Monthly Archives: September 2014

Really happy?

A reader wondered if I am “really happy.”

Hmmm. My first response was, “of course. Why wouldn’t I be?”

But that’s too shallow. Their question is about something else, perhaps, and my answer should be more thoughtful.

Some time ago I read an article about the difference between European and American perceptions of this very question.  Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to find it and I don’t remember where it was published.

But the upshot seemed to be that the Europeans were, by most measures, “happier” than the Americans, but the Europeans had lower expectations of happiness, and, they did not measure their lives in this way.

I thought this was interesting. They don’t expect to be given happiness, but are happier than those who do.

I’m sure that much of my style, and the tone that generated the question of whether I am “really happy,” is the result of being raised by my French grandmother. She was not always concerned whether I was “happy.” She believed her job was to make me aware, resilient, self-directed, compassionate, kind.

Do you see the difference here, between her goals for me and those who would focus on making a child “happy?”

Not long after she assumed my care and feeding, when she seemed so French, so indifferent to some disappointment I was suffering in the moment, I demanded “Don’t you want me to be happy?!”

It’s telling that I remember well her response, but the cause of the disappointment itself has evaporated from my memory.

“Jessica, happiness is not the goal,” she said. “Happiness comes when you achieve something else. It is not something to be achieved for its own sake. That would be hollow, that would have no meaning.”

This is different than having fun. I work hard, I play hard. I have fun, and I sometimes have to do things that are not so much fun. Sometimes they follow each other so closely, it’s hard to tell them apart!

But those I am most comfortable around don’t seek happiness for its own sake. Yet, they often seem happier than those who do. They recognize that to be alive is to experience happiness and sadness, triumph and tragedy, victory and sacrifice, love and despair.

I am very fortunate to live, and create everyday, the life that I have.



When I was in high school and living with my French grandmother, I did well at a track meet. She wasn’t there (I don’t blame her. Where is “there” at a track meet?”) But when I got home and showed her the results, she looked, nodded, said “You are happy? Good.” And she went back to cooking dinner.

“That’s it?” I asked her.

She turned and looked at me for a several seconds, then turned down the heat on whatever wonder she was preparing (I swear to you she could cook better than any chef in Seattle) and poured us each a cup of tea from a kettle of hot water that always seemed to simmer on the stove. I knew we were about to have one of “our talks,” which I loved but sometimes… well, sometimes growing up is not the easiest thing to do, right?

“Jessica, you are now too old to need praise,” she finally said in her still thick French accent.

“I’m not looking for praise, Grandmere,” I said. “Just a little recognition. I worked hard for this.”

“Yes, you did. This I know, because I am here when you get home tired from practice, this I know from flush on your cheeks when you arrive, this I know because I know you and I know you work hard for everything. I am very proud of this part of you. And you know this, yes?”

“Of course,” I said. “You love me.”

“No, this is different. I am proud of you, Jessica. This is not love. This includes respect. I love you and I respect you and I respect what you accomplish. You know this, yes?”

“Yes,” I said to her. The tea was cool enough to drink, but truthfully, I held the cup in front of my lips a little like a child, slightly hiding from her dark eyes that looked so intently into mine.

“So, you not need praise when you receive what you deserve from work that you do. We give praise to young children to guide growth, to create who they become. We prune when we do not praise, we bend to the light when we do, and tree grows healthy, like apple tree in my garden.” She nodded toward the window so slightly.

“For you, now, needing praise is an act of uncertainty, insecurity. You and me, and those we come from, are not uncertain people.”

But when she stood up, she put a hand on my shoulder and kissed the top of my head. “Yes, ma chere, I love you. I am proud of you too.”

I didn’t include this moment in the book “Exposed” for several reasons. It wasn’t needed. I also wanted to save it for myself, and I worried putting it out there would get fingerprints on it, make it shine a little less. But today I decided to share.

We got an outstanding review on NetGalley for “Exposed.” Really, really nice. The reader “got it,” what I was trying to say, and she enjoyed the way I said it. It was a wind that filled my sails, this morning, and for more than a minute or four, I wished Grandmere was here to read it, to savor it, to enjoy it with me.

And you know what she would have said?

“You are happy? Good.” And she would have gone back to her stove, where she was always cooking something amazing.

But on her way, she would have put a hand on my shoulder to linger for a moment. I know she loved me, that she was proud of me.