Recently, I had an interesting conversation with someone close to me. They said something like: “I feel that you have gone one way after Cynthia’s (mom’s) death—that you’ve really embraced the sadness and change of her passing and made something out of it—while I have gone in another direction.” I’m paraphrasing, though that was the gist of that part of the conversation. This person—who I’m not naming so as to not draw embarrassment to them—had also been affected by Cynthia’s passing. However, they could not see within themselves the same strength that they’d claimed I possessed. I would not have made it through that journey so seemingly unscathed without this person. You were a rock to cling to in the storm. You were a hero in our dark adventure. Indeed, I owe every success in life to the strength borrowed from others—my partner, family, friends and even pets.
Here’s the not-really-a-secret about being brave and grabbing life-by-the-balls: most of us who do that are still scared shitless. No one that I know is this indomitable bastion of cheer and self-assurance. In fact, I’m convinced that people who act like that are usually covering a gaping personality defect with their grinning veneer. After my mom died, I had two choices. These are generally the same options presented in any instance of trauma—not just the death of a loved one. A.) I let her passing utterly defeat me. I allow her loss to taint any future happiness in this world. (Mom would not have wanted that.) B.) I try to make her death mean something. When I was done grieving, I gave myself a stiff kick—or ten—in the ass and said: “time to do something!” It doesn’t happen in a day, that motivation, but over the process of many months at best. Happiness requires persistence. So, too, does sadness. It takes just as much effort to be miserable, I’d say, and the results are, well, unpleasant.
Diligent monitoring of ourselves and our predisposition toward sliding into an emotional tar pit, is required to lead a (mostly) happy life. If you’re unhappy start with the basics.
• What are you doing for yourself today? Working moms, double-shifting dads, graduates trying to survive off that degree that looks like professional suicide in hindsight—we all have a million pressures and demands outside of basic self-care. And yet self-love (not vanity or self-obsession), is one of the critical ingredients to being happy. Spend time with yourself, with your body, thoughts and mind. Know yourself, if even for 5 minutes a day. I use exercise as my “grounding-point”. Even though I’m mostly grumpy when I start, once the endorphins kick in, I’m on a natural high that lasts well into the afternoon. To me, the act of physically bettering and caring for the fleshy vessel that I have been given is my private moment of meditation and focus each day. Pick something, anything, that gives you that same sense of awareness of the wonder that is you and of being alive.
• Are you worrying about things beyond your control? What is the point of that, really? Stop and take a good stock of the things in life that are making you upset. Then cross off that list all of the things that you cannot change unless you have magical powers. Climate change, racism and all the other bad stuff that we can influence with our actions and thoughts can and should stay in a corner of your mind—that’s general philanthropy, don’t get rid of that. I’m talking about that girl who stole your parking spot at the local WalMart AND gave you the finger as she was pulling in (There’s always some asshole every time we end up there—at this point, I believe they’re hired by WalMart.) Is it worth it confronting her? Probably not. That would be a “choose your battles kind of scenario”. Some people are just not nice. Mostly, they’re not nice because they’re unhappy, and probably obsessed with all the unjust/ unfair/ terrible things that happened to them that they’re not willing to push past. Don’t join their number.
• I used to think that all of this “Mindfulness and Gratefulness” stuff was really, truly crap. Then mom got sick and eventually died and I realized that the world did not arrange itself to my whims and desires—at all. I realized that nearly everything in life is governed by an element of chance and chaos, and what we value—or take for granted—today, can vanish on the morrow. Sometimes that erosion happens slowly, at other times the ground opens up and swallows what we value whole. Gone. Never coming back. So rather than weep and regret, how about appreciating what we have when we have it? Novel idea. Totally original stuff that you’ve never heard before, I’m sure. We have lots of wisdom and common sense floating around in the universe that we choose to ignore out of pride or fear. Try this mindfulness and gratefulness thing for at least a month—straight, no breaks, no excuses—and then tell me that you’re not happier. I dare you. Every day that I wake up, I take a minute to be grateful for my health, my partner, my cats, my loved ones, my writing and whatever else I can remember in that instant that could be snatched away the next. Don’t be mindful out of fear, however. Try and be mindful out of an acceptance that loss—of whatever—is a necessary experience of the human condition.
I’m not a guru, but those are some of the things that I’ve learned that have helped me to be a better, happier person. I hope that they help you, too. Maybe you’re a contented grump and you’re shouting at my feel-good drivel while shaking a fist at the screen. In which case you’ll live longer, though I certainly won’t be your friend.