I had just sat down in my favorite TV-viewing spot on the couch and bitten into a perfectly ripe apple. “Ah,” I said, “this makes me happy!”
“Well, that’s a switch,” said my husband.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You being happy, of course.” This stopped me cold. I was so surprised I had to turn off the TV. “What are you talking about?”
“Well, you’re always saying ‘I’m not happy’ about something or other, so I just assume you’re generally unhappy.”
“But it’s not true. What am I ever unhappy about?”
“Oh, so many things. The weather’s too cold, the weather’s too hot. The TIVO is full and didn’t record your show; we’re running low on coffee; we’re running low on apples — what DOESN’T make you unhappy? I’ve given up trying to keep track. I just assume you’re unhappy all the time unless you specify otherwise.”
“You’re one to talk! You never say anything positive about me or my cooking or anything at all, until I drag it out of you.”
“That’s true,” he concedes.
In fact, my husband’s silence on such matters is legendary in his family. He was the living example of the story about the boy who hadn’t uttered a word until the age of 5, at which point he broke his silence one morning to say “this oatmeal is too hot.”
“You can talk!” exclaimed his mother, who had been worried sick about his apparent speech delay. “But why haven’t you said anything until now?”
“Until now everything was fine,” he replied.
That, according to my mother-in-law, could just as well have been about her son, my husband.
He still neglects to compliment my cooking. It must be that he forgets.
But I can’t have him thinking I’m unhappy all of the time. I decided I would have to be the one to change.
Step One was to announce on our family Zoom one day: “Please — I want all of you to know that I am HAPPY — with you and with life in general, even if I don’t specifically say so. I am happy unless I specify otherwise.”
“Mom, that’s like a memo sent out by HR,” says one son. “Everyone ignores those.”
“Or just deletes them,” says the other.
“You know, Judy,” chimed in their father, “This is reminding me about that slogan from your writing group — how you should always ‘Show, Don’t Tell.’ Well, maybe we need you to SHOW us when you’re happy, not just tell us what to assume.”
There are few things more infuriating in life than hearing your own great advice, used back on you. But I had to keep my temper. I couldn’t let these guys know how UNHAPPY they were making me— it would defeat the whole purpose of this meeting. So I decided to say something innocuous. “That’s very clever, dear. I shall try.”
“Oh, but remember what Yoda said,” piped up one of my boys. “ ‘There is no try. Do or Do not.’ ”
“Well, nuts to that,” I replied. Luckily for me, I am not a Jedi knight in training, so Yoda can— um — stuff it.
Step Two of my makeover was, in fact, going to involve a truck-load of “trying.” I had read about experiments where people wear timers that go off periodically during the day, and they have to record their “state of mind.”
I decided to try a version of that. I would set my phone to go off periodically, and when it beeped I would tell whoever I was with — i.e., the husband who started this whole problem — whether I’m happy or not. Surely he will eventually get sick of hearing how happy I am, and I can go back to blessed silence on the subject!
So I have set my phone to beep every 15 minutes and every 15 minutes I report on my mental state to whoever is around:
“I am happy that I have clean socks to wear today.”
“I am happy that I don’t have to leave the house because it is snowing outside.”
“I am enjoying this apple, even though it means I will have to get up and throw the core away soon.”
“I am getting very tired of hearing…”
“I will be happy to smash this phone if it beeps at me one more…
Silence! At last, I am truly happy.