January 4, 2014

The Work of Happiness

What does it take to be happy?

Happiness seems to be a popular topic these days, inspiring research, TED talks, and lots and lots of books. I've recently read a few of these, including most of The Happiness Hypothesis, which I was enjoying but took a break from because I left my Kindle in Big Sur (Big Sur+good book+great friends=Happy, by the way). And most recently, I read Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin, as a part of From Left to Write.

I have always been a fairly optimistic, happy person. Even after my brother passed away, though I was devastated, I still considered myself a generally happy person. Many great things have happened since then and I wasn't going to let the rest of my life slip away.

But having a child with special needs has put a damper on my happiness. This is not Moe's fault. Nor is it just my fate to be unhappy. The premise of most happiness research is that happiness is within our own control; external circumstances have a fairly small impact on any person's long term happiness.

But I admit, I've struggled with finding that place of optimism.

What I find so difficult about raising a child with autism, is the lack of control I have over how my day will go or what my life looks like. My house, which should be a place of refuge, is a source of almost constant stress. I cannot, for example, as Ms. Rubin does for herself, create "shrines" to things I loves or that make me happy. My collection of miniature chairs, for example, remains packed away, for surely Moe would love them to pieces. Literally.

I very much enjoy decorating, and interior design is a growing hobby of mine. But my own home is not the way I'd like it to be. I had to remove curtains because Moe pulled them down. China is hidden in a locked closet rather than a buffet to protect the pieces we still have left. I do what I can to create an environment that is both functional for us and pleasing to be in, but it isn't ideal.

Every aspect of our lives has changed. We don't travel. We rarely go out with friends. And until recently when I returned to work after six years of being a stay at home mom, I had lost that really big part of myself too.

It is not that these things are required to be happy. Autism has made it tough to do many things that formerly made me happy—but these things should not be necessary. Happiness comes from within; I know that. And yet, reading a book like Happiness at Home, I realize how much easier it is to be happy when you're already pretty happy to begin with and when you have a pretty good measure of control over your life.

If there's anything I've learned from Moe, however, it is that when things are tough, we just have to try a little harder. I'm working on it.

This post was inspired by Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin where she runs a nine month experiment to create happier surroundings. Join From Left to Write on January 6 we discuss Happier at Home. You can also chat live with Gretchen Rubin on January 7 on Facebook! As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.


  1. Thanks for sharing this post! I agree with what you said about cultivating happiness at home. I've been struggling with a similar issues, realizing the impact of my home environment on my life as a whole. Thanks for sharing your experience.
    All the best in 2014,
    Amita Patel

  2. I just want to give you a huge virtual hug. {{{{JEN}}}}

  3. My daughter has AS, so I can totally relate to what you are feeling. I got to a point that I don't care what others think and we are going to go out and do what we want and if we get stares, that's their problem- not mine. We've been much happier that way. Big hugs. It gets better.

  4. Thanks for sharing this. This most be a really hard thing to struggle with.

  5. Glad you are back writing here. I so look forward to Reading what you have to say.. I realized last year that my house was a disaster and not the welcoming place- I wanted and needed - for similar reasons to you I can't change much but I put a lock on my bedroom door made it a kid free zone, laundry free zone and bought great new sheets.. After a long day and often little sleep it is amazing to know I have that little space that is still mine...

  6. I hope you find a small space for yourself in your house to display beautiful things and enjoy some calm


I love comments! Respectful disagreement always encouraged.


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