On Being “Always” Happy

January 27, 2019 — 9 Comments

Last year will not go down in the history books as one of my favorites. Marked by unplanned upheaval and seemingly nonstop distress… it sucked, plain and simple. Admittedly, I had been wanting to get out of my comfort zone and make some changes in my life. I just didn’t think when it happened it would be so, well, uncomfortable!

I’m a sucker for inspirational quotes — the pithier the better. One of my favorites is “A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.” Thankfully, after taking some time to get my bearings, the first shoots of growth and change are beginning for me, and momentum is building.

In October, Mtuseni sent me a lovely birthday note outlining the qualities associated with my name. I’m always touched by how loving he is and how lucky I am to have him in my life. At the time, I’d been exiled to a hotel for a month after my neighborhood was rocked by gas explosions (just part of the upheaval and distress theme). I posted the note on the wall, savoring the sentiment and basking in the many positive attributes of “Michael.”

Last week I made a point to read it again, and this line jumped out at me…

“I hope you reach a level one day where you are always happy.”

“I hope you are happy.” Sounds pretty straightforward. But what caught my eye this time was the word “always.” Indeed, I’m striving for more happiness in my life across the board. I want to craft my ideal, multifaceted career. Find the perfect husband. Live in an area that nurtures and inspires me. Have friends and community that “get” me and feed my soul.

mtuseni photo-walletYet even if all those boxes were checked, it wouldn’t be enough. Because that word “always” made me realize that I’ll never be fully happy until Mtuseni is safe, secure, and thriving. Until that megawatt smile and inner spark I fell in love with almost a decade ago returns to its full brightness — and stays that way. I may have had a tough year, but even my worst day is a luxury compared to his life in a South African shack.

I heard someone say recently that having a kid is like taking a piece of your heart out and letting it walk around on its own in the world. Funny, for decades I always thought that getting the perfect career, mate, and home would bring me total joy and contentment. But the equation has changed. For me to be “always happy” … my best boy, that piece of my heart, has to be happy.

I made a promise early on to Mtuseni — and to myself — that he would live a much better life, one that reflected his dreams and aspirations. That promise was already built into my plans as I emerge from the muck of last year. But it’s an eye opener to realize just how much my happiness and life satisfaction are linked to his.

I guess that’s what happens when someone finishes your birthday note with “I love you Dad.”



9 responses to On Being “Always” Happy


    Oh man, you’ve done it again, totally tugged at my heart with this beautiful post. No one is always happy, not a realistic expectation, but what you wrote here about your happiness being tied to his through that bond of love is so beautiful. Maybe it’s time to launch a massive fundraiser to bring him to the States?



      Thanks! another fairly stoic friend of mine had the same reaction. It is a big shift to recognize when your benchmark for happiness is significantly altered. I talked to him today and asked his thoughts on my planned cross-country bonding, platform-building trip with him. He’s of course all in. It was good to hear him excited again; he’s been pretty down in the dumps for a while — which is not the Mtuseni I know and love. ~~ 18 years ago now, we were at VSC! Crazy!



    Michael – it’s been a while for me to show up here, but I do check in. Thank goodness you’re safe from the gas explosions, and it’s wonderful to see how Mtuseni challenges your assumptions about happiness. And how he’s progressing in his education of you. My oldest left the nest a few years ago and prides herself on near independence now and the youngest is ready to launch. And the young man from an African country we’ve mentored is finding his wings too. And so often I learn it is I for whom the more complex lesson is meant. What a humbling privilege to learn through another. We’ll have to connect again soon. I stopped blogging when I went to work full time and now I’m thrilled to find my work in taking students overseas for writing abroad. It’s a fantastic merger and continuation of so much that I’ve worked toward over many decades.



      Renee! So happy to hear from you! Yes, I cut back on this blog once Mtuseni got a job. Pivoted to pitching my book to agents… still at it and getting positive response, if no hit yet. The last couple years have been gnarly for me. I let Mtuseni simmer on the back burner for a while, knowing he’s at least working and convincing myself nothing dire will happen to my boy. (After all, he’s 26 now!) But his life and S Africa are pretty much mired in the usual standstill. Frustrating! This year I’m recommitting with big stuff that will benefit him, me, our relationship, and the book project. (Think “Cross-country Dad-Son Trip Across America”) Yep… thinking big. Thinking epic.
      Your work situation sounds great! Your path is an inspiration. I have a new manifesto for my life/career: “Explore, Discover, Share, Enlighten, Empower, Inspire.” My guideposts and marching orders! Yes, let’s connect. I’m looking for ideas from anyone and anywhere on how to pull off this trip, and would love to hear about your writing/travel/teaching adventure.



        Michael – I recall the last time I was reading your stories regularly– the mid point of my reading was the trip you and M did together then. I admired your honestly about expectations and what worked and how expectations really framed things in so very many ways. That tension between expectation and reality is the music parents must learn to dance to and show their kids. The music might change, our knees might change, our shoes might be new or worn, but you and we are still dancing and you’re always open to the dance. That is what I so appreciate about your commitment to this journey with Mtuseni and why I keep coming back. Yes, let’s stay in touch.



    You write in a beautiful way. Rich and enjoyable style. Loved reading it.


What do you think?...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s