I’ve been thinking about happiness a lot, lately.

I know there have been countless books written on the subject, but I often wonder whether happiness is an innate disposition or a practice.

A dear friend once gave me a bracelet that was inscribed with the words “Prosperity is gratitude,” and wearing it helped remind me to be thankful for the immense and simple blessings I have in my life  – good health, an amazing family and dear, dear friends.

But I’m cursed with an inner bitch. I tend to question everything, seeking perfection. Second guess myself. Drive my hubby up the wall.

When I think about someone who seems to be innately happy and undeniably good, I think of  my favorite relative in the whole wide world.

Aunt Lydia.

Lydia is a spritely 90 years old and actually a cousin through marriage. I think she is living proof that angels exist.

I had been living in Manhattan since 1995, a couple of years after I graduated from College.  When I moved, I stayed with her till I found an apartment and a job. Every morning, she’d prepare the most delicious, fresh cut grapefruit for me. I usually hate grapefruit. It’s much too sour. But Lydia prepared it so lovingly, dusting it with just the right amount of sugar, that each bite was a morsel of sparkly goodness.

After I moved into my own place, I’d see her now and again for lunch or dinner. But our bond was cemented when I broke my arm, in October 2001, at a friend’s wedding.

Yes, yours truly, ever coordinated, was rushing to join the Hora in my stockinged feet, slipped and fell on my elbow, breaking it.

It being a Jewish wedding, there were plenty of surgeons on hand, who advised me to go immediately to the Emergency Room.

My best friend Martha, of recent karaoke partying fame,  left the wedding AND her boyfriend at the time to take me to the Emergency Room. She even held a tiny cup in place for me while I graced the medical staff with a pee sample.

Lydia used to be Head of Compliance at the hospital we went to. She started out as a nurse there, and rose through the ranks. She wanted to be a doctor, but she was a girl, and her parents wouldn’t fork out the dough for medical school. One of the things I love about Lydia, is that she has never expressed resentment about this. Or anything. She accepts life in all its imperfections. Unlike me, who gripes loudly and often.

I called her when we got to the ER. Picture two, slightly tipsy bridesmaids, decked out in full length red satin contraptions, amidst a few other patients who attempted not to stare.  The ER room was pretty quiet that night. 9/11 had happened about a month ago, and there was a vulnerability in the air that lent a poignancy to everyday interactions.

(Let it go on record that I love New Yorkers. Every single one of them. Whoever started the rumor that New Yorkers are rude and unfriendly is a bitter old cow.)

But back to the story. I’m not quite sure why I called Lydia at that moment. Maybe it was for advice or support, with my immediate family living on the other side of the Atlantic. Maybe I somehow knew that she would come immediately to our side. She must have been, what, 80 years old at the time?

Not only did she ensure that my arm was operated on later that week by the best surgeon available, she also made a valiant effort to set me up with the attending surgeon on call that evening.

The conversation went something like this:

Lydia: “You know that this young lady recently got back from travels in Tibet?”

Surgeon: “Oh, really?”

(My inner monologue: Actually it was Nepal. But never mind.)


Lydia: “Yes, and she has a very good job in advertising, you know.”

Surgeon, examining x rays: “Uh huh.”

(My inner monologue:  But Lydia, I hate my job. Now he’s going to think I’m some superficial bimbo who sells Clorox for a living.)


Lydia: “You know, her parents will be in town next week and I’m sure they’d like to take you out for dinner to thank you for your help.”

(My inner monologue: Alert! Alert! This conversation must be stopped!)

Cue embarrassed laughter from surgeon and spontaneous coughing from Martha and I.

The surgeon was ever polite. And we never met up for that thank you dinner. But I did stay with Lydia after my surgery for several weeks while my elbow healed.

During that time, I received nightly “footie rubs” and since I couldn’t shower with my cast on, regular baths where Lydia would take me back to being a little girl and rub my back with a warm washcloth.

She never forgets a birthday. Or an anniversary.

Recently, she sent me a mother’s day card sent to her by her nieces and nephews.

The card says:

The most important job in the world doesn’t offer an hourly wage or days off or paid vacations.

No shit. This is a source of extreme frustration to me. Seriously, can’t there be a system whereby we mothers are at least reimbursed with something? If not money, then monthly bottles of tequila? Or weekly massage coupons?

The card continues:

But it does offer real feelings, shining faces, bedtime stories, small victories, priceless memories, and many wonderful moments of joy.

This is all true.

On a good day.

And I’m sure it was true for Lydia.

But I’m not Lydia.

I know I’m definitely a “good enough” mother and though the shining faces expressed by the card make me think of my own sweaty visage as I chase two kids around in 90 degree heat, and though the small victories pertain to things I’d really rather not be dealing with, like helping the boychild remember to put the toilet seat UP when he pees and then DOWN again when he’s finished, I know I’m lucky.

I’d just like to be a little more like Lydia.

There’s a blogger I really like, Alisa Bowman, who wrote a book called “Project Happily Ever After.” I haven’t it read yet, but it’s on my list of books I want to read in preparation for writing my own. Anyway, she has a “Karma Project” that she blogs about, where she basically tries to change her behavior and do good things for others rather than tuning out the world around her. I admire her honesty, and am thinking of starting up a similar practice of my own.

Where I’m more present. Less worried about what the future may or may not hold. And just remembering how much I have to be thankful for.

I may use Lydia as my spiritual guide in this pursuit. And writing about it may help me stay focused on this practice.

I also know that yoga helps.

I will never give up my ironic take on life, or my inner bitch. But perhaps I can let in a bit more of my inner Lydia, now and then. Because I do believe that happiness may be an innate part of my personality, but it also takes discipline and gentle practice.

What do you all think?