How To Be Happy
[Listen to an audio version of this blog HERE.]
It seems flippant and easy to say that the secret to happiness is choosing to be happy. How presumptuous, really, to think that happiness is as easy as making up our minds. As deciding that there are more good things than bad; more good people than bad; that the glass is half full; that we ought to just smile and re-frame bad things into good things. How presumptuous too, to assume that this re-framing should or could be easy. Happiness is not and should not be permanent, but I also don't believe it's all that difficult to come by.
If someone were to ask me what my worst quality is, I wouldn't hesitate in saying impatience and/or stubbornness. I don't like to wait, because waiting wastes time, and time is the only thing that really matters. As Mary Oliver wrote, "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" Waiting is not what I plan to do, and never has been. Both impatience and stubbornness can be difficult and negative, but they can be positive too. Once I decide I ought to do something, I do it and waste no time. So, I decided to be happy. To notice the insane beauty that is this life, all around me, always.
The other day I was walking down a street and saw a man cackling as he rode a rusty bicycle, holding a brown paper bag and floating off to his own, proverbial sunset. I saw a family selling flowers on a street corner, trying their damnedest to make it in the cruel, concrete landscape of Los Angeles. I saw a father with his daughter at an ice cream truck, handing over a few crumpled dollars in exchange for a moment of sweetness. In this moment, I thought about how each of us is a story happening in real time, overlapping and cross-referencing each other until we almost forget how magically different each of our lives truly are. And, how magically the same.
Choosing to be happy is not to ignore the terror and pain and idiocy of humanity. Rather, it is to notice the terror and pain and idiocy and not let it ruin you. Not let it dig itself under your armor. Better yet, to embrace it. To notice the sheer humanity of the terror and pain and idiocy. To see something lovable in it, even. I have this propensity to see the good in people. To fall madly in love with the best parts of others and therefore, to overlook flaws. Everyone is lovable-- of this, I am certain. And if everyone has something in them worth loving, the world doesn't seem so bad. Life doesn't seem so cruel.
When I was first in treatment for my eating disorder, a doctor told me I had a choice to make. I could continue down the path I was on, and I'd eventually die. Or, he said, I could choose to get better. To find something in myself worth loving and to find something worth living for. I didn't choose to get better the moment he said that, but his words have never left me. If nothing else, I am here to live for me, to say yes to good things that come my way, to carve a path toward good things, to find a way out of the bad things, and to find meaning in the bad things, too. I decided to fall in love with myself, and when I did, the rest of the world couldn't hurt me so much. There is nothing more unbreakable than a woman who knows herself well, who loves herself unconditionally, and who trusts herself wholly.
It is seems flippant to say, "love yourself," or "trust yourself," or "spend time getting to know yourself." But you must. It is not optional. If you don't, life will pummel you, fast and hard or slowly and gently, but it will pummel you nonetheless. The world will dig a chisel into any crack in your armor and try to make you unhappy, because if you are unhappy there is something to fix. Someone can sell you a facial cream or convince you to sign up for their pyramid scheme. Someone can verbally or physically or mentally abuse you, and you'll just reckon you deserve it. Someone can use you, walk over you, interrupt you, and you'll sit, complicit and unhappy and looking for something or someone who can fix this great unhappiness.
Unhappiness is contagious. You need a strong immune system to fight it off, and you need to flex the happy-I-love-myself muscle every damn day or it'll go weak. When I chose to begin the long, arduous process of disentangling myself from my eating disorder, I didn't know how hard it would be. I didn't anticipate how many tears I would shed, how many steps I'd take backwards, or how many mental and emotional roadblocks I'd have to find a way over. But I also didn't know that there would be such a beautiful life on the other side of it. A life full of joy and friendship and inner peace. A life full of laughter and happiness and love. A life so radically different than the one I'd been living that sometimes it feels like a dream.
You do have a choice to be happy. You do have a choice to flourish. Anything or anyone telling you different (even if that someone is you) is lying. It is an easy thing to find unhappiness or discontent. It is far more difficult and eons more rewarding to cultivate happiness and love, for yourself and for everyone around you.