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More thoughts on happiness [Apr. 20th, 2004|11:35 am]
[Current Mood |contemplativecontemplative]

As the door to the elevator in the parking garage clicked into gear and began sliding closed, a tall fellow leapt through the narrowing crack. I gave him my best Tuesday-morning-before-coffee smile. "Good timing!" The elevators in this garage are notoriously slow, and he grinned back.

"Where did our warm weather go?" He said, shivering, and by his precise speech and appearance, I realized that he hails from much warmer climes, probably somewhere in India or Pakistan.

"It'll be back," I promised.

"Yes, but it's cold out there now! Not like this weekend!"

I nodded agreement. "But at least it was warm on the weekend! When you're stuck in the office it doesn't really matter."

His grin grew. "You are very optimistic!"

The elevator door opened and we stepped out to go our separate ways. "Have a good day!" he called to me. "You, too!" I responded, and bounced out onto the sidewalk.

I think I brightened his day a bit. It made me happy. I don't manage to be upbeat all of the time, but I think that cultivating innate optimism is one of the best things that a person can do to improve today.

There's a couple old sayings that really do ring true: Life is not about the destination, it's about the journey. Life is what happens to you while you are making plans. Laugh and the world laughs with you.

Life is hard, then you die.

Rather than regard the last one as a reason for despair, I see it as an ultimate truth that can free you to be as happy as you choose. Recognizing that almost everyone has to work hard and that everyone has bad days and disasters and tragedies and crises, and yet the world keeps on spinning and the days keep blowing by, realizing that can give one a lot of perspective on this week's hassle, this month's crisis, this year's disappointment. The world will keep turning and the time will keep passing in that persistent way it has.

And you have the choice whether to leave those hurts in the past or to continue dragging them along like they are precious gems that must be fostered and nurtured and loved.

If someone handed you a basket and said, "Here. Here is cancer. You may do with it as you wish." would you hold onto that basket and tend to it and keep it safe? No, you would dispose of it as quickly and efficiently as you possibly could. And yet people hold onto hurts and wounds that are cancers on their souls, eating holes in them like rusts eats holes in the floorboards of a '57 Chevy. Ask these people to abandon that burden, though, and they react as if you had asked them to leave a beloved child by the side of the road.

I know that some hurts have to be dealt with, and some wounds must be opened up and drained, cauterized and cared for, before they can be put to rest. I know that many wounds will flair up in the right conditions and have to be faced again. Life is pain, but it is how we deal with that pain that matters. Will you face it, acknowledge the hurt, and then lay it to rest? Or will you tend the pain like a tender houseplant, coddling it and encouraging it to bloom and propagate?

This morning in the elevator I could have simply agreed with my companion, grumbling about the stupid weather and how miserable it would make the day (and goddess knows I have done that more than once in the past; I'm not perfect by any stretch of the imagination!). I could have done that, and both of us could have gotten out of the elevator with one more dour cloud hanging over us on this gray day.

And it wouldn't have made the day any less gray for the rest of the world. So why not look on the bright side and leave the elevator with a smile?

Happiness is not a zero-sum game, nor a limited resource. I won't use up my share by smiling on a cloudy day, or by choosing to be content in the moments between, when I can't accomplish anything regarding work or school or my kids or my sister. Does it make my problems go away? No, but it diminishes them because I don't have to deal with the weight of my own misery on top of the inherent stress.

More than that, it gives me more strength to deal with the problems. I am open to the resources of friends and family because I am not centered on my own misery. I'm better to them because I'm being better to me.

Life is hard, and then you die. Rejoice.

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[User Picture]From: off_coloratura
2004-04-20 03:46 pm (UTC)
Man, I love you. I love this post.
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[User Picture]From: branwynrillia
2004-04-20 03:54 pm (UTC)
Thank you..
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[User Picture]From: wolflady26
2004-04-20 04:02 pm (UTC)
Beautifully said, and so true! :)
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[User Picture]From: lordindra
2004-04-20 04:07 pm (UTC)
I made a somewhat similar post recently, though more dealing specifically with how to handle pain loved ones are going through... basically, I realized- I can't give, give, give, give. Like 90% of my energy was going to this one friend, 15% to my other friends... hmm. I've already topped 100% without leaving anything to myself. That isn't good.

You have to take care of yourself first. The misery of others cannot define how you yourself feel about life. That will drain all your energy and soul to the point where you have no motivators outside of helping your friends. That will quickly wipe out your ability to handle your own stuff and even wipe out your ability to help those you were trying to help. Its ok to worry, hurt, and show support for your loved ones, but letting their pain take over your life completely is not healthy for you or them. It isn't always a clear line, but its an important one you need to be careful not to cross.
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[User Picture]From: xinamarie
2004-04-20 04:14 pm (UTC)
This is beautiful. Thank you so much.
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[User Picture]From: lubedpumpkin
2004-04-20 04:22 pm (UTC)
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From: genericrick
2004-04-20 04:41 pm (UTC)
Bravo. :)

Lord knows I wish there were more people with such an attitude in the world. I think a large part of society's widespread cynicism could be due to the tendency of industrialized regions to adopt an empiricist viewpoint- something that's rarely optimistic. *Shrug*
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[User Picture]From: the_siobhan
2004-04-20 05:16 pm (UTC)
I am always made really depressed by people who do that.
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[User Picture]From: kid_lit_fan
2004-04-20 05:18 pm (UTC)
Happiness is not a zero-sum game, nor a limited resource.

One of my dearest friends will NOT realize this. Her jealousy of the happiness of others is probably what keeps me from counting her my hands-down dearest friend. Her 'tude implies that they somehow STOLE it from her.

This is a lovely post; mind if I forward, with attribution?
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2004-04-20 05:21 pm (UTC)
No, I don't mind at all! Forward, or link. Thank you!
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[User Picture]From: call_me_harmony
2004-04-20 05:41 pm (UTC)
So true. Beautiful post.
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[User Picture]From: shermel
2004-04-20 05:56 pm (UTC)

Ignoring the point entirely...

But...but...but grumbling about the weather is what English people do best.
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[User Picture]From: lothie
2004-04-20 06:07 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I was thinking earlier today that I was still carrying a couple of prostitutes with me. Gotta shed that load.
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[User Picture]From: coyotewoman
2004-04-20 06:45 pm (UTC)

Thank you...

been in the process of letting go of some of that luggage... this post appeared at the perfect time!
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[User Picture]From: lunarennui
2004-04-21 12:21 am (UTC)
yet again, running across one of your posts has made my evening better. thank you.

also, i love your icon. hooray for emma thompson and shakespeare! i watch that movie at least once a month.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2004-04-21 01:25 am (UTC)
My daughter insisted on watching it last night. Oh, no! Twist my arm!!!!

[happy sigh]
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[User Picture]From: apostate_96
2004-04-21 02:23 am (UTC)
I would agree. Happiness is a choice that we make, much like many others. There are always things to find that can make you happy, if you're willing to look for them. I think I tend to drive my wife kind of nuts because, even when I've had pneumonia and been coughing up blood, I've noticed how pretty the full moon is or how cute the cat is being or something like that. It's what I decide to focus upon. Today I had to drive 15 miles to an appointment, only to arrive and find out the people I was supposed to meet had been sent down to my office. I chose to laugh and enjoy the chance to get out of the office, get some fresh air, and feel the sparse drops of rain that were falling. My choice.

I've had people recently complain to me that you can't change the past, and that often that's what's making them miserable. While I agree you can't change it, what can be changed is your perspective on the past and what you chose to take from it. The second time I broke up with my second fiance (long story there), I was much better able to take it as having learned how to let go of people who aren't good for me. Sure, it hurt, and it messed with my head for awhile. But I chose to try to focus on what I'd learned about myself...what I'd finally been able to do that I never thought I could.

Laugh or cry, it's always a choice. And laughing doesn't make my eyes sore and nose stuffed up.
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[User Picture]From: lunarennui
2004-04-21 02:29 am (UTC)
exactly. you can't change the past. but you can look back on it and savour what you had and the memory of that, and then look at today and savour what you've got now. i'm not sorry i was involved with anyone--each one left me with memories i cherish. today may have unpleasantries for me as well. but i still choose to remember the past with a smile, and rather than think about someone who flipped me off and honked his horn at me, i'll think about the doves cooing on my porch.

and crying just takes so much ENERGY. why not accept that it made you sad, let it go, and smile instead?
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