5 Reasons to Choose Happy

Sitting in the living room, feet tucked under my butt, warm cup of coffee moving from lip to lap, I said to my second cousin Gail, “Sometimes I feel guilty about my life.” Read without context you might conclude I had done something unlawful? Which might be true, but in this circumstance I was referring to something illusive, slightly clandestine, maybe even decadent. 

It is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world. Mary Oliver

Context is everything, so before you jump to judgement, let’s explore the backstory. This narrative involves an impromptu reunion with my second cousins from Missouri, Mike and Gail Severance, a sturdy branch from my mother’s lineage. In fact it was my mother’s death that resurrected the symbolic “bridge” in our relationship. The scary part? We hadn’t laid eyes on each other for over forty years.

We decided to gather at the lake house (neutral territory), my sister’s family included, each of us secretly hoping our long lost relatives wouldn’t turn out to be ax murders or worse anthropophobics. 

Deep breath, drum roll…neither turned out to be true. 

The last time we met I think we were all in our teens. Michael remembers thinking, “this is the cool side of the family.” A highly suspect interpretation of our brief encounter because Nancy and I are anything but cool. Regardless, we were pleased to be perceived as such, and resolved to preserve our “cool” reputation through the course of the weekend. Yeah, you can imagine how well that went, status obliterated. 

I’ll admit this much, Gail and Mike are two of the most engaging, fun, kind, hardworking, salt of the earth kind of people you’ll ever meet and they’re civil. This is important. I’m not just saying that just because they’re family, or thought we were cool (okay a smidge), it’s just how they roll. 

I love new places, new people, new ideas. I love cultural differences, and I’m fascinated by the truth – all the different versions of it. Martin Henderson

The first night we gathered on the back deck for wine and appetizers. This was sort of like a blind date, with no escape plan, just three couples struggling to place and categorize one another. The wine only served to mutate the process but also allows the walls to come down, truth to surface, and laughter to emerge. Jesus was definitely on to something.

“It’s funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools – friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty – and said ‘do the best you can with these, they will have to do’. And mostly, against all odds, they do.” Anne Lamott

I watched how Gail and Mike held space for those important conversations where everyone on deck felt safe to share their opinions, triumphs, and concerns about life. It was like being able to take a deep breath for the first time in a while without fear of asphyxiation.

Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you living in better conditions. Hafiz

We spent most of our time answering important questions. This is who I am, this is who I’m not, this is what I want, this is what I’m hoping to do with this one precious life. We’re all coming to a crossroad in our professional lives and discerning the next move is paramount if we don’t want to get captured by the king, taken out by a pawn, or cross paths with an angry horseman? 

In life, as in chess, forethought wins. Charles Buxton

“I placed my marriage, my family, and my soul on the altar of productivity, of hustle, of competency and efficiency. I can’t adequately express the regret I feel for having done that, or the gratitude I feel for pulling them back down off the altar before it was too late,” says Shauna Niequist. Each of us has spent years accomplishing personal goals, raising kids, sacrificing our finances, time, and energy for the good of the family and now we’re considering new pathways. What is the future going to look like? What can I do with the time I have left?

This is what I’m finding, every day, every hour: there is a way of living that is so sweet, so full, so whole and beautiful you’ll never want to go back once you’ve tasted it. Shauna Niequist. 

Gail, Larry and Mike tore up the lake with some early morning water skiing. Brave they are. I held the flag. After enjoying traditional lake-house waffles we headed over the Kelseyville for wine tasting at Boatique and Laujor. We sort of planted ourselves at Laujor with a large picnic, a few bottles of wine, and an outstanding view. Dave Lucido, owner, took extraordinary care of our table. 

Our designated driver, Nancy Wood, brought us home safely, where we were joined by Jim and Sue Goudreau for dinner. For all intents and purposes this is when the party got started. The Goudreau’s provide the flavor at gatherings, and they did not disappoint, serving a variety of spicy sausages from Lodi. Yum.

Some of my happiest moments are the ones I spend with my husband, a few close relatives, and a handful of very good friends who know me well and like me anyway. Robin Marantz Henig

My favorite part of the evening was the camaraderie I saw forming around the table. I sat back, took a moment to observe the dynamics of the people gathered, the breaking of the bread, sharing of stories, but it was the laughter that drew me back in. “Laughter is carbonated holiness,” says Anne Lamott. This is as good as it gets and sometimes I’m so happy I feel guilty.

Five Reasons for choosing happiness:
  1. Happiness and joy are contagious, time to up our game for the sake of all.
  2. You are beloved and that’s a good enough reason to discern what makes you happy over and above what might be pleasing to others.
  3. Life is short, especially as you near the end, don’t ride out all perfectly coiffed, and preserved, “but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!” Hunter Thompson
  4. There is coffee, you can have more, even after 2:00 pm.
  5. When you live well your entire life becomes a vacation.
Think of building a life that has the capacity to hold both unproductive time along side our ocean of responsibilities. If I want to love deeply and well I have to learn to listen to my own interior voice, the one constantly urging me to slow down, and enjoy a second cup. I’ve heard No is a complete sentence but much of my life I have rallied against this notion. The freedom to choose is sort of astounding, the joy inexplicable, and happy is simply the consequence of choosing that which gives you life. In response to my leading statement, “I feel guilty about my life,” Gail said, “not for a minute, enjoy your life, you’ve earned it.” 

Mike’s song choice much better! 

I’m Living in the Gap, drop by anytime, we’ll practice saying “no.”

Anecdotes (Better word choice ~ thank you Michael):

  • If you think it’s hard to meet new people, try picking up the wrong golf ball. Jack Lemmon
  • Mike says, “You have to tell us what the unmentionable number 10 was in your last post.” Me, “there wasn’t one, I was trying to be funny.” Silence…
  • My brother-in-law Dave Wood caught the largest bass anyone has ever seen! Bravo David! 
  • They’re coming back next year for a second reunion! That’s if we all survive this crazy hike I somehow got roped into? For the next eleven months I’ll be in training. 


Leave a Comment

  1. I loved reading this post. What a delightful summery of our fun and memorable weekend together. Thank you for taking a chance on some distant cousins and welcoming us into your home and lives. You keep the title of “cool relatives”.I am a “Pollyanna”, “glass half full”, 🐝 bee positive person and your words really connected for me- keep choosing happiness- you do deserve it!


  2. So glad you enjoyed the post. It was a fun weekend but I was struck by our many conversations concerning the next stage of life. What will it include? What will we do? What's in the bucket? Such a privilege to have options, to have our health, and the ability to make our dreams come true. I'm enormously grateful for this life especially the opportunity to connect with our incredible second cousins!


  3. Great post Cheryl!Your blog manages to successfully sum up our wonderful visit, while at the same time delve into what I would describe as Gail’s way of life.When I saw the photo at the top of your blog, I thought “Wow! She found a picture that defines Gail.”Now normally I can submerge myself in your blog and come up with numerous things to say (most of which are not remotely relevant.) Not this time. You pretty much nailed it. Of course, I will give it a try. Our adventure all started when we received Nancy’s reply (little things do matter!) to the Holiday card we sent to your mom. Your mom passing, my mom being ill, it triggered me to act. I had a faint memory of you and Nancy from one reunion in the late 70’s. Gail had put in a lot of work on the Severance Family Newsletter (copies available upon request), and I figured that this relationship would either fade away permanently or be reborn. After reading your blog (which I love), I decided it was worth checking in on your side of the family tree. I also was able to deduce that you probably wouldn’t bite. So, we came without an escape plan. (Most times I can arrange to get paged away when things go south, but this wouldn’t fly in Cal.) My emergency backup plan was wine and a total review of old blog posts. Totally not necessary.So, let me break it down.Love the blind date analogy, arranged by our Grandparents of course.The Lake house (neutral territory?), if you can label serenity as neutral territory. What a wonderful place. Peaceful shoreline, perfect weather with zero humidity, world class fishing. Overall A+ accommodations.Nancy, Dave, and Mac. I saw through this immediately. Reinforcements! It was great to meet all three. I can see why Dave loves to fish. Wow! Strong work. Mac is great to have around (glad I am not the only one who loves Round Table!) She inspired us to walk the extra 3 miles in Fort Bragg (it’s a long story.)Nancy is a kind-hearted soul who is really easy to talk to. Thanks for driving Nancy.Jim and Sue. More reinforcements! I can only describe them as completely entertaining pistols! If they were my lake neighbors, I would spend all my weekends there. They have a zest for living and it shows. Along with some serious cooking skills. And yes, when I get “stuck in Lodi, again,” I am heading for the brat store (couldn’t resist.) Note to self, don’t eat seconds and thirds of brats when a full steak dinner is already on the grill.Highlights: The wineries. Loved them both. Boatique had great tasting wines, an amazing motorboat collection, and a great view. However, the vibe at Laujor was the best! Great view, great wine, great company. I did not want it to end. I felt the owner rolled out the red carpet and gave us amazing personal attention. The wines were shockingly good. I selfishly hope they stay secret, though they certainly deserve any and all accolades. Amazing waffles after an early morning ski. Taste great, plus it feels like they were earned (my shoulders are still sore.)The amazing art deco fish that magically appeared in the fire pit. This wonderful relic drifted into our lives, proving that one person’s trash is another’s treasure.Larry A high energy, level headed Zen master. Kind of reminds me of a younger Sam Elliot. I feel like I could drink a beer with him any time, reflect on life, and never get bored.Other points in your blog. Love the Henderson quote, especially the “I’m fascinated by the truth- all the different versions of it.” How apropos!Fear is the cheapest room in the house. Don’t be afraid to fail.Love the Robin Henig quote. It is all about Fellowship.Of the Five reasons for choosing happiness, the one that I can relate most to is number 3, the Hunter Thompson quote. However, my reason for choosing happiness is that it costs the same as being sad, but is more fun to be around. Of course, I have to cautiously add a friend’s old saying, that you are only as happy as your most miserable child.


  4. AsidesWhen Jim sat down after I first met him, he picked up the coffee table book 50 hikes to do before you die. He said “I wonder if the Lost Coast back pack trip that I did the other day is in this book?” Instant rock star hero status as this is a hike on my bucket list, and I think I had talked Gail into it in the not too distant future. He started talking about how beautiful it was. How amazing it is that you can only hike it when the tides are out etc. Totally awesome! Then the bad news. He starts talking about how hard beach backpacking is, how much harder climbing over rocky shoreline is with a pack, how he almost gave up but it was too far to turn back (in my mind I am seeing Gail say there is zero chance I am going on this loser hike.) Sadness.It was also difficult for me to see all of the fruit trees growing throughout the beach neighborhood. Uncared for pomegranates, lemons, oranges and apricots loaded with fruit. I work so hard for so much less.Regrets? Well, I feel I owe Larry a straight pull behind the boat.Wished I would have hit the Wakeboard and Paddleboard.An excuse to come back?!Lastly, I don’t remember saying goodbye to Jim and Sue (too much wine?) Outstanding people. And of course, the obligatory song that no one will listen to. Because that’s the way I roll.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GsFX75dyc8I


  5. Wow! Thank you for sharing your perspective and for taking a chance on the potential (but not) ax murderers! I've heard all of the wonderful things from my parents about their travels and visit to your home. (I've also heard my dad talk at length about how much he has enjoyed reading your other posts for a few months now!). Thank you for your generous hospitality toward \”family strangers\” and also for your eloquent post. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it


  6. We will be talking about the Severance’s until your return (with Rachel I hope)! We throughly enjoyed our time together and greatly anticipate your next visit! There are so many hikes, wineries, and restaurants to explore and we’re thrilled to find relatives who have like interests. I anticipate many adventures in our future that include the Missouri branch of the family. And yes I do believe our Mom’s are ever so pleased!


  7. So let me just put this out there, while Mike, Jim, and Larry tackle the Lost Coast hike, Gail, Nancy and I will hang at the lake house. We’ll do some antiquing, evaluate local restaurants, wineries while you get all sweaty and sleep on the hard ground! We’ll meet you in Fort Bragg for dinner. We can also harvest fruit in the neighborhood under the cover of night. We’ll definitely give you all a go at wake boarding and a better pull for Larry might be nice. And BTW your song choice was stelllar! I changed it up. Love your comments as always.


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