Part of our misery comes from our constant striving to be happy. Culturally, we seem to have this expectation that once we get all the pieces of the puzzle to fit, we’ll solve the happiness equation. Those puzzle pieces might vary from person to person, but they usually include someone to love, something to do that feels meaningful, and something to look forward to (which might include anything from a 2-week vacation to this idea we have of a utopia that will occur “when things calm down” and we can reap the rewards of our efforts).
The thing is, life is full of everything, and we are inherently vulnerable. It might be interesting, exciting, unpredictable, heartbreaking, exhilarating, and often full of joy, but no one would argue that it’s easy to be human. Expecting to reach some mecca where everyone is happy all the time is like following a mirage in the desert. I know I used to buy into this delusion that if only I could “get things right”, I’d be happy. Those things included graduating from a good school, dieting until I was “thin enough”, finding the right person, having children, and finding something to do that was going to bring me joy.
In retrospect, I can tell you that three out of five of those pursuits set me down the wrong path. I mean graduating from a good school is wonderful, but it’s not going to miraculously set you on a meaningful path without your own experimentation and soul-searching. Searching for the “right person” is funny, because all you need to do is look in the mirror. Once you get right with yourself, you’ll have a much easier time finding someone you might like to share your life with. Dieting and obsessing about the way you look is an utter waste of your time, energy and resources. The way you look is the result of a genetic lottery, and it’s the most fleeting thing about you. If you love yourself, you’ll feed yourself well, and you’ll take your body for a spin on a regular basis because sweating and getting your heart pumping and stretching and embodying your beautiful body will take care of everything. Throw out your scale, and anything in your refrigerator with more that two syllables, anything that contains aspartame and/or high fructose corn syrup, find a way to move your body that feels good to you, and you’ll be off to a good start.
For me, finding something to do that brought me joy turned out to be the essential thing. I’m not saying it’s like that for everyone, because there’s no formula to this, it’s personal. But for me, that created an environment for everything else to fall into place. When you feel like you’re getting up and contributing something that might uplift someone else, you are bound to have a great day. Giving to other people is a shortcut to your own happiness. Also, when you make it your business to try to help other people, you realize you’d better know yourself well, and deeply, so that anything blocking you from giving everything you’ve got is not unknown to you. Basically, the motivation to heal yourself increases greatly when you recognize that you can never nurture other people to the best of your ability until you nurture yourself. If you have tendencies that cause you to doubt your worth, seek approval, or place more importance on other people’s opinions and desires than your own, you start to understand all that mess is going to get in your way and prevent you from offering up what’s in your heart, so you get busy cleaning it up. At a certain point, your history is just that. There’s no need to drag ancient pain into your present possibilities.
Before I realized I wanted to spend my days teaching and writing, I was pretty lost. I was also depressed and anxious a lot of the time, and convinced most of my feelings about myself and life in general had to do with other people. When I had relationships, they became the center of my world, and when you don’t have any other passion in your life, and your sole focus is on what this other person needs, wants, feels, thinks, or doesn’t think, when you have nothing to fill your time except obsession over whether things are heading in the direction you want them to, or not so much, it’s a drain on both parties. You aren’t showing up as your best, most inspired and fulfilled self.
Lastly, on my list of things I thought would bring me joy, it turns out having children brought and brings me more joy, fulfillment, meaning, purpose, gratitude, excitement and motivation than I ever could have imagined. Again, there’s no formula to this, I’m just sharing my own experience. Loving people is the best stuff in life, whether those people are your best friends, your family, your partner, or a total stranger on the street. Shared connection, the feeling that we are all in this together, all part of this mystery, all experiencing the same sense of wonder, confusion, fear, anxiety, loss, joy, excitement, empathy, laughter and hugs—I just don’t know of anything better.
If I could go back and talk to my twenty year old self, I’d say, “Get off your a$$ and stop blaming other people for your unhappiness. Stop devoting all your time and energy to romantic relationships and people who don’t know how to do anything but hurt you. Figure out why you’re attracted to those people, and heal that. Find something to do where you can give something essential of yourself. Direct your attention to using whatever you’ve got to try to uplift the people around you. Trust that things will happen in their own time, and that trying to force or rush life won’t get you anywhere. If you want to be happy, that’s an inside job, and it’s a feeling that can overtake any day, if you focus on all the abundance instead of all the lack. And don’t date Steve.”
Anyway, maybe some of that will help you. Sending you love, and wishing you peace! Ally Hamilton