Happy When

There is an abundance of things going right in our lives, but sometimes we choose to focus instead on what’s going wrong and what we are missing. We let our problems loom over us and believe they are standing between us and happiness.  We think we can’t be happy as long as we have these obstacles in our way, but we are wrong.

We feed ourselves ideas that start with phrases like “I’ll be happy when…” and “I won’t be happy as long as…”

We set rules and limitations on the boundaries of our happiness. We base the pursuit of happiness on future possibilities that are not guaranteed.  We tell ourselves that we will be happy once we lose weight.  We believe that we will be happy as soon as we start making more money.  We think we will be happy once we are in a romantic relationship.  We focus on the potential ahead, even though now is all that we have.

Research into the science of happiness has often shown that we are poor predictors of the things that will truly make us happy. We lack the foresight to consider all the influencing factors and base our beliefs on unrealistic ideologies.  Most likely they will make us happy for a time until we focus on something else we want and slip back into a state of dissatisfaction.

We all have problems and experience setbacks, and this will always be the case. This is life. We all want things that we don’t currently have, and we will always be in pursuit of things we think will lead to a better life. Maybe these things that we want will make us happy, and maybe they won’t. Regardless, the key is choosing the right focal points to calibrate our “happy” state of mind and not holding ourselves back based on endless wanting.  Life is a balancing act and so is happiness.

One obstacle I have let stand in my way is weight gain. In the past I have let it take over more of my existence that I like to admit.  At times it has become the only thing I can see.  I think, “I’ll be happy when I lose this weight,” putting all my “happy” eggs in one basket, so to speak.  I feel like hiding, become less engaged in life, and ultimately create a ripple effect that morphs into depression.

Eventually I get tired of feeling miserable in this self-induced state of unhappiness and come to my senses, but I can’t get those wasted days back. We cannot get any of these days back, so why do we let them pass us by and continue to make our happiness contingent on future things that may or may not come to fruition?

We can practice being happy now by taking action, showing gratitude, and being present.

It’s great to recognize the components of our lives that we want to change, that we want to improve. Identifying them allows us to then create a plan of action to make those changes and in turn create better lives for ourselves.  When I am unsatisfied with an aspect of my life and I know I need a change, I only feel better when I take steps to remedy it.  I think about why I want the change and what I can do to start.  Once I start putting forth effort to improve my situation, my “happy” state improves and I feel more in control of my life.

In the meantime, we can recognize the vast array of positive things that already exist in our lives. We can think about the things we have earned, accomplished, and experienced in addition to the natural wonders that surround us every day.  Thinking about them when we wake up in the morning and before we go to bed at night will bring them to the forefront of our minds.  Writing them down will make them sticky and even easier to see as we flow through our days with an increased sense of appreciation for all that we have.

We think about how happy we’ll be when this or that happens in the future, all the while missing the amazing things that are happening now. Being mindful of the present moment will help keep us grounded.  It will decrease our stress and worry over things yet to come so that we can focus on today.  It will decrease our dissatisfaction with the current state of our lives and help us pay closer attention to the important things that are right in front of us.

There is no reason to hold back and wait for when certain things fall into place. We can enjoy our lives, have fun, explore, and engage.  We can be happy now.

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A Bond

As I drove home from the shelter with this scruffy 4-year old orange and white mutt curled up in the passenger seat, I could feel my world beginning to shift. She was silent, communicating only by staring at me with her deep dark eyes. I wondered what she was thinking as she looked at me and hoped it was good. I hoped I could live up to her expectations as a new dog owner.

She wandered around exploring her new home before settling down on her new blanket. I img_1244was hesitant to leave her alone so soon, but I had standing plans with my grandma and my boyfriend L would be home within the hour anyway.

When I returned home about five hours later, L explained that the dog hadn’t gotten up since he got home. He talked to her and tried to coax her up from her spot on her new red blanket, but she just looked at him and didn’t move. As we were talking, the dog appeared around the corner and wandered over to me. L was shocked.

What prompted her to get up now after all this time? She had heard my voice when I arrived back home. I understood then that she had bonded to me in the car when I picked her up from the shelter, when she was staring at me with her soulful eyes. I named her Cora after the Spanish word “corazon,” meaning “heart.”

Since those first days, Cora and I have been through a lot together. She has been with me through break-ups, graduate school, career changes, relocations, getting married, and surgery (for both of us). I used to work all day and then study at night while Cora quietly watched me from the comfort of her bed or slept under my desk.

img_1663We have been on many adventures together.   We have hiked together in the snow-covered mountains. We have trekked through the woods and plains. We have gone on road trips and gone fishing. We even went to a bar together once, despite Cora being an introvert.

When my husband and I were dating, he wooed Cora with tacos and trips to the park. He is still trying to fully win her over, but she will always be my shadow. She follows me from room to room, hesitant to take her eyes off of me for too long.  She barks for me to join her outside, and shows me how great she is at chasing squirrels when I do.  She continues to laze in bed until she sees me in the doorway and realizes it is me that has arrived home.  We have trust, understanding, and mutual respect.

We have weathered many storms together, real ones and metaphorical ones. When the sky is taken over by thunder and lightening, Cora shakes and I tell her things will be okay and that the storm will pass. When I’m facing a storm of my own, she gives me the same advice in her own way. She looks at me, lays down by me, and I know that everything will work out fine.

The new year got off to a rocky start for me. I was sick for the first two weeks (and am still Cora - 160not fully back to normal yet). Fever and chills and the worst sore throat I can remember threatened to take me down. I still went to work when I could but spend a lot of time in bed and on the couch, must more so than usual. I was never alone though. Cora was always by my side, reassuring me that it’s okay to take naps in the middle of the day, especially when you are sick.

As we were both resting, relaxed in the comfy, warm bed, it occurred to me how lucky I am to have her and to have had her for so long and through so much. She has been a constant flow of love in my life.

When I rescued her from the shelter seven years ago, I knew my world was shifting, but I had no idea how much and how much for the better since having Cora in it.

 

Too Late

We have so many intentions to do so many things. We plan to get around to them eventually, when we have more time. But sometimes we don’t have as much time as we think.

H and I met in high school. He’d always greet me with a huge smile in the hallway. When I asked how his day was going, he’d answer, “Oh, you know me. I live my life a quarter-mile at a time,” laughing and mocking my love for the movie The Fast and the Furious. He daydreamed in class and drew cute and funny cartoons that featured me and the people we knew. He was smart and silly and coined witty catch phrases that caught like wildfire among our friends, some of which we still say. When a friend of ours died unexpectedly, H and I went to the funeral together, leaning on each other for support. He was an impressive musician and played drums in a punk band. We also kissed once.

After high school I left for college and moved to a city about four hours away from my hometown. A couple of years later, H moved there as well. He needed a change and to break some old habits. By then I had a different life. I was going to college full time, working, and had a busy social life. H and I had grown apart after high school, but I was excited to know we were living in the same city again.

We chatted on the phone and via text message. I told him about my classes and he told me about his job at a popular pizza spot, a place I had been a few times.   We made tentative plans to hang out, but something always came up. I always intended to hang out with him, but I never made it happen. After a year or so, H moved back home.

Shortly thereafter, I was at work when my cell phone lit up, and I saw on the display it was a close friend from home. I didn’t answer at first, but then I thought about how strange it was that he was calling me in the middle of a weekday when we were both usually at work. I answered the call and heard the somber news. H had died of a drug overdose. He was only 24.

I went home and went to the funeral. I started crying in the car before we even got there, and there were moments when I wondered if I would ever stop. Afterwards, about thirty of us gathered together to tell stories, laugh through our tears, and to drink ourselves into oblivion. We cried and reminisced into the wee hours of the night until one-by-one we started to pass out from emotional exhaustion and alcohol. H’s death was unexpected and hit us hard.

Death is a strange thing. It reminds us of our own mortality. It reminds us that we only have a limited amount of time. H has been gone a long time, but I still think about him, and it is still weird knowing that he is not here.

I have always regretted that I did not see H at least one more time before he died. I do not remember the last time I saw him.

We don’t know how much time we have, but it’s finite, so it’s important we prioritize and use our time wisely.  We get busy and sidetracked going through the motions of daily life, putting off one intention after another. If we put them off too long though, it may eventually be too late.

A Confession: Looking for the Bad

“When you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will.”
-Pollyanna

“Hate” is a strong and powerful word, and I usually refrain from wielding it towards anything or anyone. It has become casually and commonly used, and I often hear it as part of the phrase, “I hate people.” It is a phrase I seem to hear more and more frequently, and it’s one with which I often find myself nodding in partial agreement.

I don’t really like people. Other than my few close relationships, I mostly keep my distance, which would be a shock to the social butterfly of my youth. “Why?” I hear her asking. “Why do you dislike people so much and how have you become so cynical?” Good question. It’s one I have been asking myself a lot lately. While I don’t have all the answers yet, I recently realized that somewhere along the way I have developed a habit of looking for the bad in people.

It’s hard not to be disappointed and disheartened by mankind. We constantly hear about the horrible things we do to each other and to other forms of life with blatant disregard for everything but ourselves. The dark side of humanity is always evident via news and social networks in formats that take advantage of and build on our fear. We see these things, hear about them, talk about them, and latch onto them. The bad things are endlessly tossed into our line of sight. It’s overpowering.

My disenchantment has overflowed into my more personal, intimate relationships. I have gradually become less trusting, less open, less engaged with others. When I meet people, I begin immediately evaluating their words and behavior in an attempt to glean their real agenda underneath the façade. I am quick to pass judgment with little information and automatically assume people are being disingenuous.

Ultimately, I have been looking for the bad. Many of us have grown cynical towards humanity (or lack thereof), and it has soured our personal interactions. It’s time for a change. It’s time to look for the good.

How do we change our perception? How do we begin looking for the good instead?

1) I think it starts with ourselves. Once we understand our own triggers, we can take them into consideration when we are in the throes of casting judgment on others. If we better understand what angers us, gets under our skin, or sets us off, we can learn to better manage those emotions and project them in a more positive way instead of towards an increasing sense of animosity.

2) Elie Wiesel said, “We must not see any person as an abstraction. Instead, we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures, with its own sources of anguish, and with some measure of triumph.” Every person is unique. We are all living out our own stories. Being curious about others and their experiences allows us to humanize them in a way that can create commonality and a sense of compassion. Ask people questions and make a genuine effort to piece together a more complete picture of who they are.

3) Everyone has positive character traits. Everyone has something they are good at doing. In elementary school we sometimes sat in a circle and took turns saying something nice about our classmates. Consider the people we encounter from family members to strangers. In our interactions with them, we can think of something we like about them, something we appreciate, or something they are good at doing.

4) Most people we encounter are not going out of their way to make our lives more difficult. We are all focused mostly on ourselves, so why do we assume others are focused on us? Assume positive intent. Everyone is simply trying to make their way in the world as best as they can. This concept cured me of my road rage. We all think we are the greatest drivers and that we do no wrong. We can’t all be right. The person that cuts us off on the freeway is simply trying to get to a destination, same as us, same as everyone. It wasn’t an intentional act of meanness.

5) Every time we encounter someone in life, we have a new opportunity to learn something. We can look for those lessons, especially when we experience more challenging interactions. We can ask ourselves what we can learn from this person, from this situation? Other people often act as mirrors that show us what kind of people we are or what kind of people we want to be.

Looking at humanity as a whole, we are exposed to more examples of the dark side of our nature than the bright. We have to take it upon ourselves to seek out the good. We can find it more easily in individuals we encounter in our daily lives. The good is right in front of us every day; we just have to teach ourselves to see it.

I am striving to be less judgmental, to practice showing more love, kindness, and compassion, and to see others in a more positive light. I am looking for the good in mankind, and perhaps if everyone tries to do the same, the world will be a better place.