The Music of Life

A few days ago, my precocious nine year-old looked at me and said,

“Mom, without music the world would be a really sad place.”

This comment needs to be taken in context, before expanded upon. This nine-year old is a total throwback to my generation, the classic rock and roll, beat the drums, hold your breath, dance until dawn, rock and roll. Gabe plays both electric guitar and the drums, and is probably one of the few pre-pubescent who digs Black Sabbath (the songs I’ll let him listen to) and Guns and Roses. And like most children of his age, he walks around in a black leather jacket with I-Pod listening devices stuck in his ears, pockets, and backpack.

He’s the consummate I-Tune customer.

Now let’s stretch beyond Gabe’s testimony to music. What he’s really saying is that without joy, life isn’t worth much.

Some joys are simple, and we all share them. We love to be praised when we’ve accomplished something important. We smile when smiled at. We women feel thrilled when we’re told we look pretty or a special someone takes the time out of a busy day to say, “Hey, how about if I bring dinner home.” Men like that stroke on the back or being appreciated when they’ve succeeded at a task. And kids of all ages love that ice cream cone on a really hot day.

Other joys are earned. I’m happy after I’ve changed the animal cages and turtle tank, fed the dogs, and tugged the cat bowl away from the big-mean-always-hungry male dog named Honey, if only because I can check these items off my eternal chore list. I’m ecstatic after I’ve finished writing a book chapter or even better, after I’ve hit “send” and the final manuscript is off my computer forever. Quite simply, life is a lot of work and we’re always happier when it’s done.

There are the joys of avoidance, which we seldom recognize, but have to appreciate as well. I love Emails that can slip right from the In-box to Trash. One punch, and I’ve saved anywhere from a minute to an hour of thinking time. More than once, I’ve been grateful for the headache that has spared me attending an event I didn’t want to go to. There’s nothing more satisfying that happiness created through apathy.

Some joys, however, are personal to us. We all have our own happiness code or personal joy key. My oldest son’s idea of a good time is to sit around munching leftovers while texting his girlfriend. Needless to say, the nine-year-old considers this a total yawn; first, because girls are yucky and second, because why sit if you can walk and why walk if you can run? One of my girlfriends adores the shopping; another horseback riding. Neither the twain shall meet.

These differences are understandable and part of what makes us unique, but they can also be one of the core reasons for unhappiness. I can’t count how many couples come to see me in trauma because they have distinctive and seemingly incompatible happiness quotients. He likes spending time with his coin collection and she plans parties. He wants to go dancing and she likes to cuddle on the couch. If differences aren’t negotiated, both parties end up feeling unloved and unappreciated. The very actions that make someone happy become the reason for disagreements that lead to friction.

These types of tensions exist in every part of our life. How many times do we chafe at the behavior of a co-worker who likes a messy desk, while we admire neatness? (Or in my case, the opposite.) Ever sat across from someone whose idea of joy is eating a huge chocolate blizzard sundae, while yours is to (try to) stick to your diet?

We’ll lose out if we wait for someone else’s idea of joy to be compatible with our own. Baseline, we really do rock to our own song; others have to do the same. I must go for what makes me happy, and not wait around for someone else to create opportunities for me. That’s why I’m a fan of going to movies alone, writing, reading books, and walking—these are all activities I adore, and don’t need someone else to accomplish them.

At the same time, some joys—like songs—are best shared. Yes, I like going to the movies solo, but it’s ever so much more fun to go with a friend and discuss the movie afterward. I like chocolate brownies, but it’s better for me to split one, rather than eat an entire one by myself. I can’t, however, expect that every friend will select the same movie as I do or even choose chocolate over butterscotch.

When we were kids, we wanted what we wanted. No bargaining. I remember going to the circus and deciding that I just had to have that pink cotton candy. No way, said my mom. I had the worst time of my life. I didn’t care about the acrobats or the clowns or the lions, just the withheld cotton candy. Now that I’m an adult, I know that I can’t always get what I want.. I do, however, get to be happy with what I have. And I can also be happy if I give up a little to help someone else be happy.

I’m really not thrilled at having to make every business meeting a Fuddruckers event or a Chucky Cheese’s pizza party. I don’t get into the loud noise, pinball machines, or chatter of endless numbers of small, whiny children. But I like seeing my son smile and I also enjoy being able to conduct business, albeit not in an office atmosphere. My happiness might be incomplete, but it is full. Sometimes joy has to be negotiated.

I might not like cooking dinner every night or sticking an emergency client in my free time, but I do value taking care of my children and  honoring the spirit of my job. There are many joys that aren’t enjoyable, but still worth celebrating. Sometimes joy does come through sacrifice or just plain giving.

And there are times that getting to happiness demands asking for what we need. In relationship, I like to be dated. Asked out, picked up, and taken out. A man might think this silly, but it’s important to me. It’s a happiness need. Now I also have to be willing to, at times, be taken to a “guy movie” or a wrestling match or maybe even worse, something that requires a technological adjustment on my part, like shopping at a Mac store. But the letter of the law is a requirement, and I get to assert my desires.

In the end, it’s about give and take and balance of both. It’s about the music of life, the crescendo toward joy, the smash of cymbals, and the gradual denouement into quiet. It’s about cycles and flows, and joy. It’s the stuff that makes worthwhile, this music of happiness.

What causes me joy is different than what creates joy for you.