The Mad Goddess philosophy for life is based on one ruling principle: I am not responsible for anybody’s happiness but my own.

I’m not talking about safety, well being, or the assurance of basic needs; just the general assumption that fully functioning, reasonably intelligent adults should be able to create their own happiness – and if they can’t, it’s not my job – regardless of how much I love them.

In that light, I am unapologetic for my absence this past month. In fact, to apologize would be quite presumptuous on my part – like it ruins your week if there is no post on my blog?

Even if you do miss me, would Cleopatra have given a second thought to her adoring subjects had she desired a lengthy seclusion? If pop diva Cher planned a comeback world tour, is there any doubt that it would be a sell out? Is there even one fan who would condemn her for her long absence, rather than embrace her return?

Staying focused on my own happiness, after a half-lifetime of putting husbands, children, parents and friends (to name a few) ahead of me, is a challenge that takes serenity, courage and wisdom – as extolled in my favorite prayer; “Grant me the serenity to accept those things I cannot change, the courage to change those things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Two weeks ago, my step son-in-law was diagnosed with stage four brain cancer at the age of 35. This is just another, in a line of sorrows that have defined my middle years, including the deaths of my step son at age 26 and my daughter’s significant other at the age of 31 – not to mention that my husband’s cardiologist has told us that every morning he wakes up is a blessing.

What does all of this have to do with happiness? With each of these tragedies I have become a little bit stronger and I have learned one very hard lesson. Happiness is not a circumstance, it is a choice.

This was most profoundly impressed on me by Jai Pausch, the wife of Randy Pausch, a 47 year old professor who lost his battle with pancreatic cancer, but not before inspiring millions of people with his famous “Last Lecture.”

In her interview with Jai and Randy before his death, Diane Sawyer asked Jai how she coped with knowing that her husband would die. She said that no matter how much she wanted to change that fact, she couldn’t. She could spend the time she had left, being angry, feeling sorry for herself and their three young children, or she could choose to make the absolute best of every moment they had left.

At the time I heard those words I was sinking under the weight of similar fears. I dreaded leaving for work each day, but I had no choice – my income may have been meager, but with my husband unable to work, it was all we had. More so, I feared coming home every night, convinced that my fate was to find my husband cold and lifeless – the same way I found my father not so long ago. I was certain I could not withstand one more tragedy in my life. The fact of the matter is, I can – I need only choose to do so.

There are many more losses to come in my life. I will grieve. I will miss those people who die, or I will miss the nature of relationships that must change because of illness or disability. There will always be pieces of my heart missing as well – but whether I live the rest of my life in misery or happiness is up to me.

Likewise, if those around me choose to be miserable (Mad Goddess or not) I don’t possess the power to change them. That has been a difficult – and humbling lesson.

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