Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Don't be the sulky boyfriend on the road trip....

I bet that some readers saw yesterday's post and didn't know what to make of the idea that our family isn't responsible for our happiness. After all, what are families for? Weren't our marriage vows somehow about promising to make each other happy for the rest of our lives? After all we've done for our kids, shouldn't they care about our happiness?

I stand by my point that we, as women, Moms, and individuals, have a lot to gain by choosing to take responsibility for our own happiness. Doing so sets up a positive spiral of good will rather than a downward death-spiral of resentment. Here's an example from outside the realm of motherhood:

My college boyfriend was a sweet guy with a good heart, but he could get really sulky. (This was almost 20 years ago, so let's chalk it up to mutual immaturity.) On several occasions, we were out with a group, or on a trip, when he had a bad time for one reason or another her just had to let everyone else know it. Even if it was a circumstance that no one else could reasonably fix, he would sulk, pout, and bring everybody down. He was petulant in a way that broadcast his unhappiness. If you've ever been on a road trip with someone like this, you know how annoying it is. You just want to tell him to get a grip and take responsibility for himself. Everyone else is having a pretty good time, and if he is having a bad time, he needs to either tell us what we can do to make it better, or to deal with it himself.

Does any of this sound familiar in the context of our families? When we can't communicate honestly, when we bottle up our unhappiness and become a martyr, we end up like the sulky boyfriend on the road trip. You can see how taking responsibility for our own happiness tranforms the situation. Yes, our families are involved, but it is our responsibility to tell them what we need, to advocate for ourselves, and to get ourselves what we need if no one else will do it for us.

Judith Warner of Perfect Madness fame had a line in a interview that haunts me. I have always wondered whether it was an impulsive thought or if she really meant it. When the question was posed, "A lot of women wonder, how can they get fathers to do their share?" Warner said, "I don't know. I think at this point it's largely a lost cause for our generation. It's too late."

The reporter replied "Wow" and that was my response, too. Too late for our entire generation? Where the heck does that leave us for the rest of our lives? Maybe it's too late for our fantasies of what life was supposed to be like, but we are still in charge of crafting our reality. Warner's attitude on this topic highlights the differences between her basic approach and mine. I would rather move through life with an approach that is wildly optimisitic rather than realisitically pessimisitic. Optimism is the fuel, the hope that drives us forward to create something better. So is taking responsibility for our lives.

One of my favorite books lays this out in an elegant way. The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander explores the practice of living life beyond the narrow limitations we usually put on ourselves and others. In the lesson "Being the Board" the Zanders speak about living life as though you are the board on which the whole game is being played. It is about choosing to not place yourself in the victim role. "You move the problematic aspect of any circumstance from the outside world inside the boundaries of yourself." The are speaking of "a new kind of responsibility [that] is yours for the taking. You cannot assign it to someone else. It is purely an invention, and yet it strengthens you at no one's expense."

The Zanders acknowledge that our view of the world is a mental construct, which is true in a neurological sense. Knowing this can lead to a powerful practice: It's all invented. If our worldview is made up anyway, why not choose "a new universe to live in, a universe of possibility"?

I highly recommend this book and if you ever have a chance to see Ben Zander give his live seminar, drop what you are doing and GO. While much of the Zanders' work resonates with other inspirational writing, The Art of Possiblity is in a class by itself.


Blogger PunditMom said...

MojoMom, Your posts this week really have gotten me thinking about my life. Of course, on some level, I know I am responsible for my own happiness, but I haven't actively worked on that in my personal life the way I have my professional life.

I have seen first hand what happens to someone who takes martyrdom to the level of an Olympic sport, and I have to fight every day from allowing that to creep into my own life.

You've given me a lot to think about and work on in terms of transforming my personal life in a way that can pump up the happiness level!

10:04 AM  
Blogger MojoMom said...

Thinking about being responsible for my own happiness has created a real moment of clarity for me, too. It's the kind of idea I had to ponder 100 times, and the 101st time it got through.

I am glad it's helped you, too. Definitely check out The Art of Possibility as a tool to explore this further.

2:39 PM  

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