Photo by Valeria Schettino/Getty Images
By Krishann Briscoe
Everyone says happiness is a choice. As someone with a history of depression I often find that concept slightly difficult to digest. How can something so complex as happiness come down to one decision: a decision to be or not to be? For me, it’s easier to think of happiness as the outcome of a series of small choices, the result of how we choose to respond to life’s questions and handle the dilemmas we’re presented with. It’s the decision to honor your mental health needs whether that’s therapy, medication (or a combination of therapy and medication), a bowl of ice cream or an afternoon “Parenthood” marathon on Netflix.
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It’s saying “no” to a few things so you have the wherewithal to say “yes” to the important ones. It’s self-care and pursuing your passions. It’s understanding that your dreams are worthy of dreaming but realizing that it’s okay if they change. Because you’ll change. I’m not always the warm bubbly person I appear to be. Sometimes I’m antisocial and irritable and impatient. Some days I wonder if happiness is meant for others and not for me. But in those moments I realize that I’m looking outward for fulfillment when I need to look within and up. As I’ve grown I’ve realized that there are things that I do or have done in the past that hinder(ed) me in my journey. Things that can make it feel tedious and tiresome rather than the gift that it should be. Things like:
1. Chasing perfection. Why do I insist on tackling Martha Stewart projects when I’m no Martha? Because they are fun. Or at least they could be if I just let go of the fact that experiencing joy in the process is more important than having a perfect ending.
2. Looking for things (and sometimes people) to fulfill me. When my family and I downsized we had to let go of a lot of material items I was rather fond of. There was no room at our new place. During that time I realized that I spent so much time focused on taking care of and preserving things, things that I ultimately couldn’t take with me. Wow, I’ve grown so much, I thought. But last weekend I didn’t want to go out because I didn’t have anything to wear and at times I still struggle with my appearance. At that moment I thought,” If I just had the right outfit…” Still, I know it’s so much more than that. A pretty outfit can’t cover up an inside that is laden with self-consciousness and doubt.
3. Comparing. The comparison trap gets me every time. Here’s the thing: if I spend all my time comparing my grass to my neighbor’s, mine is going to wither. I’ve wasted so much time wondering what someone else is doing right and I’m doing wrong. You will never be happy if you spend your time fixated on someone else’s journey rather than your own.
4. Unreasonable expectations. Placing unreasonable expectations on myself and people has often turned me into a grump. Recently someone told me something that resonated with me deeply. They said: “When I want my child (who tends to like to be silly) to act different I get frustrated or upset with their behavior. But when I realize that this is who he is I can laugh about it and have fun with him.” How often have we made the mistake of wanting the people we love to be someone else (a preconceived notion) rather than accepting them exactly for who they are at this moment? How much more could we enjoy our spouses or our kids if we stopped trying to get them to be different and just loved and enjoyed them for who they are right now?
5. Saying “yes” too often. As I previously mentioned, it’s important to say “no.” When I fill my days with “yes” after “yes” I find I have little energy for my family or myself. When I overpack my plate, I tend to feel tired and irritable. Saying “no” frees you to be able to say yes to the things that are meaningful to you.
6. Not honoring my truth/ignoring my gut. ”Trusting yourself means living out what you already know to be true.” - Cheryl Strayed. Ever try to convince yourself something is right when it isn’t? Just because something was right for you at one time in your life doesn’t mean it will always be right. When I allow fear to creep in (I’ll never find anything better, I’ll never have this opportunity again, I’m going to blow this…) I feel defeated long before the battle has begun. I feel tired and hopeless long before I’ve taken the first step. Honoring your truth isn’t always easy but it’s always worth it.
7. Holding on. I struggle with letting go of things: ideas, expectations and people. And some of the things and people I hold onto so tightly are counterproductive to my journey. I’ve been learning to invest my time and energy in the places and people where there will be the greatest return. Rather than feeling depleted I want to feel encouraged, uplifted and inspired. Knowing where to place your energy and time (because our time is valuable) is crucial.
8. Letting my faith dwindle. My faith is what sustains me and when I don’t take the time to strengthen and cultivate my relationship with God, my joy fades. It fades because I start looking for it to come from places that it can’t: money, people and material possessions aren’t the source of my joy.
9. Not extending forgiveness. Forgiveness is powerful. When you forgive others it frees your heart in ways you couldn’t imagine. And when you are the recipient of true forgiveness it humbles you and reminds you of the importance of compassion. Harboring anger is counterproductive to one’s happiness. In my quest to be more forgiving of others, I also realized that I need to be more forgiving of myself.
10. Neglecting myself. Self-care is important. I know this. And yet why don’t I engage in it? I feel good when I am eating right and active. When I take time away to cultivate my interests. An eyebrow wax does wonders for my face and soul. And as much as I enjoy getting things for my children it’s ok to treat myself from time to time. But I often find an excuse, a reason why I can wait and nothing and no one else can. But the thing is, when we take care of ourselves we can also take better care of our families too.
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11. Feeling guilty. ”I feel bad.” Once upon a time that could have been my mission statement. I struggle with guilt. I don’t want to disappoint people or make them feel bad (I forget that we are all responsible for how we respond to things). I feel bad for my past choices and fear they will wreck the future. I feel bad when I tell someone “no” because I don’t want to let them down. I feel bad going someplace without my children or for not getting everyone a Christmas gift this year. And do I ever, need to stop feeling bad. I have to remember that my best is enough and it’s all I can do. I have to stop giving other people or situations so much power over me and I have to change the way I respond to them.
12. Trying to fix people. I used to be a fixer. It distracted me from my own issues. In the end I was never better for my efforts. I always lost a part of myself in trying to fix another person. I can be there for people as best I can. But I can’t be their savior. Perhaps I can do something but I can’t do it all.
13. Failing to take responsibility for my happiness. I am responsible for my happiness. Not my husband and not my children. I don’t ever want them to bear upon their shoulders the weight of trying to make or keep me happy.
14. Not acknowledging my limits. We all have limits and need to honor them.
15. Not having boundaries. Have them. They aren’t mean or unjust. They are absolutely necessary.
These things can make anyone unhappy but as a parent I’ve realized how critical my happiness is. I’m no longer on a journey all by myself and as a result I feel even more challenged to find joy in it. My happiness plays a role in my daughters’ childhood and in my marriage. My happiness matters for them and also, for me.
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