2023: May You Be Happy in the Life You Have Chosen

Jan 29, 2023

During the last month of the year, I always try to pay attention to words, phrases, quotes, or scripture verses that I'm particularly drawn to that might help inform my focus for the coming year. I love when the little zing of recognition comes and I just know I've found it.

This is something that can't be planned. Rather, I have to be mentally alert so I can recognize the zing when it happens.

And this time, it came on a Thursday afternoon as I sat in a darkened theater and watched a play that I am very well acquainted with. I could probably quote entire passages from memory. As I sat back, I let the familiar words settle around me until suddenly--zing--I perked up. 

Ebenezer Scrooge is busily recording numbers when his fiancee, Belle, walks into the room. He is bothered and annoyed by her presence as it is keeping him from his very important work. She doesn't waste his time; she keeps her words brief: "Our contract is an old one," she says. "It was made when we were both poor, and content to be so . . . When it was made, you were another man." 

She releases him from their commitment and then gives her final parting words: "May you be happy in the life you have chosen."

You will recognize this scene from Charles Dickens' beloved novel, A Christmas Carol. I was at the play with Mike and 8-year-old, Clark. And as Belle said those words, zing, it was as if I was hearing them for the first time.

2022 was a year of striving to be more generous ("open thine hand wide") and "looking forward and not backward." I think I made gains in both areas, although, as usual, not as much as I would have liked, but as the year wrapped up, I found myself spending some quality time looking backwards just a bit. 

One of the best parts of 2022 was having Silas become a part of our family. He filled a spot we didn't even realize was there, and we all adore him so much.

And yet, over and over again, I have overheard myself saying things like this: "Wow, having a baby sure makes it feel like we've started over." "We just reset the clock." "Now we won't be empty nesters until we're almost sixty!" "This [vacation] [concert] [meeting] [lesson] is so much harder with a baby." "Imagine how easy this would be if our youngest child was five years instead of five months." 

I could hear regret in my words, but adding Silas to our family was a deliberate choice, and one that we would make over and over again. He is the best thing that could have happened to our family, and we (all of us!) are grateful for him every day.

So when Belle said, "May you be happy in the life you have chosen," I realized that I wasn't fully doing that. I was sometimes imagining an alternate reality instead of fully embracing my real life, the one that I chose. 

My sister-in-law, Brittany, has something she has said to me on more than one occasion: "Whatever choice you make will be the right choice." I have needed these words because I am one who can become paralyzed by decisions, even really dumb, insignificant ones. I am so worried I'll make a choice and then it will end up being the wrong one. But Brittany's point is, "There isn't any alternate universe where a different version of your life is playing out. This is it, right here, right now."

A few months ago, a family in our neighborhood had a son return home from a mission. The mom compiled a video of the experience, and the thing that struck me the most when I watched it was the joy that was expressed in the preparation. He wasn't even home yet, but as they made signs and treats and gathered as a family, the joyful anticipation was clearly evident. 

I realize that a video like this one often highlights only the good, and there's something about setting things to music that just makes even the most mundane tasks seem magical. However, in my own life, the preparation itself is often very stressful. I am overwhelmed by the things that have to get done, and I often feel inadequate to the task. Seeing the joy of this family as they worked together on little details inspired me to want to take things a little slower and focus on the good things in the moment rather than on everything that has to be finished for the end result.

I had an opportunity to put my good intentions into practice on Silas' first birthday. I wanted to have a small party with a few family members. Normally, this is the kind of thing that would stress me out, but this time, I tried to just take it one step at a time and keep the reason for it all (celebrating our darling boy) at the forefront of my mind. And because of that, I noticed things I never would have otherwise: Silas' delight at the party store when we picked up a few decorations and paper supplies; the contagious excitement of all of the boys as they decided on thoughtful gifts; the joyful energy that hummed in our house with all of the people who came to celebrate with us. I didn't focus on the hassle, and it made all the difference.

I happened to run into an acquaintance a couple of weeks before the new year. This idea of being happy with my life was already bumping around in my brain, so I did a double take when, during the course of our conversation, this person said, almost in passing, "You have the life I would have liked." I didn't exactly know what she meant by that or what she was seeing in my life that she wished for in her own. Here on my blog, just like the video of the family I mentioned above, I tend to highlight the good things, and I didn't know if, perhaps, I was giving things a rosier hue than was actual reality. 

However, there was something about knowing that my life was envied from afar that made me appreciate it more. The tasks that had previously felt mundane suddenly seemed like they had greater purpose, contributing to this life that I had both chosen and been chosen by. 

Because that's the thing: is everything about this life my choice? No, of course not. Sometimes I catch a lucky break through no effort on my part. Sometimes there are unfortunate mishaps or more serious challenges that occur through no fault of my own. But each day, I make choices, both in the things I do and in the ways I respond, that put me on certain trajectories. And it is these things that I very much want to find happiness in.

As I planned out my goals for this year, I tried to be very conscientious of things I already knew about myself, such as: I love routines. And also, I love a simple life. I knew if I could figure out a way to make the things I wanted to do or be better at a part of my regular life, I would be much more successful. It would be less about forcing myself to do something and more about focusing on the things that were already there while minimizing decision fatigue (a real thing for me). 

Here is a sampling of some of them. You will notice that most of them focus on small habits instead of big projects:

  • Hold weekly planning sessions with Mike 
  • Hold monthly family councils
  • Eat 1000 vegetables (inspired by my friend, Alicia)
  • Read to Ian every day
  • Save money for another painting
  • Read 36 books
  • Knit four pairs of socks
  • Knit a project with leftover yarn
  • Project BACKYARD
  • Establish "go-to's" in these areas: birthday gifts for my kids' friends, breakfast and lunch, meal to take to others, snacks when my kids' friends come over
  • Scripture reading in the morning with notes
I could tell you more about each of these and how they came to be and how they're going so far, but I'll save that for another post. I really thought about the things that make me happy and how I could streamline my life a bit more so I wasn't having to think and worry about the same things every day. 

When Belle says, "May you be happy in the life you have chosen," it is a bit of a jab. I mean, right??? It is spoken wistfully, but she is throwing Ebenezer's pitiful and depressing life in his face. Does she actually hope he'll be happy? Or does she hope he someday feels the pain and regret of what he gave up? 

But for me in 2023, I'm removing any underlying sarcasm from this statement and focusing instead on the hope and challenge it offers. May 2023 be the year I continue to find and celebrate happiness in the life I already have. 

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