Mint Vienetta, the recipe to happinessSep 07, 2023
I Googled the answer to this. Not because I don’t know how to answer it but because I was curious as to why this is hands down the most asked question I get. Does the internet really not have an answer?
Of course it does but mostly it’s a pile of wank that we already know.
Gratitude. Nature. Self care. Exercise.
Pretty basic b*tch stuff which is probably why you’ve abandoned Google and asked me. You’re looking for a more meaningful answer.
I’m going to assume that you’re asking me directly. How do I, Emily Chadbourne, live such a happy and contented life?
So I’m going to indulge and tell you about the time I decided not to have children. Now I’m not saying I’m happy because I don’t have kids. Hold your horses, check your assumptions and read on.
Let’s begin here.
I was 38 and very aware of my age.
My 30s were not my finest decade. In fact one could go so far as to say that they were a cluster f*ck.
I’d moved to Australia at 30, spent 4 years of prime life wallowing in self pity and waiting tables. Every time I scraped a plate, a sliver of my soul slid into the bin. Unless I was partying, I was not having a good time.
Personal development rocked up in my mid 30s and changed my life. But it wasn’t until after my Mum died and I realised I needed to get sober that spirituality came along and changed the meaning of my life.
By the time I was 38 I was only one year sober. I knew I still had a lot of work to do on myself. What I also knew was that I wasn't in a supportive relationship. I wasn’t financially stable. I wasn’t interested in freezing my eggs. I had no desire to find a partner for the sake of procreation. And I didn’t want to have a baby by myself with all my family on the other side of the world.
I was still working out who I wanted to be and what I wanted the rest of my life to look like. I felt like I’d wasted so many years already. I was approaching mid life and I felt like I’d been given a chance to do the next half differently, better. I just couldn’t see how children fit into that.
So I made the decision to create a wonderful life without them.
Now I know there are women out there who are trying desperately to have children and I see you and my love goes out to you. What I’m about to say is in no way directed to anyone else's experience, it is simply my personal story used to explain how I choose to live a contented life.
The truth is I would’ve made an excellent mum and I often find myself missing moments I’ll never have.
When I hold my friends' babies I feel the weight of a love I’ll never know. With every birth announcement I watch my friends one by one step inside a club I’ll never belong to, slipping behind a velvet rope that will forever divide us, just a little.
What I’m trying to say is, there are many layers of grief that have come with my choice to remain childfree.
And that’s okay. We live in a world of polarity and rarely does something exist without two sides. I love my childfree life. And sometimes I feel left out and nostalgic for a love I’ll never have. All of those things are true simultaneously.
While I sometimes indulge in moments of grief over my choice, I don’t dwell there.
You see on the day I decided not to have children I also decided that I wouldn’t let that decision be in vain. I decided I was going to make the most out of childfree living. I promised myself I’d relish quiet Sunday mornings, space, time, long holidays and low coffee tables with sharp corners. I choose to focus on the parts of my life that I am afforded because I don’t have children.
And of course maybe that will change (everyone knows a friend who has a cousin who has a sister-in-law who had a kid at 48. “I thought it was menopause” she surely declared.) Or maybe I’ll fall in love with step-children one day.
But right now this is the way my life is, partly by circumstance and partly by choice and I am making the absolute most of it. That is contentment.
I have found that being happy isn’t a consistent state we can be in. Happiness is fleeting. I do everything I can to fill my life with as many of those moments as possible. But I don’t expect the feeling to be around 24/7.
Contentment on the other hand is an attitude I can mostly sustain. It’s a choice.
I like to look at it like this.
Happiness is like the Vienetta your Grannie used to serve up as dessert. It’s hands down the best part of the meal. But that delicious hunk of mint ice cream (it’s the best flavour, I’ll fight anyone) and those crisp layers of chocolate is not the food that fuels you. If you could eat mint Vienetta every day for every meal it would lose its appeal pretty quickly.
Happiness is the same. It’s a wonderful slice of heaven. But it’s the roast lamb, gravy, roast potatoes and carrots that give you the energy you need to climb trees, wrestle your sisters for a go on the Gameboy and stay up past your bedtime speaking to your friends on the house landline.
Contentment is really the hero piece even if happiness masquerades as the main event.
Achieving contentment is done by choosing to focus on what’s good in your life. It’s making the most out of what you’ve got instead of dwelling on what you don’t. It’s how we choose to show up, even in the shitty times. It’s the way we approach challenges. It’s what we choose to make situations mean. It’s how much we trust ourselves and how quickly we can forgive others. It’s allowing for grief but choosing love and optimism even when it would be easier not to.
It’s expressing gratitude, being awed by nature, practising self care and exercising our mind and body (shit, that last bit sounds a lot like the list Google threw at me!)
We can always find reasons that life sucks. We can always focus on what we don’t have and what we haven’t done. But that’s no way to live a contented life.
So dear reader, while I work hard to be content, I am not always happy. But I delight in a big slice of it when it arrives at the table.
And I’m not scared to ask for seconds.
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