Archived Opinion

Happiness now, not in the ever after

op barbeeThere was a time in my life where I thought being wild would lead to a sense of freedom and purpose. I assumed that spontaneous trips, living alone, drinking good wine, writing long, dark journal entries and dabbling in debauchery would quench an underlying thirst for adventure.

How wrong I was. 

Those experiences only led to regrets, guilt, broken hearts, loss and an overwhelming sense of melancholy. Instead of spiraling down a deep hole, I veered my path but still struggled to find my medicine. 

I’m not sure why I have always been so restless, but it’s a constant battle within me to be happy in the here and now. For so long I have felt that something — what I don’t know — is dangling right there in my peripheral vision. So close, yet not. Like a mirage. 

I would reach particular life milestones thinking with each one I would feel satiated, that I would feel a sense of peace: graduating college, graduating graduate school, getting married, having our first son, having our second son, becoming a professional writer. 

With each of these I waited for the feeling that all was well, that I had achieved what I’d longed for since that fleeting moment when our thoughts change from whimsical to aspirational. 

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And while each life event brought a sense of accomplishment and joy, each also warranted significant responsibility, energy and worry. 

Up until last year, I was searching frantically for something or someone to bring a feeling of contentment. People would look at me and say, “Wow, what a life you’ve built.” And I would say, “Yea, I guess so,” with a polite smile and indifferent nonchalance. In hindsight, that may have been offensive to these kind souls who were offering me a compliment. 

Then something happened.

Standing alone in my kitchen on the first day of this year, I heard a voice or a loud thought, something. And it said to me: “This is it. This is your place of self-actualization. Don’t you see? You have a beautiful life. Don’t let it pass you by.”

For so long I stood outside myself recognizing that I had a good life but internally, I felt an anxious expectancy, a longing for something more. Then I finally realized that “something more” was already here. I was standing in the way of seeing it. 

The other night I took my 7-year-old snowboarding at Cataloochee. I was once an avid snowboarder but stopped when I got married and had children. I have lamented that fact a lot, annoyed that I let go of a hobby and sport that meant a lot to me and brought so much enjoyment. 

But as I flew down the hill on Saturday night, a little rusty but still pretty good, I realized that during my absence from the slopes, I had been building my life. I had been nurturing a marriage and navigating my way to a career that I love. During that time, I became a mother, which I have discovered is incredible and frightening at the same time. Being a mother feels like my heart is walking around outside of my body exposed to the world’s anger, menace and strife, yet I wouldn’t trade it for anything.   

An absence from snowboarding was not for naught. It was an unconscious choice to put other people and new experiences before a personal pleasure. And for that, I am proud. 

I don’t want to be a professional snowboarder or travel the globe alone with a diary or write for a major publication. Always hoping or waiting for more or something different is a terrible way to live. 

I’m done living that way.

There are birds singing, children laughing, rich coffee brewing and great music playing. There are words to be written, prayers to be said and relationships to be cherished. These are the things that sustain us indefinitely. 

What a beautiful life. Don’t let it pass you by. 

(Susanna Barbee is a local mom, writer and educator. Find more on her blog, Reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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