What’s Wrong with Just Being Happy?

In May of 2012, it will be three years since we told the cable company that we did NOT want to continue service as we moved to a different house.  The salesperson argued with me, trying to make deals.

“Is the service unsatisfactory?” he asked.

“No,” I said.  “It’s always been great.”

“Can we offer you a deal on the price?  We can waive the transfer fee to…”

We actually didn’t pay for cable, due to a promotional special when I signed up for internet service through the same company.

Bewildered, he asked, “Then why do you want to cancel?”

“We don’t want it,” I replied.

A moment of silence on the other end indicated that this argument hadn’t been covered in the training manual.

“Whenever I turn off the TV, my kids have fits,” I said.  “My husband and I stay up past midnight to watch tv, when we could be getting up early to exercise together.  We haven’t enjoyed any real hobbies in a long time.  I do not want TV stations.

We had NO stations coming into the house, since this was shortly after the digital conversion and our television was pre-digital.  And I missed it… for a short time.  Then we started to fill the evenings with walks.  I started painting again.  We went to bed at a decent hour.

Sure, we still had a television.  We rented from Netflix, but we made every dvd count, looking for the next movie or series in the mail so we could watch it together.

People didn’t seem to understand.  Really, why would you want to be without tv?  Is money that tight, that you have to get rid of such a basic joy?  And though we did save money without cable service, the rewards were far greater.

And the biggest, most giddy reward of all?  NO COMMERCIALS!  I have no media invading my house, telling my family that we’re not supposed to be happy unless we fulfill the middle-class style of living that it represents.

Three years… that was when the economy really started to slide downhill, and businesses freaked out.  The December before our anti-cable move, I remember Kmart’s slogan, “Kmart Saves Christmas!

Had they really resorted to something that we had been warned against, every Christmas season, since childhood?  Equating stuff with happiness?  Walmart’s current slogan, though not seasonal, reflects a similar attitude.  “Save money.  Live better.”  Does this imply that affording more stuff makes a better life?

Three years ago… that was a landmark year for us.  Beginning that year, I started my own business.  My husband, a linguistic anthropologist with a Master’s degree, a man who speaks ten languages, recently lost the contract that had given us a modest but comfortable income.  His second job became his only job.  But he had a job, unlike a huge portion of Reno.

Now, with my new business, I had a chance to take some of the load from him.

In March, I got the call from my doctor.  “Please come into the office to discuss your test results.”  Doctors don’t make you come in so they can tell you good news.  Four biopsies later, with each result worse than the last, I faced surgery to get rid of the cancer.

We barely made the bills when I worked a full schedule.  How could we possibly make it if I had to be out for two months post-surgery?  And what if the surgery didn’t fix the problem?

And though this was one of our hardest years, it was one of our happiest.

No, really.  It was.

At that same time, our car broke down and we couldn’t afford to fix it for over four months.  We went grocery shopping with backpacks.  We found out that my husband’s office was only an hour and a half away if you walked at a good clip.  A lot of meaningful conversations can happen in an hour and a half.

Friends came up to us, trying to sympathize.  “Oh, you poor thing.  How can you live without a vehicle?” or “Your husband just needs to work harder, then you’ll be doing great.”

They honestly did not understand how happy we were.

Those television-free evenings allowed for family time as we walked down to the river.  We experienced the joy of supplementing our food from the garden, which was the start of a new obsession for me.  A friend found herself homeless.  She and her little girls slept on my floor for three months, and we realized that food stretches much further when you’re sharing it with someone worse off than you.

I had my surgery at the end of November.  I came home Thanksgiving Day.  The hospital had required a hefty copay. I couldn’t work until after the end of the year, and my husband took several weeks off so he could care for me.

Christmas shopping was not going to happen.  All of those things that people trample each other for on Black Friday?  Nope.  No standing in long, cranky lines at the mall.  No stressing over whether the people on my wishlist would just return what I had bought.  As soon as I could sit up straight, I started to crochet.

If any of my friends are reading this, and you received something crocheted for Christmas that year, then you’re priceless to me.

Two weeks after the surgery, the final pathology came back.  I was cancer free.  It was then that we told the kids why I had been sick, and why I had been in the hospital, and why the tree was very bare.  They didn’t freak out about the illness or the lack of presents.  They just gave me a big hug and told me that they were glad I was better.

They cherished their hats and scarves.  There were no video games, no designer jeans.  No dolls, no Legos.  Not even a cheesy manicure set, the kind designed for last-minute emergency shopping, that nobody ever uses.

We had hats, scarves, and a cancer-free mom.

Don’t tell us that we’re not supposed to be happy with our simple existence.  Our house is too small, our clothes are worn, our touchscreen electronic devices are nonexistent.  At the end of the paid workday, we start unpaid work to fill in the gaps.  But, if we can cut out all of the voices that tell us we’re NOT supposed to be happy, then we can hear the truth:

It’s ok to find joy in simple things.  It’s ok to rejoice in your loved ones, and in laboring together to provide for each other.  It’s ok to enjoy hard work, even if you’re still in debt after the work is done. 

It’s ok to just be happy.  


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