As we come upon the end of the year and look forward to the next, the posts about how to improve your life are taking over social media. And in response I’ve seen many posts about how annoying it is to have those posts pop up all over the place. I enjoy reading both sides, the ones outlining activities and practices that lead to more positivity and those convinced that those people should just shut up. What really entertains me is the comments at the end. I am floored by the numbers of people who take the time to comment. And it saddens me to see how many people are convinced that happiness and joy are out of reach. I understand that these articles often come off with a Pollyanna vibe, like it’s supposed to be easy. “10 Easy Steps to Joy!” And if you are currently in a depressive state, reading the easy fixes like, “Smile more!” might make you want to punch someone. The truth of the matter is that Joy and Happiness are not easy to come by. Not at first. Especially when you’re out of practice. The people writing these articles have usually taken years of practice to come by their current state of calm, peace or joy. They didn’t just “smile more” for a day and then BAM, HAPPINESS! It is not easy, and it doesn’t happen quickly. But it CAN happen. One of the first steps is to figure out if you even believe it’s possible, despite your present circumstances in life. You can be in exactly the same circumstances that you are in now and have a more peaceful, calm, even joyful state of mind. Another thing to realize, is that being happy or joyful despite your circumstances does not mean that now you become a passive floater in life. The people writing these articles are not simply running down the shore of the beach in the sun all day. That might be a part of their day and all the power to them! They take the time to have fun. But they are also feeding their families, paying their bills, writing blog posts, putting their effort into the projects that they care about. They work hard. They do not simply lie on the bed all day with a big grin on their faces.
I know, because I’m one of those people who tend to write and share those positive posts. I love to talk to people about how to live a more joyful life. But the truth is, I didn’t use to be this happy. I used to be pretty miserable. I went to my boring, stressful job, came home to my husband and dogs who I love very much, and made dinner and either worked out or worked on the computer and went to bed. It wasn’t a bad life. If you had asked me then, I probably would have said I was pretty happy. I enjoyed a lot of the things I was doing. I was being paid well enough to continue to live in Hawaii, which is a beautiful place to be. My husband took wonderful care of me and dogs give unconditional love, the best kind. And yet, looking back, knowing how happy I am now, I see that I was “pretty happy” but also “pretty miserable” in probably equal amounts. Good memories and moments of sadness, boredom, discontent. And that feeling that I couldn’t change it.
So I know. I know what it’s like to think to yourself that you should be happy because you have a great husband, family, dogs and for $#@$ sake you live in Hawaii. I know what it’s like to look at people with those beaming smiles and think they’re faking it. Believing that that level of happiness doesn’t actually exist. Believing that those people were trying to sell me something, their product, their website, something, and that when they were done convincing me how awesome it was, they were going to go home and collapse into an exhausted heap of human, spent after spending the day trying to keep up that level of deception. I believed that it wasn’t possible.
Seeing a therapist in 2010 was a big change for me. I stopped trying to do things by myself. And in that small act of asking for help from someone else, I became a little braver. I decided that I didn’t have much to lose by trying. I decided to live an experimental life. I decided to give it a shot and see if it was actually possible to enjoy the little things in life. To see if, in fact, meditation works. To test out whether or not those joy gurus were right. I started to listen to “self-help” books and to experiment with prayer, yoga, meditation and mindfulness activities. Even if I thought it was stupid at first. In fact, when I started meditating, it was painful. My mind raced, thinking of all of the more important activities I could be accomplishing, my legs hurt because I’m so inflexible, my back hurt because I don’t like to sit up straight and they tell you you should. Sometimes I would fall asleep, other times I would peek open my eyes to see how much time left I had on the clock. But I gave it a shot. I made a commitment to a week of meditation in the morning. And slowly, in little tiny moments, I began to feel that inner peace. Those moments of just being and nothing else. Where all the pain in my body and all the painful thoughts were briefly not important. In the beginning it was so short, but once you’ve felt that, you become a bit of an addict. You want more. And then I finally believed that those joy gurus could be right. That feeling does exist.
At the same time I was exploring books on the subject. If a book didn’t interest me in the beginning, I stopped reading it. I wasn’t there to waste my time. Over time I found a few people whose words touched me and hit a nerve. Not everything they said was like that, but every once in a while there would be a statement that just zinged me from my head to my toes and landed in my heart. And I knew, just knew it to be truth. I felt it. It was not logic, it was knowing. It was similar to that feeling of just “being” during meditation.
Because I took the time to experiment, I allowed myself to be open to the possibility. And I discovered it could be true. And it took a long time. A 10 minute meditation in the morning is long for me. I still peek at the clock sometimes. But there are times when I start to meditate and I drop into this wonderful state of calm and peace. And I’ve come to a point where I can find that state during times of stress and frustration. In traffic, in long lines at the supermarket, while one of the toddlers I work with is purposefully taking as long as physically possible to put his dish into the dish tray after lunch. In these moments I can drop down into that feeling of relaxation. And here’s where I think we have led people astray. Once I’ve reached that state, I don’t just smile and say, “Oh, it’s okay, do what you want” and pretend to smile blissfully. I don’t let people walk over me just because I’m able to stay calm. Being peaceful and calm is not the same as being a push-over. In those moments, though, I can clear my mind and think of something to keep me busy. Instead of fuming about how slow the lady in front of me is, while she counts out 85 dollars worth of pennies and drops a handful on the floor, I can take a second to drop in the calm. Then I can look around and see if there is a different line, I can see if the person behind me is friendly and wants to share a smile about the situation, or look at the cover of the Enquirer which is always entertaining. And instead of being furious about the pennies on the floor, I can smile at the woman with arthritis, assist her in picking up pennies, and wish her happiness in her life. The truth is, either way, the woman is going to pay her money for her groceries. I can fume, I can help her, I can find another line. When you are paying your mortgage bill, you can do it with a smile or a grimace, both cost the same. When the child takes forever, you can make a calm decision about how to react. Do I shout at him to hurry up? Do I take the plate from him and do it myself? Do I let him continue on so that a more important lesson of self-sufficiency is learned? Can I use a gentle, but firm tone to remind him that we have something to do so going fast is important? mIs it more important to be fast or for him to do it himself? I can decide in a calm state of mind instead of reacting in anger.
So ask yourself a few questions. Do you believe that happiness is possible? Do you believe that being calm and peaceful would change you into a push over? Do you think that once you accepted reality, you would have no power to change it? Leave your answers in the comments!
“Happiness is not circumstance.” Marianne Williamson says this on an episode of SuperSoul Sunday. And I truly believe this to be true.