*Note: I’m not whining. I have a lot to be thankful for, and I am. And I’m aware that if you’re moderately happy most of the time, you’re one of the lucky ones because there is a lot of suffering in the world. My point in writing this is to remind people who aren’t satisfied to keep striving for extraordinary, and to remember to first take care of themselves for the best attempt at finding the nirvana of true happiness.
I’ve been talking to people lately about their overall satisfaction with their lives, and one person in particular said to me lately that he’s bored and not particularly happy with his life. I told him I thought the problem was that he’s not particularly unhappy, he’s just moderately happy. And that wasn’t enough for him. So that got me thinking about “happiness” and the fine line between complacency and true happiness. There’s a line, and a lot of us walk it consistently, sometimes without knowing it. And the realization that we’re only “just fine” sneaks up on us when we least expect it.
Someone asked me yesterday, “Annie, what makes YOU happy?” And while this seems like an easy enough question, I had a difficult time answering it…probably because for a long time I’ve trained myself to get satisfaction out of seeing the people closest to me happy. When they’re happy, I’m happy. When they’re stressed, I’m stressed. And so it goes. I’m a chameleon. And the habit of keeping my finger on the pulse of others’ happiness caused a nasty habit of overlooking my own. It happened once, twice, then consistently enough over time that I didn’t even realize how far in I had gotten. This happens to a lot of us- we get caught up in stuff, or in other people’s needs and lose ourselves in the process. But I’ve known for a long time that when I’m good to myself, I have more to give to other people, and everyone wins. And despite knowing this, in the craziness of daily life, I had lost sight of this obvious truth. We suck at taking care of other people when we’re not taking care of ourselves.
(Sidebar: You thought the airlines were crazy for telling you to put on your own oxygen mask first, before helping others… But what they’re really promoting is a fundamental truth: you’re no good for anyone else if you suffocate and die).
At some point, for some reason, or maybe a lot of reasons, I’ve lost sight of my own happiness…I remember the little things – like my almost-daily ritual that involves a bacon gouda sandwich and a soy chai. Or framing a bunch of my favorite photos from various trips last year to replace older ones throughout the house. But these are trivial, fleeting things that provide a temporary sense of satisfaction; on a larger scale they obviously aren’t life-changing ways to set my life on the course toward deeper contentment.
The happiness I’m talking about is a true, deep-down feeling that you’re at peace with yourself and your surroundings. It’s an inner embrace stemming from the belief that you’ve found your place in the world, and you actively exchange positive energy with the universe on a daily basis. I think it’s extremely hard to find this sense of enlightenment and contentment when a) your life is in flux, which is where mine is now (again) and b) you belabor yourself with making everyone else around you happy instead of listening to the voice within.
In order to find that peace, you have to pay attention to yourself – I mean really LISTEN to yourself throughout your days and notice what gives you that feeling of “ahhh, this feels right.” Then make a conscious effort to do more of it. If it doesn’t come easily to listen to yourself, open your eyes and look around…spend some time learning from others who have found that state of peace in their lives- they’re out there, I promise- and see if anything they’re doing makes sense.
My friend Josh is a minimalist. This is a guy who at the age of 31 pretty much has his life figured out. And when I’m around him it’s easy to tell he’s at peace with himself. He got rid of most of his stuff, realizing it was distracting him from what really matters, and he now focuses on only those things, people, and pursuits that provide his life with a sense of meaningfulness and purpose. It’s refreshing just to be around him, and inspiring to read his essays as he suggests that if we would just pay a little more attention and simplify our lives a bit, we would see that true deep-rooted happiness is right there for the taking. But we have to be willing to reevaluate what we’re doing now, and decide whether or not it’s really doing anyone, including ourselves, any good.
Where do we start? Good question. I’m going to see if I can find a little wandering lost good feeling, and follow it for a while. The big stuff takes time – but I can at least pay more attention, and one day at a time make sure I’m remembering my own oxygen mask first… because only then will I be any good for anyone else.