Happy Choices

nest of happiness

We all want to be happy, right?┬áThe line between happiness and just getting by is desire. Like the Wesleyan doctrine of perfecting grace (an obscure reference for most, I know), for me, happiness isn’t an I-have-arrived state of being. Repeatedly, I find myself wanting, or wanting too much.

There may be spiritually enlightened gurus, shamans, or saints whose happiness is unaffected by their desires. They have grown to a place of near constant contentment. Their longings are so few and far between as to be negligible. I am not them.

My sense of happiness is too easily swayed by circumstances. The litter box needs emptying again; there goes my happiness. The alarm clock sounds on a cold weekday morning and I have to go to work; there goes my happiness. I can’t find where I Ieft my keys just before I head out the door; there goes my happiness. Frank and I argue; there goes my happiness. I slip into regret; there goes my happiness.

Like a forgotten word that I cannot remember, needed to craft a perfect sentence, I feel as if there must be something I can do, or say, or practice that will bind happiness to me. Pharmaceutical companies would like to convince me that they have a pill to do just that. Liquor stores intice with an endless variety of choices, bottled promises intended to both enliven and sedate. Capitalism advertises that I should buy my way to happiness. Religion professes the answer comes from above, and by faith if I but ask I shall receive it. I’ve pursued all of the above, but sustained happiness continues to wax and wane.

Yesterday, I sat in a chair while an extremely expensive medication was pumped into my body. This treatment has put my ulcerative colitis in remission, and I am immensely grateful. Entyvio was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in May 2014 at Vanderbilt in Nashville, right where I live. The nurses who administer the drug know more about it than anyone else in the world. So yesterday, I conversed with my nurse about the treatment.

“Has anyone come off this treatment and stayed in remission?”
“It doesn’t work that way.”
“Has anyone ever taken a break and come back on?”
“We had a patient who stopped matching one of the criteria for the clinical trial. He came back under doctor’s orders to continue infusions. The drug builds up antibodies and reintroducing it caused the body to reject it. It made the patient very ill.”
“I’m just so glad it’s working. I was going to the bathroom ten to fifteen times a day. It’s like I have a new life. The drug company called me in Janaury to get me recertified for their insurance assistance program. I didn’t know coverage had run out. I’m grateful for that, too.”
“They have to stay on top of it. As a new treatment, most private insurance companies don’t cover it. Not many people could afford it.”
“How much does it cost?”

The nurse hesitated, looked around nervously, and whispered, “I don’t know for sure, but $xx,xxx.xx.”
“Oh my God!”

I had the equivalent of a new car being pumped into my body, every eight weeks.

“I know!”

She laughed, an “isn’t it crazy?” look of agreement on her face. She turned toward the door as I tried to decide if I wanted my new Jeep Wrangler to be red or black, and she said,

“You’d better be worth it!”

I sat in the chair for thirty minutes as the drug pumped from bag to tube to vein, asking myself, “Am I worth it?” Before the bag emptied, I decided that I am. But only if I choose to be.

Happiness is a choice. I can either choose to let my desires drive my behavior and forever leave me wanting, or I can choose to be content, and happy. I can find temporary happiness through outward sources for a time, knowing that their ability to make me happy will fade, or I can find a deeper, lasting happiness from within. Like the Wesleyan doctrine of perfecting grace (an obscure reference for most, I know), I predict I’ll live choosing first one, then the other, desire or contentment; outward or inward. The realistic, attainable goal is to choose true happiness more often than not.