Wednesday, February 29, 2012

to thine own self: thoughts on happiness

Many years ago I was living in a place I didn’t like. I was working at a job I didn’t like. I was struggling with infertility and what I thought was my only bright spot in life, my husband, was gone all the time with work.

It was at this time that a friend of mine happened to come into the office where I was working. On his way out the door, he made an off hand comment about going to have his weekly treat.

I was curious and asked exactly what he was going to do. “I’m going to go get my weekly cigar and smoke it on my commute home. I give myself a treat every Friday afternoon as a reward for making it through another week of work.” He explained.

Now, I am completely against smoking and if I had been a more brazen girl, I might have challenged him to quit and find another treat. But at the time I wasn’t brazen. I was bitter and unhappy and I really didn’t have it in me to worry about other people and their bad habits. After all, it is pretty hard to love others, when you do not love yourself.

But I thought a lot about the concept of treating one’s self. I was no stranger to treats. I regularly went home and “treated” myself to a heaping bowl of Ben and Jerry’s. But what I was really doing is medicating. Losing myself in calories.

Today I can say I am a happier person than I’ve ever been before. That is not a comment I make lightly. It has taken me a lot of time and practice to get to this point. I have had to make changes that at times have been painful. There is no concrete formula for happiness, but I want to share some of the things I have learned along my journey.

The first thing I want to share is an absolute truth. It is this: Nobody can make you happy. Only you can make you happy. People can add to, or take away from, your happiness, but ultimately relying on another person to change your mental state is folly.

The next truth I’ve learned is that I am enough. Like most mother’s I put a lot of pressure on myself to live some sort of imaginary life where I am superwoman and everything is hunky dory. What I’ve come to realize, and remind myself of when I forget, is that people aren’t going to love me less because I am not superwoman. I am loved because I am me, with all my flaws. People are much more interested in how they feel when they are with me than my latest accomplishment.

Another thing I have come to realize over the years is that I must try my best at the things that are most important to me. For instance, fitness is important to me. When I slag off and get out of shape, it affects my happiness. No one else cares or even knows that I didn’t get a run in or go to the gym, but it bothers me. I’ve learned that to be happy, I have to feel that I am trying my hardest at being a good parent and wife, staying fit, and developing my creative mind. This doesn’t mean I have to be perfect. I just have to feel like I’m giving it my best.

I’ve had to stop medicating and start treating. I remember looking at a photo of myself as a child and thinking, what a great kid. I like me as a kid. If I were to meet me as a child I’d want to take her out for a treat just to spend time with her. And then I thought, you know, I treat my kids to certain things when they work hard or show some sort of behavior I like, why don’t I treat myself?

The beauty of treating instead of medicating is that treats are always better than medicine. Just ask a kid.

Today my treats are things like a new pair of shoes or a nice bar of French milled soap. I do still love Ben and Jerry’s, so once a week or so I have dessert. I’ve heard it said you shouldn’t treat yourself with food. You are not a dog. BUT, I really love dessert and if I’ve been good all week, by damn I’m having dessert.

I also got rid of all the proverbial “pebbles in my shoe”. I found I had small things in my life that didn’t bother me enough to feel an urgency to fix them, but they bothered me enough to affect my overall happiness. For me, these things were a forgiveness I had to give and an overdue task I had to get done. Proverbial pebbles can be anything from a nagging body pain to a wounded relationship to an unpaid bill. Once I plucked the pebbles from my life, I realized the weight that they had put on me. Don’t underestimate the toll that small annoyances take on your happiness over time.

The last thing I’ve found that has profoundly changed my happiness is spending time alone. This means no kids, no husband, no friends, no social media. At first it was hard. And a little boring. I am so plugged into my crazy life that it took me a while to get used to quiet.

My alone time is when I run. I used to only want to do long runs with friends, but when I moved I found myself with no running partner. And I discovered my stream of conscience. I find that my best ideas come when I am alone with my thoughts. Funny how that works. And the added bonus is that good ideas have a way of boosting your ego. Even if you never share a good idea or implement it, just having it will make you feel pleased with yourself.

Happiness is always a work in progress. Life happens. Profoundly sad things happen. Sometimes people need professional help to get back on the right path towards happiness. But working towards happiness is much better than the alternative.

If you feel that it is time to quit wallowing and start living, here are my tips to get started.

1. Decide what you want to treat yourself to and what you will do to earn it.

2. List the things that are most important to you. Keep the list where you can see it often to remind you check yourself in these areas.

3. Get rid of the pebble in your shoe.

4. Schedule alone time.

5. Practice saying, “I am enough” to your self. When you start to compare your life to others stop and think. “I am enough. I don’t need to do what other people are doing to be the best me.”

I hope you are happy. I hope my discoveries are something you have known all along. But if you are not, and you want to make some changes, give them a go.

They have changed my life. They have made me a better mom, wife, friend and artist.

But I still claim my rightful spot in the Work in Progress Society. 


shawna henrie said...

i knew you way back when...and you are an inspiration to all of us. now i find myself with roles reversed. i am challenged now with certain difficulties which i never thought i would ever face. i have too, come to learn that my happiness is key. took me awhile to gather the strength and break away from the huge negativity and mistreatment, but now time to shake myself off and enjoy the life i have been given. one thing i have learned too...i have sacrificed for years and years for my kids, neglecting myself. as latter day saint women, or any woman for that matter, it is important we take care of ourselves first. like when youre in a plane, getting emergency instructions and they say place the oxygen bag over your face first? there is a life lesson in this. and i am all for treats...

EntwinedEssentials said...

I feel like I definitely needed to hear this. Too long I've been trying to control everything, constantly cleaning so I "don't have to do it later", not enjoying things. Your post made me tear up a bit so yes, I think I did need to hear it.

Thanks for this and all of your other postings, you are inspiring.

Nancy W said...

Thanks for this April! Yesterday at lunch with a friend I told her as happy as I am, I am just as sad/depressed. I have been in such a funk since the start of the year. When I think I have shaken it off it hits me again. I do have a few pebbles that I need to get rid of. Thanks for the reminder that we can't be Superwoman and that I am enough. I need to stop comparing myself to others! The blogging world is a double edge sword. In one hand it has brought to my life many incredible and inspiring women. On the other I tend to compare myself to so many of those women. That is not good and I must continue to work on that. So, thanks! Thanks, Thanks, Thanks for spilling your guts with us and the gentle nudge. Hugs from Conroe, TX!

ShellyRae said...

Thank you!

Vicki said...

I feel like I should start this with some heavy, deep, and real thought, but what I really want to tell you is that you look FABULOUS in that picture! Gorgeous! (I liked your words, too!)

kimberly said...

Absolutely brilliant post my friend - Brilliant! I love it all and couldn't agree more. If only someone had told me these things as a young girl- oh the years I could have spent so much happier! I am passing this along as it is beautifully written and the message is so incredibly important.
Great job- bravo girlfriend!

Alessandra said...

Thank you, with love!
xxx Alessandra

Faux Martha said...

I really needed to hear this at this moment...the mom and job inadequacies are in high throttle right now and the guilt for having bought a better camera....but it is the one thing I love so dearly and after reading what you wrote....feel a ton better.

Laurie LaRiviere said...

you hit the nail on the head with this post, just goodness, that photo of you is just gorgeous!!

Karyn Parry said...


You are quite the writer. I loved your thought process. What a woman! Thanks for sharing your insight. It is nice to realize that we are all similar in our need to find that joy and happiness. I agree that we have to find it within ourselves. It is amazing how easily it can slip through our fingers if we aren't careful. Really great thoughts here. Maybe soon Jenny, you and I can do lunch!

paperbird said...

Such a beautiful heartfelt post. I just taught a lesson on Suday on happiness. I wish I had read this post bfore my lesson- you shared SO many important things!

Yvonne said...

Wow...just wow. You really hit the nail on the head. I haven't left you a comment before, but I had to with this post. Such soul food here in this post. Love this and I can' tell you how much I needed to read this. I believe happiness is a choice, happiness is something I strive for on a daily basis. THanks for sharing your perspective!

living the vida loca said...

o.k. ~ so you so don't know me and i so don't know you ~ but i stumbled upon your blog some time ago and i peek in on it every now and again. wow. this post was "hands down" thee best blog post i have ever read! i was like "dang, is that me or her"? i like your realness and frankness. i like your creativity and writing. i like your inspirational stories and thoughts. you've made me stop and think i should go get my mojo back and start blogging again because it made me feel creative everyday!

Anonymous said...

April, of all your entries..and I LOVE them all, I love this one the best! I will never ever forget when we were sitting in my living room and my babies were running around and causing havic- you said to me something I have never forgotten- you said you thought all mothers took their children for granted, and that if only they knew what they had in the gift of a child they wouldnt be so..umm something to extent of frivolous of that gift. That was before little Ben...I remember feeling hurt. That somhow you thought I took my role as a mother as frivoulous. I said to to you, I could relate. I felt and sometimes still do that people take their mothers for granted. I am jealous (often) of those who still have theirs! But, then I realized on my own, we are all on our own journey. All experiencing everything we are suppossed to at exactly the right time! You do everything well, and always have- God bless you and you being able to find your elements to keep you happy! We miss you on our block!!

Jennifer said...

I couldn't have come across this post at a more perfect moment. I always enjoy your perspective, so honest and open, and so often it states exactly how i feel. i've been telling myself to take one step at a time. Now, I have a few more steps to work with. i hope you have a great week!

Jen Fox

jamie said...

Dearest April...
i hear your heart in this so loud and clear.
there is so much in this post to ponder and consider.
as i lay awake at night wondering why i can't get it right.
and funny...this morning in my quiet time i feel the LORD compelling me to go and read your blog.
and i will return to read it again...and the others as well.
I may even request if i could repost on my blog.
thank you.

Oh...p.s...give the cigar guy a break...LOL...he really inspired you.

elizabeth said...

Again, more words that I needed to hear at this very moment.