Shannon Hames

Shannon Hames: The million-dollar question

“Aunt Mama, are you happy?”

Those were the words coming from the mouth of my then 2-year-old niece, Mackenzie. I remember it well because we were driving nine hours to visit a family member and Mackenzie talked every single minute of those nine hours. I have no idea what else she said that day over 14 years ago because that question was the most profound thing anyone has ever asked me and it was all I could think about.

I was married to a good man. I was a stay-at-home homeschool mom to two of the most amazing children. I lived on the beach. I had a boat. Dolphins played in the water off my back deck. I traveled. I had friends. I was a foster mom and a hospice volunteer. I had the gratitude and respect of my community.

I felt content most of the time, sad some of the time and lonely all of the time. But, no matter how I tried to argue the case for my happiness in my mind, I just couldn’t categorize myself as “happy.”

That question forced me to examine my life. I looked at what I was trading my real happiness for: the feeling of safety and security, avoiding the discomfort of a divorce, a move, lack of financial resources, the reaction of friends and the “embarrassment” of knowing that all of the people who knew me would now know that I was a lesbian – just some of the many reasons that I gave myself to keep me anchored to that life of mediocre satisfaction.

I went for almost four more years before I gathered the resolve to follow my heart into the unknown world outside of my closet.

One of the most interesting things for me is to see that, whether queer or not, many people do this trading of happiness for safety, security and comfort. We don’t want the temporary discomfort that comes with change, so we sit in our contentedness and placate ourselves with daydreams about the life we don’t have the courage to actually live.

This isn’t a story about following my bliss and how my life went from drab to fab. In fact, my life is pretty similar now to how it was back when I wasn’t happy. The difference has really only been about recognizing that I wasn’t happy and summoning the courage to walk away from security without knowing what, if anything, would replace it.

Have you been there? Are you there now?

Because what if, after that bit of discomfort, your life became amazing? What if you bit the bullet and went through the financial hit and the drama of getting out of that bad relationship and then met the most incredible person who thinks that you are the most incredible person?

What if you left that job that sucks your soul and gave up that security so that you could chase your passion and you ended up wildly successful? What if you spoke your truth to the people that you love and it brought you closer together?

What if you made a decision right now to examine your life and ask yourself the very simple question of a 2-year-old: “Are you happy?”