I haven't posted in a few days, because I've been trying to figure out how best to communicate my feelings on this next topic. I think it's because this is something I've been struggling to communicate for years -- the subject of happiness.
I think if you asked nearly anyone who has known me for more than a few minutes to describe me, one of the first adjectives they'd use is "cheerful" or "positive" or just "happy." And I am all those things, and I love that about myself. But all my adolescent and adult life, I have gotten crap about it. "No one is that happy all the time." At times, people have accused me of being fake, of just pretending to be happy so that I can keep up the "perfect" facade. Nothing has ever had more power to hurt me than that accusation: FAKE. When people that I really care about call me that, it breaks my heart because I suddenly feel like they don't know me at all. Or they don't understand what makes me... me. I don't do fake. I think there is a big difference between being fake and choosing happiness, but I have never been able to clearly articulate my feelings. That's what I'm going to try to do here, so bear with me...
Choosing happiness requires conscious action and thought. No one's life is so free of trials that they can be effortlessly happy all the time. When you look at people and you think, "Of course they're happy! Their life is perfect; what would they ever have to be unhappy about?" you can be sure that they have their own sorrows and struggles. The very purpose of life is to struggle, to learn and grow and overcome, and that can be a painful process. But we can find happiness in the midst of all of this if we choose to. I want to talk about three tools that I use to choose happiness.
First, forgiveness. Being willing to forgive offenses large and small keeps us from becoming bitter and unhappy. Give others the benefit of the doubt, don't be quick to take offense, and realize that they are also imperfect human beings. That works well for the little things. Big things take more time and perspective and work, but you can do it. Don't let the actions of others determine your own happiness. Learning to forgive is truly liberating. When you learn to forgive others, you can more freely forgive yourself for your own mistakes and give yourself permission to move forward and be happy with who you are right now. Consciously choosing to forgive others and to forgive myself helps me feel happy.
Second, faith. Faith is a huge key to happiness for me. I know deep down in my heart that God loves me and He has a plan for me. He wants me to be happy -- forever, not just today or tomorrow. So when troubles arise, I try to keep that eternal perspective. I know that the hard times will not last forever. I know that the trials we face are meant to help us learn and grow. And while I'm not always great at figuring out exactly what I'm supposed to be learning at that moment, faith helps me not get bogged down in unhappiness. Do you know that God loves you, that He knows you personally and He wants you to be happy? If you can't honestly say that you KNOW it, I challenge you to take a few quiet minutes to yourself, get down on your knees, and ask Him. I promise you that He will answer you.
Third, gratitude. I know I just talked about gratitude in my last post, but I don't think its importance can be overstated. We've all heard "Count Your Blessings" a bazillion times, haven't we? It really is the key to choosing happiness. I am grateful to God for everything around me. Yes, life isn't perfect. Yes, there are times I am disappointed or I wish things were different. But I cannot deny the blessings in my life, and that helps me choose happiness. I am also grateful to the people around me -- my family and loved ones and even lots of random strangers -- who do so much to lift me up and bless my life. Feeling their love helps me choose happiness.
So, forgiveness, faith, and gratitude -- great tools for choosing to be happy. And when you choose to be happy, you can be cheerful and positive and all those other great adjectives. Even when life is challenging, you can be happy. Not just act happy or look happy on the outside -- you can really and truly BE happy.
I also want to talk about times when "putting a happy face on it" can do more harm than good.
#1 -- If you aren't happy, don't fake it. You have to give yourself permission to have feelings other than happiness, too. Choosing happiness doesn't mean that you bottle up any unhappy or uncomfortable feeling and just pretend it doesn't exist until you explode. Choosing happiness means you face those emotions head on and deal with them so that you can make peace with yourself and others. That peace is what allows you to experience real happiness.
#2 -- If you need help, get it. For some people and in some situations, you need more help than just "making a choice." Clinical depression, bipolar, anxiety disorders, and a host of other problems need to be addressed professionally as well as personally. They aren't things you can control just by the power of positive thinking, and you shouldn't feel like a failure if you need help. Admitting that you need help and getting it is part of choosing real happiness. I have seen so many people that I love dealing with these kinds of struggles, and I admire their strength so much.
#3 -- If you are in a bad situation, get out. Don't "put on a happy face" to hide abuse or to cover for the bad acts of others. You are beloved, by your Heavenly Father if not by the person you are with, and you do not have to stay in a bad situation.
Hmmm, did I cover everything I've been mulling over for the past few days and weeks and years? More or less. I wish I was eloquent enough to express my feelings perfectly, but I think this will have to do for now. I'm sure I'll revisit the subject many times on this blog. Thanks for listening.
P.S. If you think others might be uplifted by this post, please feel free to share it wherever you share stuff. :)