What We Can Control and What We Can Do to Be Happier


“Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present.” ~Jim Rohn

My mother had possibly the worst temper I have ever witnessed. She screamed at me constantly.

There is a difference between yelling and screaming. Yelling is when one simply raises one’s voice. Screaming has a high-pitched, hysterical quality. My mother was a screamer.

Unfortunately, most of her screaming was directed at me. She could also become violent, shaking me while screaming. She’d lock me in my room for extended periods of time.

She once kicked a hole through my door when I locked myself inside, afraid of her rage. She terrified me so completely that I considered jumping out the window and committing suicide to escape from her. I was so desperate.

One day, she tried to throw me out of a moving car on the way home from school. She simply leaned over, opened my door, threw my book bag out, unbuckled my seat belt, and started to push me out after it. I fought her that day with everything I had to stay in that car.

We were moving slowly, so I probably wouldn’t have been severely hurt if I had been forced out, but I simply couldn’t live with the fact that my mother would have pushed me from a moving vehicle. It was too much to bear.

I never understood why I inspired such rage in her. For the most part, I was a good kid. I wasn’t out smoking at the 7-11 or fooling around with the football team. I was well-behaved and got good grades.

I remember all of the names she called me and all of the qualities she ascribed to me. They are burned in my brain forever, but if you put a gun to my head, I couldn’t tell you why she was so angry with me.

I think it was the little things that set her off. Leaving my book bag in the hallway when she had told me to put it in my room or the pillows in disarray on the couch when I was supposed to put them back. Being late getting ready for school made her late, which further proved my utter selfishness.

It was like living in a minefield. I lived with constant fear and anxiety.

My mother was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma when I was ten, which possibly added to her anger. She had always had a knack for uttering wildly inappropriate statements to me out of the blue, which inevitably left me speechless.

When I was thirteen, she turned to me in the midst of her fury and spat out the words, “Do you really think if I wasn’t forty and didn’t have cancer that I would still be here right now?” As usual I froze, having absolutely no reply, and eventually she turned and walked away.

At the time, I assumed she meant that she would have left my father or all of us if she wasn’t forty and didn’t have cancer. I never told anyone what she said that day, but I never forgot it. My mother passed away when I was eighteen.

When she was dying, she told me to remember the good times rather than the bad and that my biggest problem in life would be “that I was too sensitive.” This left me wondering why she had spent all of her time berating me.

I spent many years suffering from the way she had treated me and from the fact that I never believed that she had really loved me. It was a painful burden to carry.

She broke my heart. From time to time, I thought about her statement to me about how she would have been somewhere else if given a choice. It made me said that she would have left us if she hadn’t been locked in by cancer and her age, but just recently, I have begun to reflect upon her statement slightly differently.

About six months ago, creeping closer and closer to the age that she was when she died, I began wondering what she really meant when she uttered those fateful words. Where would she have gone? If she wasn’t forty and had cancer, what would she have chosen for herself?

I started to reflect upon how very unhappy she must have been to scream at her only daughter all the time, lock me in my room, kick holes through my door, and push me from a moving car.

I not only felt empathy for myself for being terrorized but also for her for having terrorized me. She must have been miserable to behave that way, to be so very angry. I felt sorry for her.

If there was some place that would have made her happy, I wish she had gone there. I know my mother loved childhood fantasy. She adored Santa Claus and Disney World. Perhaps in her fantasy, she might have been an elf or a Disney Princess.

Or maybe, there was something else she dreamed of that she never fulfilled. An authentic part of herself behind the fake preppy, perfect, suburban veneer she displayed for all to see. It made me take stock of myself.

Am I happy where I am? Do I want to be in my house? In my marriage? With my children?

I purposefully choose activities that make me happy to prevent ending up like her. No one is happy all the time, but if there is something I cannot avoid that does not make me happy, I try to find a way to make it more pleasant for myself so that I am not miserable.

I can honestly say that if I were not forty-two and married with children, I would want to be exactly where I am, doing exactly what I am doing, although I tweak some things every day to make this sense of serenity more and more of a reality.

We only have a certain amount of control over our lives, but the control we do have is incredibly powerful. That control to change our circumstances and point of view is priceless. It’s something that can’t be taken away.

Are you happy? If given the choice, would you leave your life, or would you work to make it a happier place to be? There is no right or wrong answer. What can you change today to make yourself a happier person?

I suggest you take action immediately.

Photo by Eugene Wineblat

About AmyKate Gowland

AmyKate Gowland works for Single Mothers Outreach as a writer and is the writer and creator of her own blog Come visit!

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