If It Makes You Happy

then it can’t be that baaaaad!

Okay, Sheryl Crow aside, it can be pretty easy to feel guilty about some things in these difficult times.

It’s all: why am I eating that and why am I not doing anything and I’ve read this book/watched this movie 1,000 times…why am I doing that?

And the answer is: it probably makes you happy. And happiness is so hard to find in these times that in some ways, it probably doesn’t matter why you’re doing it. If you can find some pleasure in it instead of sadness, or anger, or apathy then there’s probably a good reason for you to do it again.

And if it’s the simple reason that it happens to make you happy, then why not?

Reach for the simple and good things during this time. It can sometimes be all we have.



Go for Happy

This is your friendly reminder that you should be doing one thing that makes you happy every day.

I don’t care what it is. If it’s taking a bath, if it’s watching tv for an hour, or if it’s writing a blog.

Go for happy. The only question you should be asking yourself in deciding whether you should do something is to ask if it makes you happy. Then follow this really simple test: no > don’t do it. Yes > do it.

Now I can’t tell you what will make you happy. Only your heart can do that. But I would listen to it sooner rather than later…

Because life is short. We have to keep what makes us happy at the front of the line and forget about everything else. When you strive for happy, everything else will fall into place.

Rejection = redirection

Do you remember your first rejection? Was it a boyfriend/girlfriend? Was it from a college? What about not making your high school soccer tryouts?

Sorry for bringing up ill feelings. But I’d be willing to bet that you wouldn’t trade your life right now for the world, eh? You wouldn’t go back in time and fix that rejection because what’s done is done. And it’s made you the person that you are today.

That’s why in life rejection is really just a redirection (I didn’t make this up, but I wish I had). It’s a good reminder that just because we didn’t get where we wanted to be doesn’t mean we’re not where we need to be. Every time you get rejected by something or someone, you’re being pushed in the direction of where your real life begins.

So don’t get upset if you’re rejected. Get excited that you’re that much closer to where you want to be. Or at least, be happy that you’re not the biggest loser in the universe, even though you may feel like it.

Even a Smile

I pass a lot of the homeless on my way to work. And you’d have to have a heart of stone to not at least feel bad, even if you do just walk by them.

But today, one lady was making it really hard to walk by her. She was rattling a can of change and calling out to people on the street, imploring them, “every little bit helps! Every little bit helps!”

And as I walked by she said it again: “every little bit helps! Even just a smile!”

And that stopped me in my tracks. Because I wish I could tell you that I walked back and gave her some change.

I didn’t. I kept walking. But a smile did creep onto my face, one that only I could see, and as is the case with smiles, it did make me honestly feel better. It was so much preferable to the sour expression I was displaying originally.

And like the woman said, even a smile helps. It helps you, and it helps the people around you.

So go ahead and smile. I can guarantee that you have at least one thing to smile about.

Hope Floats

Most people’s hope floats. Most people’s happiness is a boat on smooth waters, chugging along until…

It springs a tiny leak. But then that person plugs it right away. And it’s all better and they can keep chugging along, even though the boat is floating a little lower in the water. And everything is fine, until suddenly the cork comes out, and they have to plug it again, although now the boat has really taken on water and it’s wading a little lower. But it’s okay — most people just pick up the bucket and bail the water out. The boat is not the same as before, but they have confidence it will get better (or at least not any worse). 

But that’s most people. And by my tone, I’m assuming you know that that’s not me. 

See, my hope is a submarine. It’s cruising along the bottom of the ocean. It actually belongs at the bottom, so that no one sees it coming. And to get it to the surface, you’ll need a lot of weight pulling it up. I mean, a lot. You can add one weight at a time, pulling on it, but you won’t notice much of a difference until it’s fully up. It’ll just be at the bottom, moving along. And you can see out the windows, but that’s really it. You only have a small space to move in, to see in.  

That’s my day and my life. My hope is a submarine. And a few weights are added each day, a few good things happen, but not much to make a difference. And that’s the hardest part. Because I want my hope to float, in spite of everything. I want to feel bouyant and happy. But I just feel dragged down. 

At any rate, I’m learning that it’s okay to have a hope submarine. As long as your propeller is intact and you keep moving, it’s okay if your submarine doesn’t resurface or if your boat takes on water. As long, as you keep moving, you can still see the world. 

What Happiness is Not

I’m sorry, y’all. I’ve been sick and cooped up the last couple of days with the common flu. It was hard to read a book let alone think of a topic to type out on the small screen. At any rate, I apologize for the absence. 

But during my convalescence, I did watch a lot of Netflix and I got inspired. A particular favorite of mine was the documentary “happy” which takes a look at people around the world and speaks to psychologists about why certain populations are happier than others. 

I’m in a time where I’m looking for my own happiness, so it struck a definite chord with me. Really, I was watching it to see if I could apply any strategies to my own life. 

But I had heard it all before: be around your loved ones, don’t worry about money, try to meditate, write down things you’re grateful for. I know all of these things, and yes, when I do them, they do make me consistently happier. 

So, I wondered if maybe my problem is that I know what happiness is but I forget what it isn’t. For example, buying new clothes is a fleeting pleasure but it does not satisfy. So why do I keep going on “retail therapy” trips when I’m in need of a pick me up? Why can’t I figure out that more clothing does not mean less hole in heart? 

And I wondered if maybe other people have this problem too.

So, let’s talk about what happiness isn’t. Because the more we talk about happiness, the more it seems obvious to pursue, and frankly, makes me feel a little guilty that I haven’t figured it out yet. 

But if we learn what it isn’t, we won’t go chasing that high time after time, and can convince ourselves to find it some other way. 

Happiness is not: 

  • Buying material possessions 
  • Making that much money (a dollop will do ya) 
  • Realizing your dream (as hard as that is to say)
  • In another person
  • A number on a scale
  • An expensive getaway
  • A life event

And that last one is important. Just because you think something is an accomplishment in life, does not mean it will be the fountain of your happiness (aka getting married, getting your doctorate, etc.). 

There. Now you know what happiness isn’t. Essentially, it’s not a state you get to like climbing a flight of stairs. Happiness should be a muscle you flex with intention. 

At Least We’re Happy, Right?

I see a lot of people walking to and from work. And that means I’ve seen some pretty weird and amazing things. (I’ve smelled even weirder  and amazing things, though.)

But today, in a really understated way, I heard something that took the cake.

I was walking along the sidewalk and passed a family. The mom was pushing a stroller and a 5- or 6-year-old girl pranced alongside her. The young girl had her arms up in the air and she was waving them, as anybody of that age usually does. And the snippet of conversation that I heard from the mother as she walked by was: “At least we’re happy, right?”

And I have no idea what the context this was in. But I really wanted to turn around and ask them what we’re supposed to be happy about. (I mean, really, that’s a pretty deep comment to make to a young person. To anyone, really.)

And then I realized, it didn’t matter at all what she meant by it or why she said it. And then, right after that, I totally read way into it.

Because isn’t that the question we should all really be asking ourselves? About anything? When we are giving our all and it doesn’t seem like anything will work out, we just need to ask “at least we’re happy, right?” When we are with our significant other and times are tough, we just need to ask “at least we’re happy, right?” When we are making a decision that may or may not shape the rest of our lives, we just need to ask, “at least we’re happy, right?” Because that’s the only question that should ever matter. And here it was, said to a young girl on a sidewalk street.

And if the answer is ever no to this question, well you can stop right there. (And maybe wave your hands above your head or something). Because if you’re not happy, nothing will ever be worth it.

Anger is a Splinter

When you think about emotions, what comes to mind? What does happy look like? Is it a group of friends laughing together? What does sadness look like? Is it raindrops running down a window? What does fear look like? Is it a dark room with a single door?

And what about anger? Is it more than the color red?

For me, anger is not an emotion in the traditional sense. It is a reflex in much the same way that someone may tap your knee, and it will respond with a kick. In simpler terms, you may notice that anger is first out of you when something bad happens, instead of an emotion like sadness, because you haven’t had time to rationalize or process your feelings yet. Once you have taken the time to think it through, you turn to another emotion to cater to your expressive needs.

On the other hand, sadness, happiness, and even fear are not reactive. They are the product of something, but only after you’ve had time to ruminate. Anger is somewhat pure in that it is not tainted by thought, and actually, it is so strong because it’s devoid of thought entirely.

But of course, anger is problematic as a result of its nature. You may find yourself lashing out because of not being able to form what it is that you want to convey, and so anger beats you literally and metaphorically to the punch.

This is why anger is like a splinter.

Splinters. You will notice when you get one…or at least you think it’s a splinter. It could be just a little bump of unusual pain in the middle of your hand. You don’t really know because you can’t see anything. All you know is that you are hurting and the sharp sting of the tweezers is not making it any better.

It’s the same thing with anger. You don’t really notice that anything has happened until you are crying and honking uncontrollably at the car that cut you off. You don’t really think that you are upset until you are eating your feelings and swaddling yourself into a snuggie. You don’t really know what’s come over you, but you would love to start a fight club right after your book club. Anger is also a generalized, unreachable pain.

Now the trick is to head off your anger. You have to identify the exact issue you are angry at, the exact position of the splinter. Because your pain and frustration radiates and poisons everything else if you don’t. It creates layers and layers and layers until you are shouting at a shadow when you should really be telling a loved one “I’m sorry.”

Simply remember that anger is a symptom like pain, and that it is does not represent the emotion that you are actually feeling. Rather, anger is a substitute, a filler, and until you can identify what you should be really feeling (frustration, grief, jealousy, confusion), you need to root around with your tweezers until you can find the right spot. Ask yourself: Okay, I know the barista getting my order wrong is not what I’m actually cheesed off about, but what is making me so upset? It may be momentarily painful for you, but it will save everyone around you their own anger.

And even more like splinters, remember that anger is pretty much unavoidable. It would be great if it never happened again, but since that is unlikely, it’s simply best if you kept a pair of emergency tweezers nearby. And of course, ask for help when you need it.

A Cold Hard Look at Happy

Don’t cover your ears. I promise this isn’t about Pharrell’s latest hit.

But another musician has a good question for you: Laura Marling. She asks, “When were you happy, and how long has that been?” 

Well? Don’t let the good lady wait. How long has it been since you were happy?

If you’re looking at the ground, avoiding contact with this blog post because you can’t really remember the last time you were happy, I don’t blame you. And if you can remember when you were happy, but you’re ashamed because it’s been awhile, I don’t blame you either.

Because here it is, straight no chaser: we put too much pressure on ourselves to be happy. And then, when we are, it’s hard to pinpoint why.

Throughout your day, you experience a lot of emotions. A range, a wealth, a deluge. And they span the Richter scale of negativity and positivity (not necessarily in that order. Sometimes it’s more like positive, negative, negative, negative, positive, negative, positive, sleep). We collect feelings like a deck of playing cards: Stress, confidence, panic, sheer panic, confusion, delight, etc. And all of those feelings get pushed aside because someone has told you that you should be happy, all the time. Because if you’re happy, everything will be alright.

But happy is like anything else. Getting skinny won’t solve all of your confidence problems. Getting rejected from a job or from a love interest does not mean you’re the absolute worst. And likewise, being happy won’t fix all of your problems.

You just have to have a positive outlook most of the time about most of your life. Everyone gets down, everyone wants to employ a fetal position sometimes, everyone has an Achilles heel that when pinched turns you into the Incredible Hulk when you’re usually like Hello Kitty. But, somehow, everyone gets through it. And somehow, you do too.

So, let’s get technical. (Talk nerdy to me).

The definition for “happy” that you’ve been operating under goes a little something like this: feeling pleasure or enjoyment because of your life, situation, etc.

But the full definition of “happy” includes this little gem: favored by luck or fortune.

And BAM! You’re back in your high school English class, and you realize that Juliet (famous for her Romeo) does not talk to a “happy” dagger because she is feeling pleasure or enjoyment (because she isn’t) but that she is lucky that she has the dagger. (Morbid stuff, huh?)

So, maybe if we stop forcing ourselves to be pleased with our situation. If we stop trying to draw smiles on our faces when we really just feel like screaming into a pillow (or multiple pillows, or a full mattress), maybe then we could strive for happiness. But until that time, we need to see our lives as lucky or fortunate instead of simply pleasurable. We need to take the typical “happy” pressure off ourselves. If you’re gonna smile, then smile like you mean it.