Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness, and where it comes from, at least in my own life.

It started with one of those stupid MySpace surveys – the ones that are all so similar but somehow trigger my OCD just enough that I can’t keep from posting them anyway.  One of the questions nearly always is, “If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be?”  Now, being way too introspective for my own good, I always give these questions serious thought, and when I get to that one, my answer is always, “Nothing.  Because everything happens for a reason and everything that has happened has led me here, and I am happy with where I am.”

Which begs the question of why I am so happy where I am?  What is it about my life that makes me so unwilling to change any of it?

I’m not young, rich, gorgeous, or privileged.  I’m not a social butterfly.  I don’t have everything I want, though I do have everything I need.  So what is there about my life that is so perfect, that I wouldn’t want to change it?

Here’s what I’ve come up with:

I am not young…but I am still in the best years of my life.  I am so much more confident and happy in my own skin than I was when I was young.  I don’t obsess over whether people like me anymore, or whether I have made someone angry at me.  I am in touch with my inner bitch, as well as my inner goddess, and I am okay with people being responsible for their own emotions.  If they don’t like me…not really my problem.  If they do…great, but that’s not the centerpiece of my world.

I’m not gorgeous – but I am not unattractive either.

I’m not rich, God knows – but I have learned so much about the value of money – and what value it doesn’t have.  I have learned that being able to buy whatever you want is nowhere near as freeing and joyful as knowing that you are in complete accord with the one you love, and that there are no secrets or omissions between you.  Money is important, and it’s so important to be financially stable – but money is not ever going to make me happy.  Love, family, and an honest, self-responsible life are.

And that’s the center of it, really.  Because I am so blessed.  I have a husband whom I love, more than I ever even knew.  He loves me, more than I ever knew.  He accepts me – he doesn’t hesitate to call me on it when I’m being irrational or overly bitchy or irresponsible…but he’s not unkind to me.  He knows me inside out and he accepts me for who I am…and forgives me for my occasional bouts of extreme brainlessness.  And every now and then, he does something so wonderful and amazing and unbelievable that it takes my breath away.  And in between times, he brings me enormous joy every time I look at him or hear his voice or he touches me in passing…

I have two exquisite daughters, both of whom are a joy to me as much as they are a trial.  I am constantly racking my brain to try to be sure I am doing the right things with them, and often feeling that I’ve failed – but I wouldn’t trade a second of it, because they are beautiful and precious and smart and funny and I adore every thing about them.  Even the bad stuff.  It’s part of what makes them who they are, and though I do want to teach them how to control themselves and to behave properly, so that they can get along in the world without making things unduly horrible for themselves – I do not want to change them.  They are, in their very imperfection, perfect.

I have a nice home – it’s not anything extraordinary or outrageous, but it’s nicer than I ever thought I’d have, when I was younger.  I have a very steady, stable job at which I am given significant responsibility and trusted to be competent.  I have the amazing privilege of working with people I truly love and respect.  I am privileged to spend time, almost daily, with people who make me laugh and brighten my world just that much more.

My life is not perfect; not nearly.  There are things I would like to have – I would like to be completely out of debt, I would like to be able to go places and do things that are currently out of reach for more reasons than just money, I would like to be able to quit work and focus on writing, I would love for my kids to have straight As and perfect behavior in school…

But I don’t need those things to be happy.  I have what I need.  I have what it takes to bring me joy, and contentment.  And what more, really, can anyone ask for?

So it seems to me, in the final analysis, that being happy is not about what you have or what you do or what you are…it’s about what you know.  It’s about what you can see – can you see the joy in these things?  Are you looking up, or looking down?  Are you looking at what you’re striving for, or at what you already have?  Because ambition, though it can be valuable, can also be an insidious poison – if you are constantly striving for something, can you ever take the time to be happy with what you’ve already achieved?

Keeping your eye on the prize is a great thing – but sometimes you already have the prize.  Sometimes all your work and effort is really just about holding on to the prize you already have, not about winning the next one.

At least, that’s my conclusion.  I have my prize.  It’s simple, and maybe some people wouldn’t think it’s much of a prize – but I can’t imagine a better one.