You know those people who are bubbly and happy… morning people, who seem to wake up smiling… people who somehow bounce through their day.
I was never one of those people. Nor did I think I ever could be one. I always believed you were either born happy and cheerful and bubbly, or not. My sister was ‘that’ way, and, well, I was not. When I was young, my mom would always tell me to smile, and that just made me more sullen. Why, I wondered, should I smile if I don’t feel like it?
My sister always smiled. She always appreciated what she had, and felt blessed for the simple things, and would remind me of them until I felt, well, ‘sick.’ “Remember at least you can walk, or at least we have running water, or how many kids would love to have the life you have….” she would say to me, over and over again, it seemed.
Now don’t get me wrong, I was not angry, sad or depressed. I just was a realist, was how I saw it. I saw both sides of things equally, whereas my sister always saw the good, the so-called silver lining. I, on the other hand, was always striving for more, looking for the next ‘thing’ that would make me happy. This trait made me very achievement-driven, and thus eventually very successful by some standards, but it did not necessarily make me happy. Moreover, the happiness I did attain was fleeting, because I always needed the next big thing to sustain my happiness. I told myself I’d be happy once I got to college, made partner, received a promotion, had a baby, moved to a bigger house…
I equated success with happiness because I thought that since I was not born happy, I had to create it through external recognition, material gain, achievements, milestones. I did not know the truth about happiness.
The truth that was eluding me, of course, is that we must find happiness within us. And happiness can be cultivated and made to grow within us. It is a completely internal process.
My lesson in the truth about happiness was not revealed to me until my early 40s when I was truly tested with some of the most unimaginably unhappy circumstances.
At 42, my husband died suddenly, and to complicate this further, his death was from suicide. If that was not challenging enough, three weeks later my father died suddenly – also by choice. The circumstance of their deaths was unbearable at first. There were days where it felt impossible to get out of bed, but I did. I did because of my children. I had responsibilities. I would hold it together all day and then fall apart when everyone went to bed. Every day, it seemed like a victory just to get out of bed and make it through the day. I was living just to get through it.
Then in the weeks that followed, I had a sudden shift. It came when my daughter opened up to me and asked, “Mom, why is all of this bad stuff happening to us?” She continued, “Did we do something wrong to deserve this? Are we being punished for something?”
Whoa…that shifted me into high gear. Right away, I knew I could not allow my daughters to believe these thoughts they were harboring. I couldn’t allow them to believe that life is meant to be unhappy or that we deserved unhappiness for something we had done. Of course they deserved to be happy, and frankly so did I. We would be on a quick downward spiral if I did not do something to change course. As moms, we so often neglect to “fix” anything until it needs fixing for our kids’ benefit. I was no different.
I knew the truth about how children learn – through modeling – so telling them to be happy, like my mother told me, was not enough. I had to show them how to be happy. God damn it I had to become happy, no matter what it took. There was no more room for self-pity. I had to show them that no matter what, they have a right to be happy. I was determined to learn how to be happy again, and maybe truly happy for once in my life, really.
Ok, so now what?
Well, fortunately, stats were on my side. When I began investigating happiness, I learned that only half of our happiness is predetermined, and only 10% is based on our current situation (Source: Dr. Sonya Lyubomirsky), and, yes, the remaining 40% is up to us. That statistic was both empowering and scary. I had no more excuses for not being happy. And thus began my quest. I needed to make it my mission to learn to be happy. I needed to do it for myself, and for my girls, and to change my lifetime pattern of eternally seeking the next big reward. I needed to discover the key to internal happiness – to save myself, and to nurture my children.