Politics and Happiness


The American author Jodi Picoult has this to say about happiness. “There are two ways to be happy: improve your reality or lower your expectations.”

As I stand perilously close to my 70th. birthday – let’s say on the brink – I can truthfully say I’ve employed both those recipes for happiness at different stages of my past 69 years.  The younger to middle age years and “early” senior years were most often marked by trying to improve my reality… at work and in my personal and community life.  Was failure a possibility? Certainly, but if I worked hard enough, if I loved deeply enough, if I cared passionately enough – failure to improve my reality was unlikely.

Alas, at the turn of the century I think, I began to believe failure was a possibility and that sometimes my reality was suspect. What I thought I wanted wasn’t what brought me happiness at all. In fact, it brought me just the opposite.  And I began a course of lowering my expectations in my work life that spilled over into the other areas of my reality as well.

Of course this is to be expected as we age, isn’t it.  We have permission to grow more cantankerous, more outrageous and yes, more cynical as our hairs whiten and our skin sags. My friend Linda Ketner accuses me of “settling” when I mention she would be happier if she just lowered her expectations of people and their ability to create sweeping social changes. My partner Teresa is equally incapable of expecting less than the best from the people she works with and frequently the woman she lives with.

I give this background to say that I have low, very low expectations about the political landscape of my country these days. When I read about the daily killings of innocent people in our streets, schools, churches and other places of worship and watch local, state and federal government officials that I help to elect do nothing to intervene and in fact even write laws to permit guns to be carried into classrooms – my expectations are lowered. When I have to think twice about going to a movie on a Sunday afternoon with the gnawing image of people being shot in a movie theater in the back of my mind, I have to lower my expectations for safety.  And I’m an old white woman. My personal fears rank low on the totem pole of universal fears for crimes of hate perpetrated on younger people of color on a regular basis.

All of which brings me to the current state of politics in this election cycle for President of the United States in November of 2016.  I had low, very low expectations for what I anticipated would be a long, long, LONG season of debates, speeches, TV commercials interrupting my favorite shows, countless signs cluttering up any possible unobstructed open common space in an otherwise gorgeous panorama of azaleas and dogwood trees and seas of bluebonnets, obnoxious bumper stickers on the car in front of me whenever I drove to the grocery store, etc.  I had low, very low expectations for this political process that we Americans watch every four years to elect the most recognized leader in the whole planet.

But I can tell you my expectations weren’t nearly low enough for the spectacles I have seen and heard over the past few weeks from the candidates vying for the nominations of the two major political parties in my country.  Nastiness. Name-calling. Rudeness.  Offensive TV commercials.  The candidates look like bullies on a playground when they weren’t chosen to play with others. These are the norm for campaigning these days and we have a media that not only feeds on the norm but pours chum in the sea to encourage the sharks to circle and attack each other.

So much for lowering expectations.

I am not happy. As a matter of fact, I am very unhappy with the violence now taking place at political rallies for one of the candidates. Unhappy – but not surprised. When a candidate chooses to emphasize his vision of an America that is isolationist and embraces the legitimacy of intolerance and bigotry  and a culture of violence as a solution for disagreements, it is no small wonder his rallies have become a scene of chaos, confusion and collateral damage. I am not only unhappy, I am horrified and ashamed.

I want to change my reality as I hope the American people will refuse to be happy with what has become a dangerously low series of expectations. We deserve better – we should expect better. We must demand better.

 

About Sheila Morris

Sheila Morris is an essayist with humorist tendencies who periodically indulges her desires to write outside her genre by trying to write fiction and poetry. In December, 2017, the University of South Carolina Press is publishing her collection of first-person accounts of the people primarily responsible for the development of LGBT organizations in South Carolina. Southern Perspectives on the Queer Movement: Committed to Home will resonate with everyone interested in LGBT history in the South during the tumultuous times from the AIDS pandemic to marriage equality. She has published four nonfiction books including two memoirs, an essay compilation and a group of her favorite blogs from I'll Call It Like I See It. Her first book, Deep in the Heart: A Memoir of Love and Longing received a Golden Crown Literary Society Award in 2008. Her writings have been included in various anthologies - most recently the 2017 Saints and Sinners Literary Magazine. She is a displaced Texan living in South Carolina with her wife Teresa Williams and their dogs Spike and Charly. Her Texas roots are never too far from her thoughts.
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10 Responses to Politics and Happiness

  1. Yesterday, a constellation of issues, both personal and relating to the world at large, brought me to tears of self pity. In those times I play a game to snap the spell, though it’s no game for the subjects of my attention. The game is called: “It Could Be Worse,” and this time I thought of the brutal, hopeless lives women and children who are enslaved victims of the savages who are called ISIS. I snapped out of my funk right quick, but it illustrates your point doesn’t it?

    We are living in times of great ugliness. Our worst animal nature’s are showing both at home and abroad.

    I want to contemplate azaleas and cherry blossoms.

    One of your best essays, Sheila.

    Saluto!
    Ann

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am going to play the “It Could be Worse” Game right now!!! You are exactly right…I have to say the stories of the enslaved girls and women of ISIS totally tore me apart. Sometimes I think I must be one of the luckiest people on earth and what have I done to deserve such good fortune and then self pity comes like a thief. But now I will play my new game. Thanks so much for that gift and for your words of support for my work.
      T is walking Chelsea and Spike right now – she gets lots of love and attention.
      Much love,
      Sheila

      Like

  2. mseibel48 says:

    Brava! Here’s another older white woman (with unknown natural hair color) in full agreement with you. Hugs from Seattle, Maggie 

    Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE smartphone

    Liked by 1 person

    • Maggie, I’m so glad to hear from you!!
      Would love to see you regardless of hair color!!
      I told T you sent a little note – we keep hoping to get to the Pacific Northwest some day…just hasn’t been possible.
      I hope you are doing well?
      Hugs and kisses,
      Sheila

      Like

  3. boblamb says:

    Great column, Sheils.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Luanne @ TFK says:

    I too had low expectations but not this low!! However, I have very very very low expectations for the future of the world. Not just the country. I could write a book on this and call it sci fi but I couldn’t handle the depression that would ensue.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. As vile as some of the candidates have behaved, I’m more scared at the masses that play right in their hands. God extra bless the tinfoil wearing dingbats that vote.

    Liked by 1 person

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