The misadventures of a first time father

Tag Archives: Happiness

Bar Busy with peopleSit down, kids, and I’ll tell you a story.

One of the greatest things I ever did was to take a low point in my life and esteem and turn it into motivation to focus on time for myself, and getting back in touch with things I enjoyed.

I was in my late 20s, single, and going through what might have been classified in retrospect as a form of depression. A good portion of that time was admittedly spent going out, drinking, dating, and in some form or another, always landing right back to the same starting point again, rinse and repeat. I also (being able to look back retrospectively and introspectively on myself) was not my best self and feel that I lacked a bit of maturity and awareness of the world outside my own interests and vision. Perhaps a symptom of my age at the time, perhaps just something that develops through our life experiences. But I’m glad I can see and admit that now.

I wasn’t happy and at the time I looked at many outside factors as things that might potentially make me happy. Only now, almost but not quite 15 years later, am I able to have the perspective to realize that nothing, not a thing that I could have obtained (a different job, a different living space, a relationship with XY or Z), none of it would have actually made a difference.

Because now I’m incredibly fortunate enough to realize that happiness can’t be found in any particular thing. You can chase it, but if you get it, you’ll find yourself still struggling to understand why you’re not better. That’s because being happy comes from something much closer to home. It can only be found within oneself. It’s in your outlook, your mindset, your gratitude for the good in life and letting it tip the scale on the bad.

Hand holding remote controlOne particular Fall/Winter season, after a few of those vicious cycles, I decided it was time to pull back and focus on a new way and a new focus, namely myself. I didn’t go out. I’d come home to my apartment after work, get cozy, make some food, watch some television or read, maybe work on something creative, and call it a night.

To some I think it might have looked like turning into a hermit, but for me at the time, it was refocusing my energies back onto time for myself and things I enjoyed. Quiet time. A time to get back in touch with myself again.

I tried theatre again – something I hadn’t done at that point since high school. Eventually that led to a small part at a playhouse I had never heard of about a half hour away. A friend had suggested to me that I give it a try. There, I met a wonderful group of people in what seemed like a rag tag group of performers trying their best with minimal resources to put on a show (paralleling a similar type of circumstance in the play’s story itself). And among that crew was a new friend – well, sort of. She’d make fun of me a lot. And I’d often leave thinking “that girl is so weird.”

Theatre stage curtain seatsBut, we were becoming friends.

About five or six months later, another play came around at the same playhouse and having had such a fun experience, I tried again. Lo and behold, “that weird girl” and I were both in the cast again and we found our friendship beginning to grow.

By the time the show’s run ended a few months later, we must have realized that we liked each other because I asked her out to a touring production of a Broadway show that came through town.

And I guess the rest, as they say, is history. Three-kids later history.

The realization to look inward for my happiness, that season of reconnecting with myself led me somewhere I never would have guessed, and somewhere I wouldn’t change for the world.

And that, kids, is how I met your mother.


raindrops sadness depressionAbout a year ago, I felt like I was living in a constant state of stress. Whether it be work, family, adult and parent responsibilities, finances, aspirations left unreached, creative pursuits, or issues with the world at large, I was a ball of worry, nerves, pressure, and so much more, clawing at the walls for a way out of this invisible box I felt I was stuck in all the time.

Every little thing would bother me, from a comment someone at work made, or a creative project taking a little longer because ‘life things’ just got in the way. Negative, negative, negative, it felt like a cloud that was engulfing me at nearly every turn.

Then, somewhere along the way, either just before or just after the birth of our third child, our second daughter six months ago, something happened. A switch felt like it got flipped.

Why did it take me so long to flip that switch? Was it the birth of our third child that was the impetus for such a shift in focus? Why didn’t it happen with the first two?

field trailI have no idea and can’t tell you. But I can tell you that around this time, I just started looking at things…differently.

Suddenly, the things that I used to find myself so bothered by no longer really mattered. I mean, sure, they were there, they weren’t ideal, they were still annoying. But they no longer gnawed at me, they no longer stayed with me. Sure, it could be that I’m just so exhausted from three kids that I don’t have the energy to worry about other things anymore or to get upset about things that used to bug me. Maybe there’s a quotient of truth there.

But, I think most of all, I just started thinking differently. Somehow, I inadvertently shifted my mindset and instead of getting bothered or down about the things that weren’t working out, weren’t great, that I couldn’t achieve or have, I started feeling incredibly grateful for everything I did have.

And it was world changing for me.

I was looking at the success of other people and I wasn’t feeling joy. Instead it was making me feel bad, as if their achievements were a reflection on what I hadn’t done or hadn’t accomplished. It’s not, but for whatever reason, that’s how I was looking at it. And that view led to toxic feelings, feelings of doubt, of depression, unnecessary comparisons instead of feeling happy that someone was experiencing something good.

heart-loveIt’s like somewhere along the way in our development, this need to have things, more things, or this thought process that when someone gets something we didn’t, that it’s our own faults, our failure. So instead of feeling happiness for someone else, we default to a comparison that we missed out on something, that we’re not ‘worthy’ of it and then start questioning why, then start getting angry, or sad. And that leaves us disillusioned.

Suddenly, after far too long of dealing with the clouds of depression, angst, anger, sadness, self doubt that came about when things went south somewhere in life, I found myself stopping for a moment or two to mentally face these thoughts, these feelings, and start asking myself – “what are you happy to have?”

My family, my friends, a job, a roof over my head, clothes on my back.

I started to look around me every morning. The frustration of the cats waking me at half hour intervals from 3 am onward turned into (most mornings. I’m human, I falter) an appreciation for the love these furry little guys show us each and every day from the moment we took them in and welcomed them to our family. Gratefulness that it was our growing cat population in our house that awoke some paternal instinct in me long before we welcomed home any of our human children.

Ah, our children. How quickly life has changed in the 8 years Meg and I have been married. Sometimes that change can make us feel like nothing gets accomplished because we’re constantly chasing after or tending to one of the kids. But to imagine our lives without any one of them, chaos included, is unfathomable. There will come a time when they’ll be older, when they’ll have their own lives, and we’ll be wishing for the chaos, the sleepless nights and those times when sure, nothing around the house felt like it got done, but man, weren’t those kids fun? The laughter, the joy, the wonder, and the sheer love that each one brings in their own way, from the way they look at you when they first see you in the morning, to that hug at the end of the night. There has been nothing in our lives like it and it has been nothing short of a blessing to be a parent and be there beside them as they grow. And right there with me amid that tornado trio of kids is a beautiful, wonderful, funny, incredibly intelligent wife who is a true partner in all of this craziness of life, through thick, thin, and everything in between.

Friendships. Many of us are all going through the same things in life. Or maybe we’re not, but being around your friends, hearing about their struggles, sharing in the joy of their triumphs, and vice versa is important. Being around them, just knowing you’re not alone, even if no one has all the answers, makes the speed bumps in life a little easier to hit, and the good times even better.

cardinal-birdhouse-natureA home in a neighborhood with good people who talk to each other, who look out for each other. A backyard with wildlife, where I can see birds come to the feeder every morning, squirrels doing acrobatics for seeds, or sometimes even a deer wandering through the yard on their way to and from the nearby woods. Space for our children to run, to play, to be kids.

A job that, sure, may not always be ideal, but then very few are. It may not be what I set out to do/want to do with the rest of my life (and it may not end up being, but who knows?), but it’s allowed me many things – the opportunity to go back to school, new professional skills to learn, more time with my kids than other jobs have, allowed me to make my student loan payments on time, to pay our bills, and afford to live when so many other people struggle just to make those ends meet and often can not.

This appreciation and gratitude for all that I’ve realized I have has for the most part made me forget what I didn’t, or what I thought I didn’t and thought I needed.

Several studies link gratitude to lower levels of depression, less toxic emotions like resentment and envy and can actually create higher levels of self esteem.

morning-gratitudeOver time, I found myself more and more looking for the bright side of situations. When someone came to me with something that might have been a downer to me last year, instead of reveling in what made it bad news, I find myself trying to look for the opportunity, or the silver lining within.

And when I started looking at the positives of situations, of my own life, I just found myself generally happier overall. No one expects you (or me) to be a ray of sunshine 24/7. We’re only human. But I’m a much happier human now.

It didn’t happen right away, but in time with a little work and a little focus, I’ve found that practicing the art of appreciation as gratitude has changed not only my outlook, but my life.

Love the life you’re with, find the reasons to love your life, the pieces of it, even in times of turmoil that can remind you what parts you’d never change, the parts that other people would love to have, and it can make a big difference. At least it did for me.


Eclipse 01

Waiting for the mother ship.

Like much of America on Monday, I was awash in a world that was talking about the solar eclipse, as the moon stepped in front of the sun like a rude person at the checkout line who either doesn’t see you or doesn’t care.

That was a pretty cynical comparison, right? We all slip into it now and then…cynicism, I mean. What is happening to this world? What is going on with people? Things are just awful!

We all have days where we doubt humanity. If you don’t, bravo. I want to be more like you. I try very hard to be, but I’m not fully there yet, I admit.

But sometimes just a tiny little thing can turn that around.

There were lots of fun moments to be had as I saw people’s jokes and funny satire on social media, but I had no intention of actually watching the event itself. Stores, library, and the like were all out of the special glasses, I was working, and there wasn’t even a box around to make a pinhole viewer if I wanted to. Unprepared was I.

Eclipse 03

It all started with her glasses and generosity.

But once the eclipse began, I decided to go for a little walk out of my work office. I couldn’t look up to the sky (unless I wanted to burn my retinas), but maybe I’d be able to see if the light outside had changed. Would it look like evening or nighttime?

Where we are, it didn’t get much darker. At best it looked a few hours ahead of what it really was. That late afternoon/early evening light of summer, I suppose. A moment or two later, a young woman from another office on the university campus walked by, asking if I had taken a look and pulled out a pair of special eclipse glasses that she purchased online. She then let me have a look as well.

There it was, well, partial for us, anyway…as the shadow of the moon covered part of the sun.

I thanked her for the chance to take a look, and a few moments later, she shared them with one of the university police officers, who came out to look. Moments later, another officer came by to take a look. Within just a few minutes, a crowd of people from various offices had just sort of congregated at this crossroads we were at, each taking turns to get a glimpse.

Eclipse 02

The crowds and the smiles just grew and grew. Community at its best.

When a group of students came by, the glasses were passed to them as this impromptu viewing party grew bigger and bigger.

It didn’t really hit me until I saw the crowds of college students, each one passing the glasses on to the next, looking up to the sky, their faces lighting up with smiles, then talking with each other about what they saw.

Dozens of people who just happened through the same spot, all smiling, all happy, all having a wonderful moment of a community together – thanks to the sun, the moon, and a spirit of generosity that started with one person and spread like the sun’s rays.



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