I have a sign that sits on my bedside table that reads, “Happiness is a Choice.” I bought it after my divorce, back when everything in my life was going wrong and I needed something, anything, to grasp for comfort. Back then, I chose those words, “Happiness is a choice,” and reminded myself of that choice each and every morning when I awoke for the day.
That sign still sits there today, on my nightstand, but I haven’t taken much notice of it for the past few years. This morning, however, was different. I found myself staring at it, considering its looping cursive script, wondering if those words were in fact true.
Do people make the choice to be happy or is it something more complicated than that? And what is happiness anyway? Is it a feeling? Is it a state of mind? Or is it something else entirely? Maybe it’s none of these things. Maybe it is all of them. I don’t know. I’m one of those people dumb enough to have a sign that simplifies “happiness” to a nearly comical four-word phrase, “Happiness is a Choice.”
You see, I’d love to choose to be happy all the time. Wouldn’t anyone? I mean, if we could take a look at a sign like “Happiness is a Choice” and say, “Oh, right. I forgot to be happy, but now I choose to be happy, and in so do so, I am in fact happy.” But it doesn’t work that way, does it? Not for you, not for me, not for anyone.
If happiness were that simple, there wouldn’t be hundreds of self-help books on the subject, or millions of people who visit therapists every year. People wouldn’t drink alcohol or use mood altering substances; they wouldn’t turn to religion, asking whatever God believe in to answer their prayers. They wouldn’t wish on stars, or throw a penny into the well. And They wouldn’t hold their breath, silently making a wish, just before blowing out another year’s birthday candles.
I, of course, am not the authority on happiness (hence the “Happiness is a Choice” sign). I don’t even pretend to be, and my now husband would second that sentiment. The poor man is subjected to my craziest of moods – the ones I don’t share with the public. Because all too often, the face I wear in public is not my face at all. I hide my feelings well, but lately I’ve found myself growing more and more emotional. Today I’m a literal basket case of emotions.
The fact that I am emotional may not be all that surprising. It is the reason why I am so emotional that one may find intriguing. I am emotional because so many good things have happened to me lately. There. I said it. You are free to Judge my whiny ridiculousness from this moment forward. That said, hear me out. In my opinion, the circumstances, whether good or bad, are not the vehicle to the ever elusive “happiness” goal. I have come to believe that the road to happiness is paved by stability; the steady every day of a world that doesn’t change much.
Don’t get me wrong, change is good, and it will often lead to happiness or at least the hope for happiness, but that doesn’t make the process of change any easier. Take my life for example. I found a literary agent to represent my work, switched from public defending to private practice, and got married, all in a six-month span of time. All good things. Right?
Right. They are all good things. Things I’ve worked towards for most of my life, but that doesn’t help with stability. Because instability is inherent with changes such as these. Take my book for example. I found a great agent. She’s wonderful in every way and I am so thankful to have her. There are authors out there who have spent years sending submission after submission to agents, begging for someone to please, please, please, take a look at their book, all to no avail. And some of those authors who are lucky enough to find an agent, quickly realize it isn’t a match made in heaven.
I am one of the fortunate authors who found an agent rather quickly – on my first novel without sending out more than 10 queries. Not only did I find her quickly, but she is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. So, what do I have to complain about? Nothing. But still I find myself outside that coveted circle of “happiness.” Sure, I was “happy” for a day or two after signing with my agent, but then it was time to edit my book for submission to editors. I put my nose to the grindstone, ground out the edits, and now I’m out on submission. Yay! Right?
No. Not yay. I won’t go into too much detail about the editorial submission process, because every source I see says that it’s against the rules or something, but I will say this: Going to editorial submission feels a bit like floating in the middle of the sea on a flimsy life raft without a paddle. I wait. And wait. And wait. And wait for news. There is literally nothing I can do to help the process. It’s out of my hands. Completely out of my control.
Now, to put it into perspective, let me compare my life raft scenario to the rest of the writing process. If editorial submission feels like being out to sea without a paddle, writing the original manuscript feels like building a ship. Putting pen to paper is like putting hammer to nail, constructing a masterpiece. A writer can build any kind of boat he or she wants. The writer can give the boat bright sails that billow in the wind, or a motor as fast as a speed boat, or even create a ship powered by fair dust, whatever suits his or her fancy. The writer has complete control. He or she owns that ship and is its only captain.
But then the writer moves on to stage two of the wring process – finding an agent. Finding an agent is like looking for someone to finance a ship’s first voyage. Nobody wants to take a chance on the new writer. Sure, the writer can send query after query, but who knows if those agents are even reading through their query boxes. Agents could be setting fire to them as I write this article. Hell, if I were an agent and received as many queries as they do, I’d create an automatic “delete” function just so I didn’t wear that particular button out on my keyboard.
The second step of the writing process – finding an agent – involves much waiting and can be very, very, difficult, mentally and emotionally. But the good thing about this portion of the process is that the writer still has some control. Agents aren’t biting on the query an author sent? Alright. Then revise it. And revise it. And revise it. And then toss it, and revise it again. An author can also choose new and different agents to send their queries. Authors can attend writing conferences and meet others in the industry. All of these things can be exhausting, but at least the author is doing something.
Editorial submissions, the portion of the process I am currently undergoing, is not at all like step one or step two. It is the ultimate twiddling of thumbs. There isn’t anything I can do to help the process along. E-mailing my agent over and over again is only going to drive her insane, and possibly backfire. I mean, if my agent is busy responding to my obsessive-compulsive e-mails, she can’t be talking to editors or reviewing my manuscript changes, now can she? Nope. She can’t. So, I sit and wait, then check my e-mail, then wait, then check my e-mail, then wait some more. Frustrating, right?
But ultimately, I’m sure I will cross this hurdle (mostly thanks to the professional marvelousness of my agent), and move on to the next step of the process. As a first-time author, I admit that I have no clue as to what the next step is, and I’m certainly not going to jinx myself by looking now.
My point is that finding an editor isn’t going to be the thing that ultimately makes me happy. When my book is finally published, I doubt that will make me happy for all that long either. I don’t honestly know what makes me happy, but I also don’t think it’s necessarily a choice. Nothing is that simple. I mean think about it, there are more steps to doing a load of laundry than that over-simplified four-word phrase “Happiness is a Choice.”
So, no, I don’t believe that phrase anymore. I believe happiness is more of a process. It is learning how to handle the inevitable changes that occur in each and every one of our lives, whether good or bad. Happiness is something we should all strive for, but it probably isn’t something we should expect to master. True happiness will probably always be just outside our grasp, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy bits of it as we muddle through our everyday lives.
Every portion of the writing process has its own challenges. The mastery of those challenges will not lead a writer to happiness. But maybe learning to enjoy the process will help. Write because you love writing. Send your manuscript to agents because you truly believe in it. Focus on something else (like writing an article like this) while out on submission. I think if we, as writers, learn to enjoy every part of the process, or at least some portions of every part of the process, we will find a bit more happiness along the way.