthly nutrition column for them. He was writing to let us know about his wife Beth’s new novel, The Happiness of Truth.
One of the really fun (and unanticipated) parts of being an author and blogger is that people ask me to read and review their books. When I first hold a writer’s precious baby in my hands, I feel so happy and hopeful for them. I know how much work goes into a book, and how much that writer longs for that baby to make its way out into the world.
Happiness is one of my favorite subjects. When I read that the book was about a woman’s quest for true joy, I asked for a copy. I knew I was running a risk – what if I didn’t like it?
It was raw, messy and even ugly in parts – as is life. The story sucked me in almost against my will, and left me feeling shiny and uplifted. I found myself underlining so many passages that I decided to share and personally expand upon some of the book’s key ideas (no spoilers here, don’t worry!):
1) “Emptying yourself will help you survive, but ask yourself if it will help you live”
The main character, Valentine, is in a terrible dilemma and wants to just rid or “empty” herself of the problem that’s threatening the stability of her life. Sometimes it just seems easier to turn your back on a problem, push it away or simply run away. It can be very tempting, especially if getting rid of the problem will bring immediate relief (I have been guilty of this myself).
In your moment of crisis, immediate survival and peace of mind may seem the priority – but should it be, really? What might the consequences be of turning away or escaping? What might you miss out on or lose? What gifts might be wrapped up in your crisis if you stuck around to face it and work it through?
2) “None of us is fully in charge of our own narrative…but it’s what we do with the story that matters. It’s about moving toward the truth, however difficult that might be, rather than rewriting chapters to suit our needs.”
Life doesn’t work out the way we want and expect it to, so much of the time. A few years ago it looked like my life was set. I’d weathered and even triumphed over the biggest crisis of my life, was living the dream and expected to happily sail off into the future. Silly me. When I least expected it, I found myself having to face a catastrophically inconvenient truth I hadn’t wanted to see. Life was upside down again. This wasn’t part of the plan!
Luckily I decided to face the truth of my reality and deal with it. I got thrown off my stride for a while, and had to come to terms with my new (and initially unwelcome) circumstances. Things are really different now than I thought they’d be. Yet life is very, very good. Beautiful, actually. Let the chapters write themselves as they want to, and actively participate in making the best out of it all. Life may not work out as you’d expected – but it WILL work out.
3) “There is no holding back, I realized. With us or without us, the world moves forward.”
I’m not big on change. When things seem perfect I want them to stay that way (don’t we all?). When I left my urban medical life in 2004 and moved to Mexico to dance and write, I wanted to stay there forever. I kicked and screamed when shifting circumstances forced me to move back north again in 2009.
Sometimes I really wish there was no Twitter. I know I’m not alone in resenting having to learn and do so many new things to keep up with the times.
I’m glad I didn’t stay stuck, though. I’m loving my “northern” life now, and am perfectly content visiting Mexico on vacation. And I’ve met some really cool people on Twitter (come say hello at www.twitter.com/DrSusanBiali). Don’t waste energy resisting the flow, just go with it.
4) Grace’s lull (from a conversation Valentine has with her mother):
V: “Do you ever find that the happier you get the sadder you feel? Well, not sadder, exactly, maybe emptier is a better word?”
M: “Grace’s lull.”
M: “That quiet emptiness is called grace’s lull, dear. It’s God’s way of helping you make room for what’s coming next…Everyone needs conspicuous moments of emptiness. It’s the only way we recognize we need change…Grace’s lull, when you recognize it, is your tool for change.”
I love this concept. Can you relate to the feeling described? We don’t get to stay in that perfect place. And even the perfect place inevitably starts feeling a bit empty. As much as we’d love to stay there and bottle the happiness, more is always coming. And that’s a very good thing.
5) The Happiness of Truth
“Aging hearts may beat less efficiently, but through their chambers beats a purer version of happiness. Not the happiness of youth, but the happiness of truth. Youth’s happiness is watery, transparent; it only wants what it wants. But truth’s happiness is viscous, so velvety thick and sticky it’s able to embrace all emotions without discord.”
“That’s not to say it’s a resigned happiness – that would make it tight, restrictive. No, it’s not that at all. If I had to modify the word, I’d say generous – spacious and supple.”
When I pursued happiness in my youth, I never found it. It wasn’t until I accepted really difficult truths (such as the fact that I hated my chosen career of Emergency Medicine, and didn’t really want to be a practicing doctor, period) that I eventually discovered real joy. Embracing the truth about yourself and your circumstances really is the key to happiness. Everything else that isn’t real – even if society assures you that it’s the way – just ends up clouding any chance at real contentment.
Keats had it right (and so does Beth Thompson): truth really is beauty.
What have you learned about truth and happiness as you’ve gotten older and wiser? I’d love to hear about it in the comment section below.