Excerpt from Whole Happy and Healthy: A Revolutionary Approach to Understanding and Thriving with Mental Illness http://amzn.to/2mUjVRK
Not too long ago, I was given an opportunity for which I worked very hard. But it just didn’t work out for a multitude of reasons. So I gave up. I walked away. And I haven’t looked back since.
But at the same time, I feel a sense of emptiness related to this decision. I’m not the kind of person who gives up; I’m a survivor who perseveres. It isn’t about winning or even about being successful — it’s about having the opportunity to try.
A lucky few people are given opportunities. Others voraciously hunt them down. Others are good at spotting and taking advantage of them. Others create them from nothing as a means of transforming energy because it is necessary for survival. The opportunities I have had in my life have been of all four sorts.
This particular opportunity was of the third kind, one that emerged in my life and one which I actively pursued. I thought about it, dreamed about it, for a long time. But those thoughts and those dreams were soon squashed by the reality of the situation. In retrospect, it really wasn’t an opportunity — it was something else, something which I can’t yet fully describe — at least not in public — cloaked as an opportunity. And I naively fell for it.
Yet, I am still filled with regret — not because that situation is no longer a part of my life, but because I feel like I packed it in. And I am too young, too smart, too clever, too kind, too hardworking, too (fill in the blank) to give up. It feels like I not only gave up on this opportunity, but like I gave up on my entire life. On myself.
But not really. I left that one thing behind so that my life could be more full of beauty, happiness, fulfillment, and peace. And it is. It really is. But I also feel like I went from a situation of struggle to one of stagnation. Albeit one that is temporary and transitional. Next stop, new journey: splendid searching and pursuit of new opportunities for learning and growth. That is what it means to be fully alive — to be open to the unexpected unknown opportunities, both subtle and obvious, that emerge from moment to moment. I’ve just stepped off the train for a moment to catch my breath and take in the beautiful view.
I sometimes have days where I feel like I just don’t want to get out of bed. How nice it would be to have the time to just think and reflect, maybe read good books, write poetry, and drink tea, without any expectation of productivity. But I never do. While a day resting at the beach seems to be a perfectly acceptable means of relaxation, a day in bed comes across as somehow slovenly and pathetic.
Although I intellectually realize how important rest is to physical and emotional health, often leading to improved productivity in the end, I have a difficult time allowing myself this indulgence. So even on those days when the bed and the precious gift of time for me is calling my name, I wake up no later than 6:30 a.m. (weekends included) and pack my day with sensibly constructive activities—many of which I enjoy, and others which merely feel obligatory.
I do allow myself the occasional nap, though I find it difficult to wind down and relax. I’m always on edge, always thinking about what I ought to be doing, always considerate of the great need in the world and how I can in some small way be making a difference. Naps can be refreshing, but they can also provoke unnecessary anxiety when they detract from fulfillment of my purpose. Or so it seems.
A few years ago, I created a t-shirt that simply stated ‘my dharma is to breathe and to be.’ While I sincerely believe this mantra in my heart of hearts, I so often have a difficult time embodying this fundamental belief through my daily actions. My purpose is complex and intertwined with commitments to myself and others.
But if only I would focus on the breathing and the being, I believe I would be a better servant. A more fulfilled human being. I would contribute more in the end.
So while a day in bed may seem, at first, to be a totally unproductive waste of time, I think it can instead be a form of radical resistance to the chaotic monotony of always doing, striving, and pushing forward. It is a way to be still with myself, restore my spirit, enjoy life and the moment at hand, and appreciate connection to life through the simple beauty of my breath. Perhaps I will try it one day.
Happiness is something we all seem to want more of in our lives, but what exactly do we mean when we say that we want to be happy? The way each person interprets the meaning of happiness is as unique as every manifestation of life on the planet. When you think about the word ‘happy,’ it likely invokes a certain emotional response which I can assure you is quite different from what your neighbor might be feeling when this particular word is used. It might make you think of other words such as joy, peace, contentment, pleasure, bliss, or amusement. Perhaps it provokes pleasant memories or inspiration for a better tomorrow. The definition of happiness is complex, dynamic, and even nebulous. While there are many ways of defining and understanding the meaning of happiness, all of them are valid and complementary. Together, they create a full picture of something which all of us want more of in our lives in one way or another.
Happiness is sometimes thought of as a trait. A trait is something with which we are born; in other words, some people have a lot of it and other people don’t have very much at all. We don’t have a lot of choice or control over our traits because they are gifted at birth. We can make the most of what we have, but the traits that have been entrusted to us are for the most part fixed and can’t be further developed over time. While situations and our behavior may influence our traits, ultimately they are automatic set points to which we return after these stimuli end.
Conversely, happiness can be understood as a part of our personality. Our personality emerges from within but can evolve over time. It is shaped by relationships, circumstances, and choices. When our personality reflects an intrinsic sense of happiness, it shows through our word choice, tone of voice, body language, and ways of connecting with others. A person who has a cheerful disposition or a positive attitude is emanating her or his happy personality. Thinking of happiness as a component of our personality rather than as a trait offers two advantages: it connects this aspect of ourselves to the whole of our character, and it offers us some degree of flexibility and control over how we adapt to, and function in, the world.
Happiness can also be identified as an object, or a thing that exists outside of ourselves. According to this view, happiness is something we chase and try to both acquire and achieve. It becomes a possession, or something we grasp and claim as a part of our personal identity. Because it is an object, happiness can be accumulated, hoarded, and leveraged. The more happiness we have, the more power we possess. Unfortunately, when we chase after things they typically evade us and when we hold on too tight we can suffocate them. If happiness is a thing, then it is one which should be appreciated and savored rather than pursued and used.
Happiness is also a feeling or emotion. As a feeling, it is something we experience in the moment while as an emotion it is something felt on a much deeper, more sustained, level. Either way, like all feelings and emotions, it can be difficult to understand and to describe to others. Although much of our emotional response to the world is innate, it is heavily influenced by our circumstances, choices, behavior, and relationships. Our emotional framework can shift and expand over time by intentionally becoming more aware of our feelings and making ongoing choices that redirect our emotional response in a way that creates more happiness, or less, in our lives.
Happiness can also be a skill, or something we learn to do through repeated practice. Writing, for me and most others, is a skill. I may have been born with a flavor for words, but my ability to write well has been developed throughout my life by continually practicing and expanding outside of my comfort zone by trying new topics and styles of writing. Similarly, we can develop our capacity to experience happiness through practice and application in different situations. The more we practice applying happiness in moments of difficulty, the more consistently we will feel a sense of contentment and inner peace regardless of the circumstances in my life. Happiness is a muscle that grows when it is used. The more we feel a sense of happiness, the more we will want to experience it rather than something that causes us repeated pain and anguish.
Similarly, happiness can also be a repeated pattern of behavior. It is not just something we think or feel, but something we actively do in the world. Being happy means to act happy; not in a phony way, but in a sincere way that connects our innermost desires with what we do in our daily lives. When we allow our passions the freedom to grow by taking steps to share and nurture them, we become happier both in the moment and in general. People who are happy consistently act in ways that perpetuate a sense of happiness. When our actions result in more love and peace in the world, we are creating happiness not just within ourselves but for all others to enjoy as well. We are choosing to live in a happier and more loving world, and those behavioral choices are contagious.
In contrast to thinking of happiness as an object, or as something that can be acquired, happiness can alternatively be thought of as a process. It is something that emerges from moment to moment in our life journey. We experience happiness as we go about our daily lives; it ebbs and flows with our attention and intention. Happiness cannot be defined because it is always evolving, growing, and transforming. It is always with us as we search for meaning and for love. The happiness journey is traveled throughout life, until we completely give up or die.
Finally, happiness can be thought of as a sense of connection — to ourselves, others, the planet, and spirituality. It is knowing deep within that all of our thoughts, feelings, and actions have a magnificent consequence because everything is interconnected. When we are happy, we are connected to our planetary purpose and are able to discover and create abundant opportunities to share our special gifts with the world. Happiness revels in the curious joy of relationships, risking security to reveal the prosperity of love. We trust that we are loved, appreciated, and understood, and we easily love, appreciate, and understand others. Restoring internal and external connections and developing nurturing relationships feeds the happiness in our souls.
(c) Jessica R. Dreistadt 2015-2019. All Rights Reserved.