A few weekends ago, I visited with a girlfriend I hardly get to see because of the distance. I haven’t seen her in ages and it’s really because (1) I don’t drive, and (2), getting her to the city or getting me to Long Island can be quite the journey.
She asked me a question which was simple yet a tad complicated to answer: How do I manage to stay happy?
Happiness, for me, is a continuing journey. I think that as we get older, we have to seek or find that “happy place” in order that we may not get buried by the day-to-day hassles of our toil. It is THAT place we can retreat to — even if only in our minds — to bask in some happy memory or thought or even just a snapshot, that brings us that feeling of bliss. Brief, though, it may be.
I have not always been as positive or happy as I am now. Even now, I still find myself succumbing to moments of sadness or those blah times when life overtakes me. But I know better now to stand up or wiggle free of the weight of negativity, and not let myself slide deeper into that abyss of sadness. I deal with it in a way that works for me.
One thing I’ve learned is that you have to consciously seek to be happy, or you will find yourself sinking or wallowing in the opposite. Happiness is not automatic. How many times have you heard it said, “Happiness is a choice.” I’m still not quite comfortable with that whole concept because I think what people label as “happiness” is relative to what they consider it to be. As we get older, the word takes on a bigger meaning but we start defining it in simpler terms.
Each person defines happiness a different way, and I think much of the frustration or sadness about life in general is brought about by how difficult or unreachable that definition of “happy” is. When people ask me for advice, I come back with a simple question: “What is it that will make YOU happy? Without worrying about everyone else around you, the other people depending on you for their own happiness, just thinking about YOU and YOU alone — what would make you happy?”
I have no formula for happiness. I envy those people who can authoritatively declare that their personal default setting is “happy”. Is that at all possible? Or are these people just deluding themselves about how happy they are. Are they really happy?
I had asked myself that question many times — and I found my answer. But the answer to my question is personal to me. That question is answered a million different ways by the millions of other people out there. You would answer that question your way.
I still ask myself that question when faced with a dilemma where I have to make a choice. We have been wired to think of “what’s good for the majority”, or “whats good for all.” But when that answer clashes with “what’s good for us” or “what’s good for me”, there arises a frustration that leads to sadness and discontent. It leads to sacrifice — mostly on our part. And sacrifice, no matter how noble, always hurts.
There’s nothing wrong with sacrificing or doing what’s best for others. But it is more difficult to swallow when we ourselves, are, in general, not happy. It all starts with ourselves. So you need to find your happy place and go there when everything else seems to be crumbling down.
So how can you find that happy place?
Memorialize “happy” in words. I read somewhere not too long ago, that a gratitude journal is precisely for these times when we feel at our lowest. We need to remind ourselves that there were things that made us feel grateful, and collectively, these are the things that contribute to our happiness. That worked for me for a while and I just don’t know where my gratitude journal is right now, but that is a good idea that might work for those who do journaling or blogging or some form of record keeping. I haven’t posted in ages, but I used to have a “Five Things to be happy about” list here– simple things that make me feel grateful at any given point in time.
The point is to have something filled with positive thoughts that you can go back to over and over again, more so during those times when you need a major pick me up.
Find that picture that will never fail to make you smile. I have pictures that remind me of a million emotions that wrapped together bring a smile to my face. I love taking selfies with my boy, and even before the age of smart phones and all, I trained myself to take photos with my point and shoot camera facing us, at arms’ length. People used to wonder how I could do that and come up with perfect framing– I simply say, “Practice.” Of all the probably thousands of selfies I’ve taken, I have a favorite one when he was probably 4 or 5. I love that photograph because he was still small enough to sit on my lap, rest his head on my chest, and he smiled this happy smile that proclaims to everyone around “This is my girl.” (He will probably cringe now at almost 13 if he reads I wrote that.). I have a copy of that picture in a frame on my desk. Some place I can always see it. And when I see that picture, I find myself in my happy place.
Create a happy space in your mind you can retreat to just by closing your eyes. Remember how, as a kid, you would imagine a world where you were the princess or the super hero? Or how you had such fun vacations with the family? A special trip with friends perhaps? Or a time and place where you get a tight embrace, where there was so much laughter you found yourself shaking uncontrollably until you had to take a deep breath before you started tearing up? I have my favorite happy moments I loop in a repeating video in my mind, and I go there when I feel like things are going grey.
Carry a small memento of a happy moment with you. Some people have keychains, a matchbook, a bookmark, a table napkin — tucked in your purse or wallet – or a note from a favorite relative, a word of encouragement. Nondescript items that symbolize a happy moment in our lives, whenever that may have been, wherever they may be. It might be a business card, a rewards card, or some other plastic with someone’s name which brings you happy thoughts. Have it within reach so that each time you feel you need a boost, you can fish for it wherever it may be.
Do not feel guilty about reaching out for a favorite snack or comfort food that might give you a much-needed sugar boost! It might not be so bad to actually give in to a craving for something that absolutely bring you a piece of heaven, even if it is spelled in calories. For me, it’s that chocolate treat, or a pint of my favorite butter pecan ice cream. The thing is, it shouldn’t become an excuse to overindulge or overeat. It should be enough that you satisfy the craving, smile and move on from there. A taste is different from gorging on something you absolutely love. Just enough to make it to “happy” and nudge you awake to do something about your state of mind.
Or it can be a reward for something you need a pat on the back for. I know most people will disagree with this but life is too short for us to continually deprive ourselves of those things that put a smile on our face just because the rest of the world dictates that we have to be a certain dress size.
These things have helped me to stand up when I was at my lowest and even on an everyday basis. Perhaps the shorter answer to my friend’s question about how I stay happy is that I keep my happy thoughts and happy items near. Even on an ordinary day, I go to that happy place tucked in the corners of my mind and I visit and breathe in my bit of happy.
I choose “happy”. That’s how I manage to get past the pain and the chaos and the obstacles that life has made a habit of throwing my way.