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. 

Sick Day

Today was not my finest hour, or really my finest several hours. I was sick today, and pretty much dead to the world. As such, I had to mentally reorganize my schedule to put off today what needs to be done tomorrow. And then promptly take a nap (which for me I do as often as skydiving, which I never do).

Sick days are pretty much the worst things to ever happen to me. Why? Let’s just examine my gene pool for a minute: my mother never comes back to bed after she’s out of it, unless it is night time, of course. (In fact, I actually watched a television show the other day where the mom was sick and she was in bed and I realized that I had never seen my mom do that before.) Then my dad quite literally has not missed a day of work in 28 years, unless of course he has a vacation day.

Now, this wouldn’t bother me so much if my parents weren’t really successful and awesome people. I mean, if I saw them getting behind on the mortgage because they are such go-getters and that they never stop, then maybe I’d be a little more keen to take a sick day every once in awhile. Or at least allowing myself to think I deserved a sick day.

OKAY, OKAY. I can’t blame this all on my parents. I certainly can’t blame a stomach flu on them, either. But today wasn’t easy and I’m bitter. I’m dedicated to my responsibilities, and I h a t e  abandoning them, even for a day.

So, I’m not trying to say everyone should take more sick days to remember what’s important and to take care of ourselves, or whatever that’s about. I’m not encouraging you to play hooky or take a mental health day. That’s really not my style.

I’m just saying that when you need to take a sick day (in my house, 100 degree fevers were about the only criteria for this, but you know), then you should. You can’t do your best when you’re not feeling your best. And if you don’t take the time to recover, you’re going to wake up one day like me, not with the stomach flu but with way too many unused homework passes because you thought you needed to save them. But really? Sometimes saving things for a rainy (or sick) day can mean that you never do them at all.

Electric Shock Therapy

Everybody knows this scenario: a mouse is inserted into a maze. He/she has two choices–go and get the cheese, unharmed. Or go down another path and get shocked. We also all know how this ends: for some reason, the mouse continually gets shocked until he/she is tired of seeing blue and tries another way. It’s a pervasive example in our society for attempting to unlearn instinctual behaviors.

And in a really sadistic way, it’s sort of funny. We all say, What, is that mouse stupid? Definitely doesn’t have a head for business like his cousin, Mickey. 

Yet, if we imply that the mouse is stupid, then we have to admit that we are too, now don’t we?

What do I mean? Well, have you ever had a craving? For food? For an experience? That’s fine. You scratch that itch in one way or another. But what if what you’re craving is inherently bad for you? Craving for a cigarette? Craving to see someone who you have a toxic relationship with? What then?

I suppose you may think that you just need more will power. Or maybe you just need negative reinforcement. (Hey, Oprah, have you thought about giving someone an electric shock every time he/she opens the refrigerator after midnight on Weight Watchers?)

But I bet you’ve tried that, too, haven’t you? (Not the electric shock thing.) You’ve given yourself the equivalent of electric shock therapy. Mentally beaten yourself up. Gone completely cold turkey. Let it go little by little. But you still do that thing.

Take me, for example. I have a food allergy. What happens to me when I eat the foods that affect me is simple and straightforward: it makes me horribly sick. Do I continually eat foods that make me horribly sick, through the idiot property? I not only do, I binge eat these foods.

So, what happens when you’re the mouse? What happens when you keep electrocuting yourself in the hopes for a different result? Does that mean you are stupid?

No. I think we need to start looking at habits not as a lack of knowledge but as a lack of wanting to change. You may know what will help you to lead a better life (so you’re not stupid), but you don’t really want to acknowledge it just yet. You don’t know how to get there.

And shocking yourself really won’t help. But being kind to yourself and trying to find out what you really need will. In the end, you should kick a habit. Not yourself.

Sorry, I Was in the Hospital

I’m really sorry. I was in the hospital over the weekend, and I took a little time off from everything, including blogging for the past two days.

And at the same time, I’m not sorry about that. (Well, I mean, I would prefer not to go back into the hospital.)

Listen, I know that I have a responsibility to my readers and to all of the other things I do on a daily basis. I know that I am an important cog in the machine, as we are all (asked to believe). And I apologize for letting some things slide, especially this blog. But I am truly not sorry for taking the time off.

In reality, I think that I (as a citizen of this country) have a serious problem with work ethic and productivity. Of course, I may not live in the worst nation in this department and we’re probably even in denial about that, but I think there’s a serious disconnect when it comes to vacation time and the rest of our time in America, and what happens when we try to split the difference.

You see, I know I’m not alone in the fact that I’m afraid to miss any time from work or any of my extracurricular activities. It just makes me generally anxious. I’m all like, What if someone needs something, and I’m not there? Or worse, what if no one even realized I was gone? 

The problem is that when you are burning the candle at both ends and the midnight oil, your body will let you know that this can’t continue, which mine did. And when that happens, it makes you feel like you’ve been missing the signs all along and that you could have possibly prevented it if you picked your head up once in awhile.

So, in some respect, the fact that I even have to say the words in the title of this blog post is evidence of all of our issues and stigma about being able to take the time we need to recharge and rejuvenate ourselves. I shouldn’t even have to apologize for being in the hospital because it’s something that I would certainly classify under “unable to be helped, whatsoever.” It’s not exactly like I chose to be there. And yet, I still felt (and still do) that I owed everyone an apology for not acting as expected and for showing up late to my own party, in effect. I feel somehow responsible for a job not done.

But please take it from me: you do not want to realize that you need some down time when a nice nurse is jamming an IV into your hand and you’re being told that you can go home…as soon as your blood pressure climbs down from the rafters. Be kind to yourself out there and listen closely to what you need. And remember that sick days should not be used solely by the sick. Instead, they sometimes need to be used by the perfectly healthy in order to ward off what they are actually intended for.