And Now the Case for Being Happy

Photo credit: Daina Zilans

Back in January, I was emerging from a sad place and a big change that left me 10 lbs. too skinny (I’m now back to my normal size and my pants aren’t falling off anymore, woohoo!), emotionally exhausted, and suffering from insomnia for the first time in my life. As a pep talk for myself (and any other people that may hopefully have found this helpful) I wrote a post called Got the Blues Real Good: The Case for Being Sad (Sometimes). The circumstances I was in were beyond my control and I wanted to find a place of optimism and strength while still acknowledging that I felt like shit.

My winter and spring were a clumsy journey up a bumpy road. It brought me to my knees sometimes. I had a lot of things to sort out, mostly things I was afraid of, and even though I felt like crap I managed to plant some seeds that seem to be bearing fruit for me on an ongoing basis. Volunteering as a mentor, writing this blog (which I love), meeting new people, going on little adventures, re-enrolling in university courses, and co-creating, rehearsing, and finally performing “Troika!” with my friends have all kept me busy, interested, and ultimately, with little room for being a grumpypants. And in October I’m going to Spain. For a month. ALL BY MYSELF!

Through most of this time, even though I was no longer sad, the positive emotions I was beginning to feel weren’t necessarily happiness. I was proud of myself. I had a sense of accomplishment. I was having fun. And more than anything, I was feeling grateful for the amazing people and opportunities I had to support me and my climb out of the pit.

But gratitude is not happiness. It is a recognition of good fortune. And while it’s important to appreciate your blessings, gratitude’s not good enough. To spend your life being merely grateful that things aren’t worse is not joyous living.

Paradoxically, it is when our victories are nearly complete that our fears loom large again. When I was at rock bottom, I had nowhere to go but up. It was easy to be fearless when I felt I had little to lose. But that is not the case anymore. I like where I am. I like the life I’ve built for myself. I like the people in it. Can I, dare I, actually just rip that old comfortable bandage off that old comfortable wound and admit to myself that I’m absolutely and completely happy?

In recent weeks I’ve felt myself relaxing my tense grip on my heart and my mind, trying to trust that my world will continue to turn even if I don’t worry about it all the time. But despite my stance in The Case for Being Sad, every time I did, I found myself saying (to myself and others), “I can’t. I can’t go back there. I can’t go through that again. I can’t.” I’ve felt the sunlight on my skin, I’ve burst into bloom, and now suddenly I have something to lose. And that’s scary.

Every time I find my mind thinking “I can’t” I try to be gentle but firm with it. Of course I can. I just don’t want to. And that’s fine. No one has to want to feel shitty. But we can’t live only on what we’re not afraid of losing. I remember seeing a marquee outside of a church once that said, “To love something is to realize it might be lost.” That was four years ago, I had a broken heart at the time, and I thought it was very important. I told myself that I would remember that marquee. And I did. Since I know myself enough to know that I can’t live without love (for people, for places, for the things I do), I know I have to live with loss. So I will. I will surround myself with those which might be lost, because they’re the best things in my universe.

And happiness? What of that? What of the protective grip I kept around myself, clinging to that old comfortable wound, refusing to let go, so that nothing new could hurt me? Well, it’s a little funny, but one day, not so very long ago, I was walking through a parking lot, my mind busy licking the latest salt added to the old comfy hurt. And then, I just…. let it go. A parking lot is perhaps not the most inspiring place but that’s where it happened. I let it go. It was as if the final stone was removed allowing the dam to burst and the river to run free. Or as if I took off my shoe and dumped out that last piece of grit. I’ve got a ways to go maybe, but I can walk a heck of a lot taller now.

And I’m happy. I didn’t get here by myself. There are a few incredible people (and I hope you know who you are) who have been my knights in shining armor in my darker days, and I am more thankful than I can say. But ultimately, for me at least, my victory was a choice. My choice. It started with the little choices and changes I made to reshape my life and my world, and then, finally, with the terrifying but simple choice not to worry, to let go, let it be, take a breath, rip off that old bandage, expose the vulnerable new skin, and be happy.

"The Dance" - my 2011 wall calendar is all Marc Chagall. And 2011 has been full of colour and Good Things.

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