I don’t have any major New Year’s resolutions for 2019. Sure, I want to drop some pounds, exercise more, go to bed earlier, graduate with my master’s and find a job, save money, stay sober, and be a kinder person. I want to fulfill all of the usual promises I make myself the last week of December but give up trying to accomplish by the first week in January. Over time, I’ve learned that if I set the bar too high, it cuts me off right at the knees; however, when that bar is placed lower, it makes it so much easier to hop right over it and move on to the next one. The one goal that I really want to focus on- the goal that will aid in the achievement of all the other little (and big) things I want to achieve in the upcoming year- is to maintain my happiness.
Happiness is a tricky thing, and to many seems elusive. But ultimately, we ALL seek it daily. During a group therapy session I was recently running, a patient said that he didn’t think he even knew what happiness was. Not because he had never experienced the emotion itself, but because people equate the idea of being “happy” with being ecstatic every minute of every day. The term “happiness” conjures images of joyful people full of merriment, Cheshire cat like grins on relaxed looking faces- google it, you’ll see!
Happiness, by definition, is “feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.” Synonyms vary in degree from “pleased”, to “cheerful”, to “blissful”, and finally “ecstatic”. While they might all mean “happy” they don’t all represent the same idea. Being a happy person does NOT mean you are euphoric every minute of every day. Understanding that you can have many moments of, stress, anger, fear, sadness, and UNhappiness, and still be an overall happy and contented person, is key.
Before I got sober happiness seemed like this unattainable emotion meant for everyone BUT me. I thought that to be happy, I SHOULD have tons of friends and kids who weren’t so difficult. I SHOULD love being a stay-at-home mom, I SHOULD enjoy being a Speech Therapist (my original career). I SHOULD be managing a great job, while caring for my kids, getting dinner on the table and having a perfect marriage. I SHOULD have… everything I didn’t. But when I put down the booze and truly evaluated the world around me, I realized NO ONE had it all. I finally began to understand that happiness didn’t come from outside sources, it was something I needed to create for myself. Happiness was an inside job, a choice I had to make every single day.
I learned recently in a Positive Psychology class that 40% of happiness is genetic. Yes, there are some people that are just born happier than others and we can’t do anything about that. However, the flip side of that, is that it leaves the other 60% completely in our own hands. How incredible is that?? Even if, like me, you were born with less than average happiness, you still have the ability to create your own happiness. SO that’s exactly what I set out to do every morning when I wake up.
This is not to say that I am happy every minute of every day. That’s just unrealistic. Hell, some days I’m not happy at all. But I can say that I am a happy person. How did I do that, you ask?
1) Community. I both increased and decreased the kinds of people I surrounded myself with. I love myself, but if you don’t love me for who I am, then you’re out. Instead of spending time worrying why someone didn’t seem to like me, call me back, or make time for me like I made for them, I began to invest my time and effort into the people who did. I cultivated my people, my tribe. I stopped focusing on how many people were in that tribe and began concentrating on how those people made me feel. I can count these tribe members on less than two hands, but the quality of camaraderie and love they provide far exceeds what I had when I thought I needed my hands and toes to count my friends.
2) Acceptance. I practice acceptance in so many different ways. I accept my own limitations. I know that at every moment of every day I’m doing the best I can with what I have. Some days, I’m on fire, I can do it all and do it well. However, there are equally as many days when I do some things mediocrely or not well at all. I’m ok with that. I’m human and every day I wake up with simple human powers. As long as I am doing my best, my best is good enough.
I accept the limitations of others. Everyone brings their baggage to the table. Some people are lucky enough to merely carry a tiny little evening purse- the kind that only holds a lip gloss and credit card- around with them. While others, carry a gigantic trunk stuffed with enough garbage to keep them in clean clothes for a month. We all play the same card game but with a different deck of cards. If someone is not meeting my expectations, instead of being disappointed, it makes it easier to understand that they might just be unable to.
3) I gave up trying to control everything. The only thing I have control over is myself, and even that control is marginal at times. All I can do, is what I can do, and the rest is going to happen the way it’s meant to happen. This has come in particularly handy when parenting Man. He is his own person, I can provide him with the tools to aid his ADHD, anxiety and SPD, but ultimately, it’s up to him to use them. I can lead him to the water, but I certainly cannot make him drink it.
4) I set healthy boundaries. I used to put my own needs aside to make sure everyone else’s needs were met. If they were happy, I was happy, right? Wrong! My new favorite motto is, “No is a complete sentence.” I allow myself to say no and if that means I have disappointed someone then so be it. This one isn’t always so simple, by nature I want to be liked and saying “yes” all the time helps with that… until it doesn’t.
5) Gratitude. So much of my old thought pattern was only seeing what I didn’t have, that I was completely blind to what I did have. It takes A LOT of effort at times, but finding a reason to be grateful, even a small one, can change my entire mood. Interestingly, in this same Positive Psychology class, I learned that as long as one’s basic needs are met, there is a minimal difference between the happiness of someone who makes $50,000 a year and $500,000.
6) I utilize positive self-talk. When all else fails, I have a chat with myself. I know my pitfalls, I know I have the ability to see the negative in a situation and it can get me down, very down. If I’m just not feeling the happiness that day, if it’s just not my day, I use self-talk to readjust my negative thoughts into positive ones. If I get a call from Man’s teacher telling me he had a bad day, I can either launch into fear and worry, tell myself that this ANOTHER bad day, he’s NEVER going to be ok, and NOTHING we are trying is working!! OR, I can be positive and reassure myself that it’s just one bad day, surrounded by dozens of great ones. When I choose the positive, it makes me feel better every. Single. Time.
I won’t claim to be the happiest person in the world, I still have bad days and negative thoughts and some days it’s really hard to feel happy. However, overall, when utilizing these tools, I am infinitely a happier person than I once was. In fact, I am a happy person for the first time in my entire life. Here’s to having continued happiness in 2019!