Thursday, October 22, 2015

Practicing Happiness

It has come to my attention recently that I don’t know how to “be” happy. I mean, what kind of Pollyanna simpleton walks around just being happy? Life is harder and more complicated than that, and accepting otherwise is just plain naïve. It’s much safer and easier (and socially acceptable) to sabotage our thoughts, expect the worst and hope for the best.

But what if this just isn’t the case? What if today is what happiness looks like and we just don’t know how to enjoy it? What if being happy takes…practice?

I have just made two major life changes: job and marriage. I’ve moved overseas and back again, and in the midst of all that found a person for whom I feel profound and deep love. Now I get the opportunity to try something new, to grow, to do something I’ve always wanted but wasn’t sure how to go about it. Not only that, I’ve found an organization that lets me keep my toe in development work and is flexible with me and themselves.

I shudder in writing the above, because I fear I may sound like a braggart, because I fear I may lose it. On bad days, the soundtrack playing in the back of my mind is: I’ve gone from being my own woman with steady benefits and paycheck and taking life by the tail - to a consultant with little or no job security, relying on a man I hardly know, almost exactly back where I started. Worse – dumped by my old employer, stuck in the suburbs, with an SUV. Next to Costco.


So which is it? Both are technically true, but why do I feel more comfortable sharing the more negative story?

Brene Brown calls the idea of downplaying our happiness as Forboding Joy. In essence, happiness means being vulnerable and in order to avoid that, we downplay it. In her book, Daring Greatly, she writes:  “It’s easier to live disappointed than it is to feel disappointed. It feels more vulnerable to dip in and out of disappointment than to just set up camp there. You sacrifice joy, but you suffer less pain.” So, while good things have happened, I focus on the down parts, in order to keep myself “grounded” or “not get ahead of myself” or [insert any other reason not to be happy]. That way, if it does work out, I’m supposed to be pleasantly surprised.

Moreover, let’s be honest, happy people are friggin’ obnoxious. When I was single, I hated being around what Bridget Jones called the ‘Smug Marrieds’. While I was happy for them, sometimes the jealousy, the loneliness, the wondering if it would ever happen for me - it physically hurt.  Their happiness literally made me miserable.

My husband and I have had long talks about how to be responsible in our love for each other and those in our lives, single or married. While not being held hostage to the naysayers, having been so long at the other end, we also don’t want to twist the knife. Those married folks with whom I could open up to were both genuine in their concern for me and made space in their lives for me.  We are committed to making space, committed to sharing, spreading around some of that love we took so long to find.

The thing about Forboding Joy is, I’m never as pleasantly surprised as I think I’m going to be. I end up just wandering around, picking at the scabs of old wounds or pushing at emotional bruises. I just ruin the experience by worrying my way through it.  And sometimes our happiness allows others to be happy themselves.

From here on out, I’m done not fully enjoying what I have the moment I have it. I’m going to practice being happy, and allow others to be happy (without judgement). I won’t always get it right. Perhaps this post is obnoxious, but that’ ok. I’m going to embrace good things right now, exactly because they might not come back.  I may look stupid but what if this is what happiness is? I’d be even dumber to miss it.  

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