Weather Helmed

an adventure in renewing the spirit and living the dream…on a sailboat

Weather Helmed

An Epiphany

November 18th, 2010 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Being happy can be hard. For so long, now, I’ve been waiting for it to be easy again. Not necessarily like magic – I’ve been “looking” for it, trying to trick it into my life, doing things that had made me happy before…  But, I’ve found myself being frustrated that, no matter what I did, it lasted only temporarily, and then I was back to feeling depressed and apathetic. I read blogs and articles telling me the key to happiness was being thankful; or smiling even when I didn’t feel like it; or laughing out loud like a maniac just because the mere sound and acts of those guffaws, no matter how cheesy or false, would make me happier.

But it all felt so FAKE and fragile to me. And what I remember most about my previous days of happiness is that they never felt insincere or fleeting.

The other day, I came across this blog (written by a student, no less!) that had a great series of posts on creating an amazing life (I so wish *I* had written this!).  I thought it would be silly, but the writer actually had some great insights and ideas that made me think.  In the post on happiness, the author mentioned happiness being work and, in my mind, I translated it to being a habit, something that you have to practice every moment, every day.  I had heard people talk about happiness as a “choice,” in the manner that all I have to do is simply choose to be happy and VOILA! Happiness.  It reminded me of when I was younger and people would ask me “why don’t you have a boyfriend? why aren’t you married?” and I’d think, um… because it’s not as easy as me just WANTING it –  sometimes, there are other factors involved.  And I’ve read those stories about people in concentration camps, etc. finding JOY in the midst of their pain, but I don’t think that necessarily meant they were telling jokes and laughing and smiling brightly as their friends and family suffered.  JOY and happiness to me are related, but very different things.

So, maybe it was just the way she worded it, or maybe it was because I’m finally in a place to hear it, but I finally accepted and admitted that happiness takes work.

As I read the post, I recounted the times when I had been happiest.  Instantly, my last few years of high school and college came to mind.  As I was journaling and describing those days, I had The Epiphany.

OF COURSE it was EASY to be happy then.

OF COURSE it was easy to be happy when I was constantly surrounded by positive, happy people; when I had a solid group of great friends who I shared life and laughter with; when I was at my church five or six days a week; when my family was happy and healthy and enjoying their lives; when I had jobs I liked and worked with people I loved and respected; when I felt successful in sports and academics; when my efforts and talents were regularly recognized with trophies and certificates and scholarships and high grades.  OF COURSE it was easy to be happy.

In those days, I practiced happiness and optimism without even thinking about it because that’s what everyone else around me was doing; that’s what my community and colleagues valued. And, after a while, it seemed as though I couldn’t be anything BUT happy. I remember getting ready for school in the mornings and trying to work myself into a bad mood because even I got bored with Pollyanna sometimes. I would screw my face up into a glare and narrow my eyes and coach my thoughts to be pissed off at the world, and then I would laugh at my own ridiculousness.  I got annoyed because it felt nearly impossible for me to sustain a bad mood.

But, again, looking back on those days, it was so easy to be happy. Effortless.

As life went on and so many things changed, it got harder and harder to stay happy – I was lonely, I was bored, I was disconnected, my faith wavered, my family went through difficult times, I was no longer surrounded by positive influences nor had the comfort and support of a church community, and I no longer knew the security of a cohesive nuclear family.  As my life continued to come horribly unravelled at the seams, I grasped at happiness, flailed desperately at it, caught glimpses of it in other peoples’ lives.

After surviving the past decade, at times it’s felt impossible for me to be anything but UNhappy. I have moments of great happiness, of course, but I’ve sorely missed that constant undercurrent of happiness that used to permeate my life.  All I can think is that I stopped practicing happiness.  But, back in the day, my happiness was so breathtakingly innocent and pure that it never dawned on me that being happy even took practice!

For the last several years, I’ve felt like a failure, depressed and worried and afraid because I didn’t know how to be happy, how to get that true, long-lasting happiness back. Based on my past, I believed that happiness wasn’t something that had to be forced, it wasn’t something that had to take effort. I thought it should sort of be like flipping a switch – poof! I am now imbued with happiness, peace, love and joy! Ta-da!  I thought that I just hadn’t found the right formula, the right recipe, the right equation to make that change. But, thinking back on the circumstances of my life, the people I was around, the things I was doing… it just makes sense that it was easy to be happy.  The habit of happiness was easy and effortless like drinking coffee or kissing your baby goodnight.

I just never thought that I would be one of those people who had to work for happiness.

Up to this point, I’ve denied that happiness should take a lot of deliberate effort. If it took effort, I thought, it wasn’t real – you were probably depressed** and should be taking medication.  But, I’ve been wrong.

So, I’m working on cultivating a new habit – the habit of happiness. It is NOT easy right now. But I’m coming up with ideas that will help me along – like repeating affirmations to myself as I go throughout the day, or waking up and saying out loud something like, “I am an amazing and beautiful woman and this is an amazing and beautiful day full or promise and surprise and what an amazing and beautiful world we live in, thank you God!” or maybe not reading heavy/depressing books, or only watching comedy shows or making a list of things that make me smile and committing to doing at least one of those things every day.

Being happy is not always easy, but that’s ok. It doesn’t mean I’m a failure or a loser or that my mood is unchangeable. It doesn’t mean I’m condemned to be miserable forever. Working at being happy doesn’t make my happiness any less real – in fact, I feel pretty confident that my life to come will be even more spectacular and rewarding than my past because Lord knows I’ve survived a lot to get here.

** I wouldn’t be a good, responsible blogger if I didn’t say that sometimes people DO need medication and are clinically depressed and have chemical imbalances in their brain that can only be altered with pills and/or extensive therapy.  Happily, I just don’t think I’m at that point right now 🙂

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