Public Comment

Healthy Living: Happiness is a Choice

By Annie Kassof, Special to the Planet
Friday July 13, 2007

Some mornings my 18-year-old son tells me his dreams. “I dreamt I got some new multi-vitamins, and that I was locked up in a glass deli case,” he says matter-of-factly. He unscrews the cap from one of his orange prescription pill bottles while he talks. His eyes look guarded. He looks tired. 

I take my coffee from the microwave and blow on it. The steam on my face feels good. It seems I always have dark circles under my eyes lately. Nowadays I hardly ever sleep through the night without waking up at least once—I wake up sweating, I wake from a dream, I wake up worried. Not about war or global warming or our country’s corrupt leaders, but about other things, the little things that comprise my days. Why won’t anyone publish my newest essay? Does my 10-year-old daughter really need her own cellphone? Will I ever want another boyfriend? How come my electric bill is so high? Will my son try to kill himself again? 

In my family, it sometimes seems like my son and I are bonded by our moodiness; our need for validation. I used to take antidepressants. They helped take the edge of things, but they also made me feel kind of flat all the time, so I stopped.  

“Happiness is a choice,” a friend said to me recently—a sort of simplistic, New Age-y concept I’ve been thinking about ever since. I imagine a metaphorical switch being flipped; suddenly all my money worries and other stressors dissipate like fog lifting. 

Last year my son’s depression took a serious turn when his suicidal thoughts became more than ideation. Luckily his attempt was unsuccessful. Now, he takes multiple medications to help balance his shifting moods, which are far more volatile than mine ever were. 

This year I celebrated my 50th birthday a few weeks before he turned 18, and I am only now realizing the significance of these major birthdays falling within a month of each other. As I approach the second half-century of my life with a rather jaded viewpoint—keeping my head above water emotionally, but not exactly swimming in enthusiasm, my son is just starting to test the waters. The medications he’s on are keeping him stable, yet I find myself both afraid of where he’d be without them, and hopeful he won’t need to be on them for years to come.  

My 10-year-old daughter comes from an entirely different gene pool than my son or me—she’s adopted. Early in the morning she’s always the first one up. She tosses clothes around her room before deciding on her outfit for the day, then grabs herself some fruit or a bagel for breakfast. On some days she’ll even deliver me a hot mug of coffee in bed. (My part-time and freelance gigs occasionally allow me the luxury of sleeping in.) “I love you, Mom,” she’ll say before hurrying out the door to her bus stop. “You’re the best,” I tell her sincerely. Her always-sunny spirit is the antithesis to my son’s dark side; her lively social life the opposite of my quiet, predictable one.  

Some days I let the coffee grow cold on my bedside table and fall back sleep. 

Happiness is a choice. If only it were that easy. I thought about that again after I finally rolled out of bed at ten this morning and reheated my cold coffee. (My son, between semesters at Berkeley City College now, will sleep even later if I let him.)  

When he’s finally up he tells me his dream and then I tell him mine, an equally weird one. After he swallows his medications I say off-handedly, “Happiness is a choice, you know.”  

“Bullshit,” he says. 

I’d dreamt I was being stalked by a short, heavy stranger. I don’t know what he was planning to do to me, but every time he got too close, I couldn’t breathe. 

I finished my coffee and started to write this story. I wonder if I’ll feel happier if it gets published.  








Healthy Living 

As part of an ongoing effort to print stories by East Bay residents, the Daily Planet invites readers to write about their experiences and perspectives on living healthy. Please e-mail your essays, no more than 800 words, to We will publish the best essays in upcoming issues.