The frail elderly woman picked at her short curly hair with a comb, her back against her husband’s chest. “Did I get it all?” she asked.
“Yes, honey, but don’t make it too big.”
She laughed. “I had to wait until it dried.”
“Remember how wild and crazy it was when we were younger, baby?” He teased.
She laughed at the memory.
This went on for several minutes, cooing affectionately at each other on the aptly named loveseat.
When they were quiet, I couldn’t help but comment from across the small waiting room. “You two are too cute.”
They went on to tell me that they had been married 42 years and despite the wife’s bad health the last few years, they figured they looked better laughing than crying.
What better segway into my new six-week blog series on unconditional joy (Get Happy) than this couple who obviously lived happily together despite all of the obvious health problems and likely much time spent in waiting rooms.
What does it mean to be happy? For most of us, happiness is conditional, the circumstances all leading to or away from a feeling of joy or bliss. As a fiction writer, I get to create those difficult journeys for my characters, putting them through hell and back to a hopeful ending. In real life, I struggle as much as the next person, but I’ve come a long way, baby and want to share because I think that’s why we’re here. Happiness, connection and growth.
One of my favorite mantras since 2003 was “I shall not let circumstances dictate my joy.” That mature couple in the waiting room totally get this. People who have cancer or are dying yet are happy know this. Why can’t we know this now?
All year I’ve been blogging about getting real, including getting fit and getting out(side) and for the next six weeks I’m focusing on unconditional happiness, a joy that comes deep within, unfettered by the jerks or bad luck or cranky kids or tough work day.
I’m starting the series at a time of transformation for all of us, summer’s end, when the carefree feelings of sunshine and vacations and sleeping in are replaced by a new school year for kids. The seasonal shift to more responsibility with kids back in school, hectic schedules, and a “buckling down” mentality can add extra stress to our already busy lives.
The great thing about unconditional happiness is it isn’t based on a beginning or an ending, but a knowing that life is good and worthwhile and precious despite what’s happening around (or to) us.
Like everyone, I struggle with moods and mostly with my “monkey mind” which I refer to as a squirrel circus. Because I have obsessive compulsive thoughts (which works GREAT in my work life for finishing projects and writing books), it can wreak havoc on my personal life, presenting as both worry and anxiety. I’m also extremely empathetic (and a little empathic) so I’m sensitive to energies around me as well as dealing with my own high energy. (My friend Carie’s fiance said she and I share that “hummingbird on crack” personality.) Well, it is what it is.
As Dr. Susan Campbell writes in Getting Real, we can’t be authentic if we aren’t self-aware, so knowing yourself is key.
Being self-aware, I’ve realized what I need to balance my energies, pay attention to ruminating thoughts and assess how I feel and adjust my attitude or actions if necessary. For me, I need a lot of physical and intellectual stimulus in a day so if I don’t work out every day and get some good input and output (usually reading and writing) then my day can feel “off.” I also know my mind is better off giving it a break with daily or twice a day meditation – getting in touch with my “spirit” and making sure the window to my higher self is at least always cracked open to get through. Keep track of your day and how you are feeling and see how you might need to adjust your schedule to help you feel energized and “optimally you.”
What about when shitty things happen?
Last week someone took a cheap shot at me via an email to someone I love. My first thought was, “How dare they?” (Ego) And then I felt hurt. (Ego) And then I felt my loved one’s pain at being on the receiving end of a spiteful remark. (Empathy) As a bit of time passed, my Ego calmed down and I knew THIS TOO SHALL PASS and later that evening, I was even able to smile about it, because really? Try this quote on!
‘Don’t try to win over the haters; you’re not the jackass whisperer.’ -Scott Stratten
In a nutshell, those hard times just don’t bring me down and ruin my days/week/month like they used to. Better coping mechanisms and a more positive attitude + appropriate actions equals CHOOSING HAPPINESS (even while holding an opposite emotion like grief or sadness or dealing with ambiguity). It’s not easy and I wish I could do it as easily as blinking an eye, but it has gotten better with time/practice. More on that when we discuss Getting Real, a book I serendipitously found at a used book store in Maui. Amazing.
We simply can’t live authentically without getting real about our lives and the choices we’re making and what’s holding us back.
Here’s my list of 7 Keys to Getting Happy and I’ll blog about each of them in more detail in upcoming weeks.
1) Remove roadblocks to happiness
2) Change your attitude (as the song goes, “take your life from negative to positive”
3) Practice gratitude and self-care
4) Live with intention (on purpose) – which can begin with saying yes or no when we really mean it and setting intentions and sticking with them
5) Feed your passions
6) Take time for stillness/ be mindful
7) Be an adventurer. Stay curious. Play more. Be silly.
Week One Get Happy Questions:
If you were honest about your state of “unconditional happiness” how would you rate yourself? Do you depend on other people or things going a certain way to “be happy?” What fed your spirit this summer? As summer ends, what are your intentions for autumn? What would you like to accomplish? Who are the people, places and things that make you happy? Review the list of 7 Keys and answer how you do or don’t do those things. Schedule how to make them happen and then DO IT.
Thanks for reading. Happy End of Summer!
Happy pics of the week:
Excerpt from my work in progress non-fiction essay book on letting go and living authentically, inspired by nature, Return to Wild.
Psychologist Dan Gilbert, author of “Stumbling on Happiness” talks about our inability to accurately depict our future selves. We believe we’ll be more or less the same as we are right now…forever. We believe our interests won’t change that much and who we like to hang out with is fixed and we think we’re pretty darn good at predicting what will make us happy in the future. We aren’t. In fact, in his research, it showed we’re poor at predicting what we’ll like ten years down the road and that’s because we do change. Knowing this can keep us from feeling like there’s “something wrong” with us, when in fact it’s simple biology and beyond our control. We can’t grow if we stay in the same place and stagnate. Growth is why we’re here. Let’s give ourselves a break.
Excerpt from my work in progress, a novel about a war vet amputee struggling with life and love after war. My character Jake is certainly struggling with happiness.
My gut burned as we turned the corner at the big Oak tree. We were close.
The air turned cooler as the brush thickened. We ditched our bikes and began crawling through, over and under the limbs and fallen trees. I should’ve been more worried about Ben getting cut up, but I felt hypnotized, unaware of his thick little body behind me as I pushed on.
The sun shone through the clearing like a spotlight on the burnt limbs for a good quarter mile radius. The trailer had blown up just seconds after I’d been shoved out the door. The door had fallen on me, which is likely why I only had the slight burns that I did.
Grams said it was a miracle I hadn’t been burned to a crisp.
Said it was an angel who put that door over my frame.
No one wanted to give my meth-coooking mom credit for my survival, but I don’t think that’s fair. Even though she shouldn’t have been doing what she was doing, she did respond the way a mom should when she saw her kid in danger.
Besides, it was me who brought that flame to the fire.