What My Mom Told Me About Happiness

“We have to make a decision today.”

My friend came over yesterday. I could tell something was getting her down. “My husband and I put an offer on a house. And… it was accepted.” When she said it, her shoulders fell. She was visibly upset, and I was surprised. In the crazy Twin Cities housing market, having an offer accepted on a house you want is like winning the lottery, something that elicits a champagne-popping, streamers and shouts of “Eureka!” kind of affair.

“We’re just not sure if we can make it work,” she said. Budgets. Mortgage. Changes ahead. It was the lifestyle move that was scaring her away from her lottery winnings. “We had a vacation planned this summer. And my husband is starting school full time.”

I didn’t envy her what she was afraid of –  the upcoming money talks with her husband, the tight months they’d face watching dollars in order to pay the mortgage, or giving up on the dream to fly over the ocean to a foreign and beautiful place. Still, it seemed to me that choosing between this beautiful house in an amazing neighborhood or the trip across the world and a more free-wheeling life, this was a great choice to have.

“Right there in front of you are two great options,” I said, “a chance to build a new home with someone you love, or the chance to live lighter and travel with someone you love. You win both ways!”

Her smile brightened.

And then, I told her about my anxieties over changing up my career, with adjusting to dad life, with all the worries that come with trying to make my dreams come true. And I told her about my mom.

My mom knows all about my high highs and my low lows. I call her whenever the magic is happening. I call her when I’m head over heels in an emotional quagmire. Two weeks ago my mom flew into town to help me with the baby for a week. She is a teacher, and that week was her spring break. She gave that week to me and her son-in-law and her granddaughter, helping us with diaper changes, bottles and cuddles and  watching the baby while cleaning the kitchen or straightening up the house.

Something about my mom being here turned me into a dragon. My mom has seen me through many of the hardest moments in my life. She is a safe place for me to talk about what ails. Without intending to, I let four months of built up anxiety bubble to the surface and spill over. All the nasty, back-of-my-mind gremlins marched out like they were on parade. I grumbled every time I thought I was going to be late to an appointment. I kicked shoes left in the middle of the doorway. I slammed the bedroom door after running upstairs for my keys after running upstairs for my wallet after already running upstairs because I had forgotten my socks. I said to my mom multiple times, “What if I don’t become the person I dream of? What if I can’t be the me I want to be!”

My therapist would probably tell me that growing up a young gay kid in a small Texas town created an emotional habit for me, a gravitational pull to the feeling that I will never measure up. I have been like this most of my life, the back-of-my-mind gremlins picking and picking, pointing out to me ways I have failed.

My mother’s week in our home flew by, and I was a grumbly stumbly mess. At the end of the week, my mom confronted me and my grumpitude.

She sat down on the couch across from me. She said to me, “Brent…” She made sure I was looking up at her.

“Brent. You need to find a way to enjoy your life.”

A pause. “I’m serious,”  she said. “You’re so concerned about making it all work…You need to find a way to enjoy your life.”

I looked down at my daughter as she reached up to grab a ring on her mobile.

“Life goes so fast,” my mother said. “These days you have with her, with your able body, with your sweet family, they are precious beyond measure. Don’t waste a moment not enjoying them.”

As she said this, I thought immediately of a precious, teal, footed onesie in my daughter’s closet, so soft with snaps up the front. When I held her newborn body in it, the thin fabric hid none of her precious baby rolls, her chubby legs, her little tummy, the rise of her chest as she breathed. When she grew out of it, I rolled it into a ball and put it in a storage bin. I thought to myself, “She will never be that small again.”


“You need to find a way to enjoy your life,” my mom said to me.

I thought of my grandmother in Lampasas, Texas. My husband and I visited her recently with our baby girl. She is facing incredible challenges right now, and on our visit she let none of her worries come near us. She showered us with love. I think of her now standing in the doorway of her apartment, smiling, watching us walk away from her. She stood in the doorway while we carried our baby girl and a pack of Hawaiian sweet rolls to feed the deer who had wandered up to us out of the cedar trees.

“You need to find a way to enjoy your life.”

I think now about a friend of mine, Mwami, who lives in a refugee settlement in Uganda. I don’t know him well enough to know if he is happy all the time, but he is happy every time I see him. I call him Happy Mwami. The last time I saw him we had just finished a big sporting event in the settlement. Happy Mwami was trying on a giraffe costume, a tall wobbly, spotted jumpsuit with a tail and a long neck. There he was in the office courtyard bouncing around as a giraffe with a small group of friends laughing together. When I think of happiness, I think of my friend Happy Mwami in a giraffe costume in a refugee camp, creating happiness for the sake of happiness in a place where most people don’t believe happiness can exist.


“You need to find a way to enjoy your life.”

I’ve been thinking of happiness since my mom left for home. I’ve been thinking about how to enjoy life, the every day of it. I’m thinking about how easy it is to get so worried, like my friend and her big house decision, and how easy it is to neglect the beautiful parts of our lives.

I’ll tell you this. Since my mom told me what she told me, I am happier. I have been trying to practice happiness. I am paying attention – to the sweet moments I get with my baby girl, to the kindness of my husband when he brings me a drink from the fridge, to free time on Sunday to start a new quilt. I pay attention to the sunrise during 6am bottle feedings. I soak up the sweet visits with friends, the sound of us laughing together. I hosted a game night this weekend. I made cookies.

I may not have it all together right now. Or ever. But I am better today than I was before at letting go, at practicing happiness.

For the rest of the week, I’m going to write about this. Happiness – what is it? How do people get happy? What is it made of? Can you make yourself happy?

Stay tuned, and I’ll let you know what I find. And in the meantime, ring a bell.

This post is the first in a series on happiness. You can read the second post here

PS. If you or someone you know is happy, would you tell me about it? Leave a comment and share a memory that comes to mind when you think of happiness.


  1. I couldn’t love you more….or your sweet mama. This is something I need to hear….hmmm….maybe on a daily basis. So, thank you for your honest heart. Will_1988-09_cd.jpg. (if the pic doesn’t work, send me your email!)

    1. Oh! Thank YOU! I’ll send you my address. :)

  2. Susan Prentice

    Your post got me thinking. I long ago decided that I have two choices each day (week, month, year) — I can either be happy or I can be miserable. The latter drags down not only me but everyone around me. The former is contagious and can lift the spirits of all in my path that day. Am I successful with this each day? No. But the awareness of it helps me catch it and turn it around more quickly. I don’t want to stay stuck wallowing in the sh*t, so I make a choice. This doesn’t mean that my life is perfect or exactly as I want it to be. It isn’t. Coming home from Peace Corps a little over 5 years ago I could never have predicted that my husband was going to walk out less than 2 weeks after we got back. But it happened. I spent months in a shell-shocked numb place of grief and disbelief. Then one day I had to decide. Is this how I want to live my life? I have had to completely recreate my life—new town, new job, new friends, new everything. Nothing is the same, and perhaps that is a good thing. But I am still here—determined to be as happy as I can be. A saying from AA says “Act as if.” So that’s what I do. On those days where life isn’t easy or exactly as I would have it, I give myself permission to bitch a little. Then I “act as if” I’m happy and life is exactly right. On those days, I find that the life I have, the one I’ve created, is exactly the right one. And I am

    1. Oh Susan! Wow. I had no idea you went through all of that! And to come out practicing happiness… powerful. Act as if… I need to hear that. Thank you for this. ❤️❤️❤️

  3. Rachel Stone

    Your mom is so wise. :-) I loved reading this.

  4. […] This post is part of a series on happiness. Read the first post here. […]

  5. […] post is part of a series on happiness. Read the first post here and the second […]

  6. […] writing about happiness this week. This post is the fourth in a series. You can read the first post here, the second post here, and the third post […]

  7. Harriet Adong

    Your mom is as serious as heaven. I have taken a tree from her words. You are similar to your mom. Remember when we talked about my new opportunities, you said….” Harriet don’t feel pressured ….You have a choice, and if that choice makes you happy, go for it”. Thats what you told me at the end of 2016. And here I am loving my career path. Thank you for sharing. So inspiring!

    1. Thank you for your encouraging words Harriet! Proud to have been part of your career and proud to call you friend!

  8. […] thought I was through writing about happiness on the blog for a while, and then there were the photos of Uncle Lloyd with the Easter […]

  9. […] been writing a lot about the big picture lately. “You need to find a way to enjoy your life,” I put in a post. “You have to take every chance you get to make your life the way you dream […]

  10. […] At it again with the wisdom, my mom. And so, I’m just going to hold our sweet one and all of the wonderful things that surround her beautiful little soul. […]

  11. […] My mom will tell you, “When Brent was little, he needed books like he needed to breathe. I knew we couldn’t leave the house if Brent didn’t have his book.”  […]

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