We watched a documentary about the science of happiness last night. It talked a lot about how studies consistently show that the things that make us truly happy often are not at all the things we think will make us happy. One that really struck me was about how humans cope with tragedy. That we expect if something tragic happens, we will be devastated forever. But that what usually happens is something very unexpected – when something tragic happens, we are devastated for a relatively short time, and then afterwards in the rebuilding, we are usually happier.
Happiness is about expectations. A poor man from India spoke of his house happily. “It is covered with a plastic tarp, but on one side, there is a window. We have some trouble with rain coming in during the monsoons, but other than that, we live well.” For him, a house, with a window – that’s more than he could expect, and so he is happy.
Tragedy changes your expectations. You no longer expect that things will just work out, because that is what they do. Getting to bring home a living, breathing baby was not, for me, the natural culmination of an arduous pregnancy – it was a gift, of the very best kind, one I can never really take for granted. I watch others taking it for granted, torn up about delivery methods and birth plans and formula and whoknowswhatelse, and I just think, you don’t realize, how lucky you are just to bring them home. Mourning anything about my amazing, adorable, alive son is not something I can even imagine.
I’m not some virtuous parent. Babies are hard. Babies are exhausting. Babies are infuriating at 2 in the morning when you’re running on fumes. But they’re also a gift, and on my maddest day, I am still so happy, just to have him here. To have him smile at me, or cling to me in distress, or deprive me of precious hours of sleep. And so I find myself, with my adjusted expectations, surprised at how much better parenting is than I expected it to be, and I realize, it’s not because it’s easier than I thought, it’s because I am just so happy for the opportunity that I don’t mind so much when it’s hard.