Wednesday, July 18, 2012

On Being Happy

My parents separated when I was 13 and divorced not long after.  This is not exactly about that.

After the divorce, my mother fell into a deep depression, from which she emerged some two years later, walking into my room to announce, "You know what?  You can't depend on someone else to make you happy.  You have to make you happy.  I'm going to the Food Barn.  Do you want some ice cream?"

I thought, at the time, that I understood what she was saying, but I was still angry with my parents and the entire rest of the world.  It took me a good fifteen years to fully internalize that lesson, to grasp it for myself.  It took me just about that long to really forgive my father and my stepmother for what I saw as a brutal betrayal of my mother and our family.  That the transition to understanding was accompanied by life-changing pain of my own, as well as by the setting aside of my own anger and self-righteousness, is probably significant.

The key to happiness doesn't lie in a new love, a new job, a new house, a new city.  It doesn't have anything to do with the things you have in your life.  The path to happiness is internal.

There's a meme that goes around that says, "Are you happy?  No?  Then change something."  It's true, but most people seem to think that 'change something' is entirely external.  They assign their unhappiness to their jobs, or their relationships, where they're living.  Everything will be fine once they get the promotion, find that perfect girlfriend or boyfriend, or make that fresh start.

And you know, it is.  For the first little while when you make big changes, when you choose a new path, everything falls into place.  It all seems to be working, coming together.  There's a New Relationship Energy that goes with life changes major or minor.  It can prevent you from seeing that the things that made you unhappy before are still there.  Slowly, gradually, they creep back in and ruin everything again.

You're still going to have trouble at work if you resent authority, or if you're not doing a job you feel is worth your time.  Your relationships will continue to fail if you can't love yourself or see yourself as deserving of another person's love.  Leaving your faith for a new path won't bring you peace if you still carry the conflict inside you.  Whatever pain, or fear, or disappointment you're running from will keep chasing you until you stand and face it.  You will be no happier six states away, because the first thing you pack when you leave home is your emotional baggage.

So, is it all hopeless?

Not remotely.  But you have to be willing to face yourself in the mirror and give yourself the power and the responsibility for your own happiness.

If you want to be happy professionally, you must either find a way to do what you love, or learn to love what you do.  This may mean a new degree, or it may mean a new attitude.  It may mean an honest assessment of your skills and your abilities.  It can mean an acceptance that you will never be an astronaut or a professional wrestler, but that doesn't mean you can't find a career that lets you soar in your own way.

If you want to be happy in love, you have to begin by loving yourself and acknowledging that you have a fundamental right to be loved.  This doesn't mean the child's petulant demand for validation in another person as your 'right'; it means a real understanding of the full worth of the person you are, and a deep, genuine love of self that flows outwards from you to everyone you meet.  You don't 'deserve' love like a dog deserves a treat.  You deserve love like you deserve oxygen.

If you left your faith in resentment and anger, slamming a door on your beliefs as you abandoned them, you'll chafe just as much under new gods or no gods at all.  Faith or the leaving of it can be a path to happiness, but only if you're willing to own that the path itself wasn't inherently at fault, that choices you made that were at odds with (or even in line with) that path were at the root of your unhappiness on it.  You can't blame gods for failing to make you happy against your best efforts.

If you're running, you need to understand that your fear, your pain, your disappointment, your PAST carries the key to your happiness and you must stop, turn, and demand that key.  This can be the scariest one of all.  The parent who left, the bully who threatened, the abuse or the abandonment, they follow us for as long as we keep running.  This is also one of the most seductive paths to unhappiness:  If I can just get far enough away, bury myself deeply enough in a new life or another person, you think, then the past will lose my scent and leave me alone.  It doesn't; it always finds you, but the day you stand and face it, admit what's happened to you, forgive those who hurt you, and forgive yourself for being hurt, the past's power over you starts to weaken and you don't ever have to run again.

The striving towards happiness is a mindset.  It's a consistent path of conscious choices.  Every day, I get up and decide to keep being happy.  When I face a trial, I weigh my options based on which is most in keeping with my own path to happiness.  When depression strikes, the path that leads out of it is the path of trying to make every day just a little bit happier than the one before it, until I can find my way back to equanimity.

The other part of being happy is understanding that it's a state of being more than a state of mind.  I can be sad, be in a bad mood, feel frustrated with my life, and still be a happy person.  I try not to lose sight of the fact that my life is a good place, even when it's not exactly as I want it to be.  I am surrounded by loving people, I am trusted by people worthy of respect, and I have many opportunities to grow, to succeed, and to change the world around me.  And even on the very worst days, that's still a pretty happy place to be.

1 comment:

  1. Quite so. I originally interpreted "happy professionally" as "professionally happy"; wouldn't that be an awesome way to make a living?? ;)