I have plenty of reasons to be unhappy. (I’m 99 percent sure this is true for everyone—anyone can come up with an excuse to feel unhappy if they want to.) At any given moment, I could give you a list of concerns that weigh somewhere in the back of my mind: I was recently laid off from my job; I’m launching my own business during one of the worse times of years to do so; the process for registering for self employment is both bureaucratic and slow; although I ran a marathon this year, I’m still not at the same level of physical shape I was before getting ill in China (it’s a journey); I have a lot of concerns about what is happening politically in America and around the world; and that little voice in my head that likes to tell me that, “I’ll never be skinny enough, thus I’ll never be beautiful or loved or worthwhile” has been getting louder than normal.
Despite my current circumstances and my history with depression, I surprisingly feel really happy. Yes, my stress level is definitely up (I mean, I’m not a robot… I’m definitely feeling some extra weight on myself during an admittedly overwhelming moment in my life) and I am well aware that I need to be dedicating a bit extra care into keeping tabs on my mental state. For me though, the pure fact that I can objectively and honestly say, “I’m okay” is a huge win.
You might be wondering how I’m staying so positive in the face of so many shitty things. I’ll be honest, it’s not easy. Nevertheless, I do it by remember a very important life lesson: Happiness isn’t something that will just be handed to you in the future. I’ve had to learn (and relearn) this lesson the hard way throughout my entire adult life. It’s really easy to fall into a mindset of, “If only I could have XYZ, I’d be happy.” It’s the idea that happiness is something that magically comes hand-in-hand with achieving whatever future goal you have: I’ll be happy when I land that job I’m dreaming of, I buy a house, I get married, I get that fancy coat I always wanted, I take that trip to Iceland, I have a kid, I grow to 50K Instagram followers, or I lose 15 pounds, etc… The problem with this mindset is twofold: 1) happiness is an abstract concept and a state of mind, not something physical that can be gifted to you or bought and 2) your metric for what future goal will help you achieve happiness moves and changes every time you get that new job, buy that house, find that perfect relationship, lose the weight, etc., etc.
It took me a long time to fully wrap my head around this realization, but if I want to be happy in my future, I have to be happy in my now. That will never feel totally easy (at least for me), because as we already established, there is always something that I could feel unhappy about. For me, choosing to be happy in the now translates into changing my inner dialogue with myself. Now days I’m constantly checking in on myself. How am I talking to myself in my day-to-day? Or while facing a tough situation? Or while watching other people succeed in an area of life that I feel like I’m failing at? I’m I allowing myself to talk negatively to myself? Wallowing in a bad situation? Getting jealous over my friends’ successes? Those type of thoughts tend to spiral until you don’t want to get out of bed and face an unfair world that makes you feel like you’re worthless and you will never be happy ever. Or maybe that’s just me?
Realizing something is a problem in your life is one thing; fixing it can be a totally different beast. I figured out a while ago that I had developed both a bad habit of depending on external circumstance, such as career success or material goods, for my happiness and one of letting a negative attitude spiral until I felt like my life was utter shit (it wasn’t). Nevertheless, I didn’t start developing the skills to stop and check in on myself (or even full understand the difference that could make in my life) until months later when I started meditating. It’s something I’ve tried to do off and on in the past but always felt like I was really bad at it or like I wasn’t meditating correctly. It didn’t seem to work for me and my views towards meditation didn’t change until: 1) I read the book “Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics,” by Dan Harris and 2) I started these guided workout and mediations by Kait Hurley.
Suddenly I was participating in workouts where the instructor was asking me to check in on my “inner dialogue” and shift it to be more accepting and positive towards where I am in life. I started doing these mediation that focused on being loving and kind to yourself and others. In the beginning, I had started following Kait Hurley for very superficial reasons: Mostly I wanted my “pre-China” abs back. I’d been feeling really negative about my body and was pushing myself with core-strengthening workout challenges. I’d been doubling up on workouts to almost punish myself for getting sick and losing my previous fitness level. It sounds very dorky, but in my search to improve my physical health, I found myself developing a skill set I had been missing to improve my mental health.
I have plenty of reasons to be unhappy, but I also have plenty of reason to be happy. When I find myself facing an unhappy situation, I mentally start to think about the things in myself that I feel really good about or remember funny, positive moments that make me smile. I think about how grateful I am to come from a big family who actually like each other; how loving my boyfriend is to buy me a Luna Lovegood wand just because he knows how much I love Harry Potter; how lucky I am to have a best friend who puts the effort into keeping our friendship alive even when we live on opposite sides of the country; how proud I am for running a full marathon after injury even if it was my slowest marathon; and I think about all the amazing interactions I’ve had with wonderful and talented people because I started blogging.
I hold on to those thoughts and the positive feelings I get from them to maintain balance in the face of negativity. It’s not nearly as easy as it sounds. When a friend flakes out on me or my career path doesn’t go as planned, it takes a lot of effort to smile back at everyone and say, “it’s okay.” I’m like the scene from How I Met Your Mother where everything that could go wrong at Lily’s wedding does, but she just smiles and says,”I’m okay.” The wedding was a disaster, but it was also memorable and brilliant. (It’s a TV show, I know, but I still find it very touching.) The reality is life will never go according to plan, there will always be shitty moments, and there will always be some goal I’m trying to achieve. But I don’t have to let one of life’s curve balls, or a shitty circumstance, or lack of self-perceived achievement ruin my happiness. I don’t have to wait for my life to be “fixed” to be happy.
I can be happy in the now.
GRETCHEN IS A WRITER-BASED IN PORTLAND, ORE. SHE GOT HER START AS A JOURNALIST WORKING ON THE SUSTAINABLE FASHION AND RESTAURANT BEAT BEFORE MOVING INTO COPYWRITING AND ADVERTISING WORK. SHE CURRENTLY BLOGS AND WORKS AS A FREELANCE WRITER.