...and they all lived happily ever after...

...and they all lived happily ever after...

Friday, November 15, 2013

Choose Happiness

While I was growing up my mother used to regularly recite a bunch of quirky, if insightful, if cliche phrases to us kids.

Her offerings were things like "a stitch in time saves nine" (I'll be honest, until I was a teenager I pictured a ragged,ripped hole in the fabric of time that someone wanted me to stitch up and I didn't really understand what that one was trying to teach me) or "don't let school interfere with your education" (meaning that while classes were important, there was more to learn than just the classroom lessons).  The quirkiest of these may have been her regular call of "can't dance and it's too wet to plow" (essentially saying, might as well, you got nothing else to do).  But the one that stuck with me the most was when she said "fun is an attitude, not an activity."

That phrase rang true with me.  Fun has much less to do with what you are actually doing and much more to do with your feelings and attitude about it.  Some of the funnest times I have had in my life involve activities that are far from the definition of fun.  Now, that's not always true, sometimes activities are lame despite our best intentions, but even the funnest activity can be horrible and boring if your attitude stinks.  

I've tried to teach this concept to my kids and show them that even the most mundane thing can become fun if you approach it right.  Think Mary Poppins, if you will.  

Anyway, a few months ago I was in a store looking for a thank you gift for a couple of ladies I love and I saw this sign and I HAD to have it in my home (and since it's cute little price tag was only $3 I didn't feel guilty for investing).

This little scrap of colorful wood spoke to me (even though, in all honesty, yellow is not my favorite color).  It reminded me that happiness -- like fun -- is not something that happens to us, it is something that we decide in life.  Happiness is not up in the air floating around waiting to bestow itself upon us or not if we are lucky enough to bump into it, it is inside us waiting to get out and waiting to see if we will let it free.

No matter the circumstances around us, we can each choose for ourselves what our attitude will be and whether or not we will allow happiness to flood our lives.

Now, that doesn't mean that we will never feel sad or lonely or afraid or upset or whatever else.  I don't think what we are aiming for here is some false sense of "everything is roses and candy canes every moment of every day.  (Insert cheesy grin)!"  But, we can choose to live our lives from a base of happiness and build up from there.  Problems and trials and struggles will come and they will sting, but if our foundation is built on the choice to be happy we will better be able to deal with those and move forward to handle the problems instead of allowing them to swallow us up.  

I think everyone who is alive gets depressed from time to time.  I know that feeling to some degree.  Depression and I have met on several occasions.  For example, I remember the weighted pain I felt the first time I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes and was given the list of the things I COULD eat (which seemed dreadfully small).  I remember feeling like I was going to starve because breads and pastas and fruits and starchy vegetables were suddenly NOT ok and that was a large part of my diet.  I cried and felt like I was going to starve (let's face it, you get between a hormone ridden pregnant woman and her food and there will be tears shed... On a side note this diagnosis at this time made it easier to handle the much less temporary diagnosis of Crohn's disease several years down the road).

I was grateful for a husband who scooped me up and pored through the grocery store with me reading every single label until we found things that I could eat (including a carb smart type of ice cream that didn't taste awful) and we could make do.  He also climbed on the diabetes diet truck and ate only what I could eat (at least while he was at home...he may have cheated elsewhere, I don't know).  He helped me choose to be happy despite what, for me, was a difficult issue to handle without feeling hobbled.  Diabetes became a bit of an inside joke to us (even though in reality there really isn't much that's funny about it) and we laughed about some of the day to day issues it brought into our life

Sometimes the choice of happiness means recognizing that we can't handle all the problems around us on our own and we need to seek help in one way or another.  Maybe that help is a lunch date with friends or maybe it is saying no when someone asks us to do something that will overload us or maybe it is seeking for someone with experience to talk to about it and work through it all.  That does not make us weak, that makes us humble and humility brings a strength that few other virtues can match (for more about that idea, this article is AmAzInG!).  Choosing happiness means that we don't let the ugliness of the world make our choices for us.

Now, that said, I also want to put out there that despite the verbiage we sometimes use in an almost trite way, no one in this world can "make" us happy.  People can support and love and care for us and help us through our struggles and trials, but no one -- no matter how amazing he or she is -- can force happiness upon us.  Happiness must be chosen, it cannot be bestowed.

We all see videos and read stories all over Facebook and Youtube about people who, despite the rottenness life has thrown at them, choose to be happy by finding a way to conquer that rottenness and in essence say, "My life is more than you, problems.  I am more than my struggles."

I'm sure you know people in your very own little world who have done this exact thing.  As I think on this I can picture a friend who lost both arms in an electrical accident who has devoted hundreds of hours to volunteering with teenagers to teach them about positivity and faith, a woman who after surviving a death-defying car accident and later seven strokes still jokes and laughs and buys candy for neighborhood kids even though she has trouble functioning, a grandmother struggling under a crushing depression who still takes time every single week to scoop up a group of four year olds for two hours and make them feel like the most important people in the world, a beloved man watching helplessly as his wife slips deeper and deeper into the pit of Alzheimer's disease and yet he stays by her side moment after moment as her caretaker and friend and speaks about her as though she was the most beautiful thing in the world even though she doesn't even much like him anymore and on and on and on.  

These people aren't super heroes.  No one will be handing them a cape or a medal or a key to the city any time soon.  In fact, outside of their sphere of existence probably no one really knows the struggles they face and the choice to be happy they are making.  Sometimes they feel like they can't do it anymore, I know they do.  Sometimes it would be much easier to give in to despair and doubt.  But they don't wallow in that.  They let themselves sink into sadness for a moment or two and then they yank back against that pressure and choose to smile -- not that everything around them is happy, because it isn't -- but that they don't let the sadness define who they are.

They choose happiness. 

They choose light.

And that choice defines them.

That's who I want to be.

1 comment:

MTWhitmer said...

Well said by someone who has every right to not feel this way. Keep it up!!! We are right there behind you, trying to emulate the goodness you exude. Love you. Dad

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