Personal reflections on happiness

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Yesterday, I spent some time cleaning my windows. I have a big sliding glass door in the back of my house and I had neglected to clean it, I think, for a year. The dirt on the window was plain to see when the morning sunlight came, and I was being reminded of that every day. So yesterday, I got the squeegee and the bucket and washed the window.

While I was inside, I sat at my dining table, looking outside and I felt happy about how nice and clean the window was. I was happy to see all the little details of my backyard and the hill beyond it. I said, “I’m looking at the backyard in 4k.” Everyone else laughed. I was happy.

Over the last month or so, I’ve been reflecting on how happy I have been. I’ve noticed certain stresses going away, certain changes for the better, and I’ve seen things just falling into place. It is almost surreal.

What prompted this article is that I was talking with a friend of mine yesterday. He lives in California and he told me that weed is now legal in California. I was kind of astonished. We used to be smoking buddies when weed was most definitely not legal. I spent 6 years of my life at least lightly stoned most of the time, and my California friend was a part of my life then. I can’t remember exactly when I quit, but I think I can place it around age 25. That means I’ve been sober for about 28 years.

During my conversation with my friend, I listened as he told me how easy it is to get weed now, how he can just go to a store and buy legal weed, take it home and smoke it. And he knows that even if pot is legal, it comes with a cost. I know now, that the cost of using weed is the cost of true happiness.

Long ago, I read of the story of Pete Townsend, the legendary lead guitarist for The Who. At the time, he was hooked on heroin and he was drinking a 5th of cognac every day. And he wanted to stop. So he put out feelers for help. And a company came to him with a black box with two wires and electrodes. The purpose of the black box was to pass a small current across his brain to stimulate the release of endorphins that were replaced by the booze and the smack. After a few weeks of medically supervised use of the black box, Townsend was free and clean.

Upon reading that story, I concluded that my brain is a 2.5 million year old pharmacy. I didn’t need coffee because I was already bouncing off the walls. I didn’t need pot, and I knew what it would do to me if I used it. I hated how I felt after using alcohol so that wasn’t my thing, ever. But then I knew that whatever I needed to feel, my brain was already capable of making it happen.

I have watched more than a season of Disjointed, a Netflix sitcom about a medical marijuana store in California. The characters in the show were high all the time. Being high was a lifestyle. Pot was used to take “the edge off” of life. I stopped watching the show because I was reminded that “the edge” is a signal and it’s telling you something.

Since I’ve been sober, I’ve had decades of a mix of introspection (writing), therapy (more writing), program work (still more writing), and just living with other people (more inspiration for writing). All of that has led me to present day happiness and contentment.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting on my lawn, watching my two little girls ride their bikes on the street in the warm summer air. The street where I live is a sort of cul-de-sac. It’s a T where cars can only park and leave, so there is no traffic on my street.

As I looked on at my kids riding their bikes on a nice quiet street, the early evening sun hung low over the house next to mine. I saw my two humble cars, my house, green grass (not that grass) and my kids. My basement is in progress. I have a kickass internet connection. I love my family, my neighbors, and my home. I was feeling happy, in a way that cannot be replicated by something that I ingest or smoke. My brain makes something superior, called endorphins.

I can recall only a few days ago, and this isn’t the first time, feeling happy at work. I do most of my work on a keyboard. I write something every day at work. Commands on a zsh prompt, email correspondence, reports, and lately, I’m working on a department newsletter. Sometimes while I work, I can feel a hit of joy and I say to myself, “So this is what it feels like when I’m happy.”

Today, I can reflect on that and compare it to my experience being high on pot. There is simply no comparison. My brain wins again.

When I write an article, I feel joy. I just love what writing does to my brain. I love making the words appear. I love reading what I wrote, editing, adjusting the grammar, adding the short word grease that makes a sentence flow, and getting the tone just right. I love engineering sentences to say what I want to say.

I love how writing allows me to organize my thoughts, to lay my thinking bare before me, and how writing allows me to choose how I want to think. Wait, writing allows me to choose how I think? How cool is that?

I feel joy when I write. Sometimes it’s low level joy, other times, it is a hit, but that hit is far better than anything I could ever smoke. And I haven’t even talked about how I feel when I publish that article. This is the first thing I do in the morning. This is how I want to start my day. The joy of writing beats pot any day.

So I can honestly say that I’m happy. I have enough for today. I’ve noticed that for the last 6 months, that happiness has been even more intense than before. I didn’t plan on this. I didn’t pray for this, I didn’t even ask for this. It just sort of fell into my lap, this life of mine. My life isn’t perfect, and it never will be. And that’s OK, because I can’t even buy what I have right now. I can only live in it to see what happens next.

And now that I’ve published this story, I can get on my with my day, ready to receive, ready to listen. For I’ve already said everything that I really wanted to say, today.

Write on.

Originally published on, July 5th, 2018. Updated for grammar, clarity and small new ideas that materialized during another editing pass.

Written by

Husband, father, worker, philosopher, and observer. Plumbing the depths of consciousness to find the spring of happiness. Write on.

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