Jun 7, 2010

At Least the Potential for Happiness

December 10, 1984

Dad called today to tell me that he got married last week. So now she is my stepmom. I can’t believe it. I was so mad when he told me. I wanted to hang up. But there is this: he sounded happy. So now I have to decide. Am I going to go on hating this forever? Or am I going to be happy for him?

I stumbled across these words in an old journal not too long ago.

I’ll never forget the day I learned my father had remarried. I was sixteen years old. It was four years after my parents’ divorce. All of my teenage hopes were crushed that day. I finally had to face the fact that my parents were never going to get back together.

I don’t remember exactly what I felt when I wrote those words, but I do remember that I made a deliberate decision soon after to be kind to my new stepmother. I believe writing about it helped my young self make that decision.

Julia Cameron does too. In this week’s readings of The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life, Cameron discusses how writing helps us make decisions that lead to happiness.

Just as walking aerobicizes the physical body, producing a flow of endorphins and good feelings, writing seems to alter the chemical balance of the soul itself, restoring balance and equilibrium when we are out of sorts, bringing clarity, a sense of right action, a feeling of purpose to a rudderless day. Furthermore, writing when we are out of happiness can lead us into writing from happiness. We recall happier moments and we recall happiness itself... Writing… is a series of choices that lead to a sense of something made—that something is “sense.” Sense brings to the writer choice and, with choice, a sense of at least the potential for happiness.

My father and his bride celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary this past December. I have never regretted my decision to embrace my stepmother. Writing about it helped me to see my father’s happiness. And in seeing that, I was able to see at least the potential for happiness for me.

Not only does writing lead us into happiness, says Cameron, but writing from that place of joy is—contrary to common mythology—powerful. And natural.

Two variables seem essential for life to feel beneficent. One variable is stability. The other is change. Writing supplies a sense of both variables. Writing both gives continuity and creates a sense of continuity. Writing both gives change and creates and awareness of change. A writing life is therefore …very often a life with substantial happiness at its core. Writing to find my happiness, I find my happiness—writing.


The angst-ridden, neurotic writer is a fallacy. A lot of good stuff comes from joy, says Cameron.

Doesn’t that make you happy?

Next week we discuss three more chapters: Making It, Honesty, and Vulnerability. See you on the page!

Related posts:

Monica's Second Meeting

Erin's How I Dodged the Writing Police

Cassandra's A Page At a Time

Glynn's Writing in Place, Writing to Place

L.L.'s Happiness Beyond Writing

Marilyn's What Were We Waiting For?

Nancy's Makin' a List

Melo's Day 31: Missed the Boat

Photo, NestEgg by Laura Boggess, used with permission. Post by Laura Boggess.

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