IMO: Platitudes for Happiness

 Aim for the moon. If you miss, you may hit a star.  W. Clement Stone.

As a high school teacher, what’s typical of most schools are the inspirational posters hanging on every wall, every door. Something for students to think about as they walk from A to B.  Advice from a sage like Dedication and dreams are powerful combinations. Character is doing the right thing, even when no one is looking. Don’t give up until you are proud. Prove them wrong. Don’t call it a dream; call it a goal. Do something today that your future self with thank you for….

Wait a minute. I thought happiness was found during the process. It’s the journey, not the destination. After much blood, sweat, and tears for decades, I’m at my destination and still not happy. Life is a struggle at every stage; ultimately, it is a life in motion, shedding one’s skin, in a transition from one stage to another complete with its own set of challenges.  Are you searching for happiness? All those platitudes and lofty goals won’t secure it. Maybe I should aim to be content? Friends say it’s better to be content than happy, but it feels to me to be a disguise for complacency. I’m neither content or happy. That makes me feel like an ingrate. I take my life too seriously. I have issues.

I never wanted to be a high school teacher. I wanted to be a college teacher. I’m tired that I have to work in the trenches, dealing with obnoxious teenagers, to be politically correct, inspirational, and compassionate to all students every day no matter what inappropriate thing they say or do. I am that sergeant in war movies who answers to officers, some idiotic, some great, always a revolving door, the principals, and superintendents who come and go and meanwhile, my responsibilities compound, the acronyms multiply like rabbits. I can’t believe after 18 years, I have to do this for eight more years before I retire. What’s worse, the classes I created, devoted my heart and soul to were taken away and given to younger teachers. I’m supposed to be a good sport, but I am resentful. I already paid my dues. I feel unappreciated. I am steaming, and the bitterness takes root. Why didn’t my dream come true? My trajectory was the moon.
What strange star is this? The dark irony in it all? I’m really good at what I do.

When I reach this irrational, dark, ugly state of being, there are tricks I employ to pull me out of the situational depression. I walk through the hallways and see the sweeties, the great kids who listen, cooperate, want to learn and I focus on their faces and say to myself, “You are the reason I love being a teacher.” They are the talented ones. They are the introverted ones. They are the funny ones who are mischevious with big personalities, and they make me laugh. They are the ones who have giving hearts and optimistic dreams. They are the A+ students who are pegged for greatness, and I can’t wait to hear how all of them turn out. They are the next generation and I have front row seats.

The other night, I was up at 2AM and in a dark mood. Stiff and sore, I couldn’t sleep and I wished I was someone else, somewhere else, and generally feeling sorry for myself. I wished I could feel happiness or contentedness at this stage of my life. That very same morning, one of my stellar students who has a first-rate intellect and wants to become a scientist and solve the riddle of cancer gave me a card.

Ms. Bruchman, I wanted to start off by thanking you for taking the time to write me a teacher recommendation letter. Your support throughout my 4 years of high school has meant a lot to me! If it wasn’t for your belief in me both academically and personally, I wouldn’t be where I am today. You are one of the very special people who has impacted me as a person, and I won’t forget it. Under your influence, I learned and grew so much, especially when it comes to being a leader and speaking front of people! I hope I have made you proud, and I will continue to work hard wherever my future will lead me. Once again, from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU so much for everything. Love, Mary.

My Mr. Holland’s Opus moment. An impasse. I am not starting out anymore. I am almost 55, and it’s okay that I’m not in my ambition-driven-make-your-dreams-come-true stage. I feel it finally. I wasn’t “great” in the pursuit of it, I was great because, at my destination, I cared and supported someone else who will surpass my lofty goals by a long shot.That doesn’t mean I’m going to be complacent. I’ve asked the powers that be to let me teach a new class next year which would require a lot of effort and learning and fun on my part. If they let me, I will be energized. If they take it away, I won’t be mad. I will ask for something else.

To be happy, make other people happy.  W. Clement Stone

26 thoughts on “IMO: Platitudes for Happiness

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  1. Thanks for sharing with such candor….when they say “today is the first day of the rest of your life”, it’s meant as inspiration, but for many, it’s a reminder of the direction life is headed, and how difficult it can be to turn around…

  2. After my year of being positive in 2017, you may well have finally shown me what it really means to have a positive attitude, Cindy. Well done for coming out of the other side of that downer.
    Best wishes, Pete. x

    1. I found it; you were indeed in my spam folder. Kind words, indeed, Pete. It was a long one. They say the hardest thing for a human to do is to let go. I believe it. Shed the skin and find the joy in the current stage. xx

  3. A timely post Cindy. Thank you for your candour. I can only agree, I feel anger on your behalf. At 36 I’ve had of turning the other cheek too, at 55 I’d be livid but then again there are always things to be grateful for. Your student has shown that your life will have impact far beyond most. Someone I knew recently passed away, he was 40, he was loved, he was good what he did but more importantly so many had a positive impact on their life from knowing him. His death reminded me to be grateful and to try harder. I can’t say I’m always succeeding but that was the lesson.

    1. Hi Lloyd, after looking at life with the strive-forward mindset, it’s taken me now to stop and turn around and just be. Instead of pursuing, I’m switching to assisting. If that’s what it means to grow older, well, I think I get it now.
      I’m sorry you lost a friend, but he sounds like a wonderful person. All best, Cindy

  4. A High School teacher deserves all the praise one could muster in today’s world where teachers tend to be unappreciated by both students and their parents. I enjoyed College teaching matching minds with students who wanted the highest grade for the least effort. I made them work hard for their grades. Fortunately some appreciated that later in life. Your work over the years has moulded the lives of countless people and you can give yourself a high 5 for preparing those who chose to listen to you a life they would not have enjoyed without your efforts. 🙂

    1. Hi, Ian. That “highest grade for the least effort” resonates. I feel pretty fortunate I am able to connect with most of my students. I know they have a lot to deal with and it is unwise to take their outbursts personally. I enjoy telling the stories of history. It is a fun way to spend the day.

  5. Beautiful post, Cindy, and beautiful letter. Take pride in the fact a student wrote such a wonderful letter of thanks and take pride in the fact that there are many, many of your students who feel the same way but never wrote a letter to express their feelings.
    In my almost 80 years I too have had so many disappointments, perhaps lost opportunities; but also so many rings I grabbed from the carousel. When I catch myself in a funk, I try and concentrate on the rings. Just read that letter and you will realize just how much you have helped so many others in your life. And don’t overlook the sunshine your blog brings into your readers’ day.
    In my retirement years I found that starting off each day by listening to Louis Armstrong’ WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD, and Sinatra’s THIS IS ALL I ASK is the spoonful of sugar to help face the day.
    And work on that new novel!

    1. Ha, ha! You are a joy, Don. Thanks very much for such kind words and great wisdom. Ah, my second novel. It’s getting there! Slowly but surely. I haven’t been blogging a lot to try to create time to work on the novel and then I discover that time is gobbled up by something else (like cleaning the house). Thank you for believing in me.

  6. I get so tangled up in these kinds of thoughts myself. I think there are some of us who maybe think too much about everything. I have no idea how to stop analysing and find meaning when really is is all pretty meaningless anyway, isn’t it? I am permanently caught in a search for what the point of anything is and finding ways to motivate myself when I know that absolutely nothing I do matters. I have no idea what would possibly make me happy. I do know that when I stop thinking I feel better but I don’t know how to do that consciously. So there we go.

    1. Oh, I’m convinced we are all wired differently. Wired too tight, in my case. I find cocktail time from 4-6 helps stop the carousel. 😉
      It doesn’t feel like what we do matters, but others remind us and love us and that’s the proof we are doing something right.

  7. To be content, at least, if not find the great joy of utmost happiness, is something we all look for. Stress and depression is a battle I fight on a regular basis. Keep on hoping for the best, is the best option.
    But what a lovely compliment Cindy, to receive such a beautifully worded card, from one of your students.
    Congratulations!!!

  8. I loved reading every word, Cindy. I feel your anger, and disappointment. After more than three decades of teaching, I walk in your shoes. And then there are the moments, the children, that make you stop and realize that you have made a difference. Hang in there, because goodness always triumphs. Best to you!

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