Does a big change in a person's life, well-considered and planned, have the possibility of changing their happiness in the long term? I have a friend who wants to change her circumstances, radically--a move, a job change and a totally new life is what she has in mind. She wants to leave the big city and her high-paying job and go back to the small town life she grew up with. She wants her child to have grandparents close enough to come for Sunday dinner.
I am impressed with her bravery and her willingness to understand that the logistics, once we're not twenty with a life that fits in a Honda Civic, will be tedious and many. To me the real question, the one I keep asking her is, are you really sure once you make these big changes that you'll be any different? In other words, wherever you go, there you are. My instincts as a friend are to counsel her to make incremental changes, but this is rich given that I moved not only to America from Canada but to a whole other country in addition when I landed in Texas. So I know change can be tranformative, but it doesn't fix all. And it hurts while it happens.
Moving to a place with plentiful sunshine and minimal cold certainly changed me and made me happier than trudging through the snow-filled, four-month tunnel that is the Canadian winter. I can't quite imagine going back--it's a bit like that old saying about trying to keep them down on the farm once they've been to Paris. But the hundred-degree weather for weeks at a time, though it delights me, drives other Northerners mad.
Divorce is many things, but mostly change. For so many years, I heard from my husband that I was an unhappy person. A fair charge to be sure, because during our years together I became increasingly so. Now, five years later, there are times when I can be unhappy, but in comparison, hardly ever. I think of my misery with him the way I consider walking off the streetcar beside Lake Ontario. It was difficult, but an old life from which I learned what I could live with and what I couldn't.
So is my general satisfaction with life because I made the choice to be warm and not live with my former husband anymore? We can't make another person happy or expect them to do so for us, but the reverse isn't true: people really can make one another miserable. I couldn't be happy if I was still married to my former husband, but nor could I be if I hadn't examined my closely held beliefs about myself and how I played into the wretched dynamic between us. I wouldn't be happy in Texas if I sentimentalized the autumn leaves and the smell of snow, but I figured out that for me, hot beats cold.
So to my friend I have to say, leap, but know that the walk through the swamp won't be easy, and it will take a long time to break on through to the other side. Once you get there, the view is really good. But to really see it, you need new eyes.