I love my life.
I used to hate when people said that. There was no such thing. Life comes with the good and the bad, and if you love all of it, then you’ve been poorly deceived (or altogether privileged).
But a few years ago, I felt utterly unhappy with my life. Every time I thought I had found something good, it dismantled into a pile of sour mulch.
Take Norm, for example. Pets are supposed to make your life better, right? Not when you spend hours tending to their allergic reactions and thousands of dollars trying to make up for the fact that they’re allergic to 15 different things in the environment completely out of your control.
But that’s the thing about mulch. It shouldn’t have an offensive smell. If it does, then there’s some toxic buildup at play. And what happens when the mulch can breathe? It suppresses the weeds and eventually improves the soil’s fertility.
You didn’t come here for a gardening lesson though. You came here because, perhaps, like me, you want to know how to be happy.
First, a few disclaimers: I am single. I’ve never been married. I don’t have kids. I pay an outrageous amount in rent to live in a one-bedroom apartment alone with a cat allergic to the world. And I have an incurable chronic condition that only seems to get more expensive and difficult to manage with time (much like aforementioned cat, who I care about regardless).
And yet, I love my life. Here’s why (or more appropriately, the condensed playlist).
Lloyd, I’m Ready to be Heartbroken.
A year ago, I took a course on The Daring Way (courtesy of Brene Brown) and acknowledged the importance of vulnerability. I started practicing being vulnerable in relationships, even if it meant losing friends or feeling the sting of rejection. I did lose people along the way (and a job to boot) and yet gained so much more in the relationships I had already cultivated as well as new and recovered connections along the way.
I Don’t Like It, I Love It
I stopped listening to my inner critic and faked confidence until I started believing that I actually had talent and intelligence. And I stopped comparing myself to others (well, mostly). I focused on the positive, not just in my career but my personal ventures, too. This has even translated to everyday enthusiasm. In my new job, I am often exclaiming excitement for the possibilities… in a room… full of people. Anyone’s who worked with me previously would be astounded by this fact. It doesn’t mean I’m not open to feedback and not realistic in my ambitions, but I’ve stopped wasting energy on constantly putting myself and others down.
Come and Get Your Love
I also started practicing empathy. It is incredibly hard to listen to a friend’s harrowing tale and not want to tell her “I’m sorry.” Admittedly, my best friend has been conditioning me for years to stop saying “sorry” unnecessarily. She has now resorted to threats of violence if I use the word “sorry” on her one more time. It certainly works (all of this is in jest, by the way). But every time I want to say “I’m sorry” to her, I think of her punching me in the face, and I stop. Well, sometimes. It’s a work-in-progress. But empathy is harder. I feel like a bad person when I tell someone, “that’s terrible” or “that sucks.” But it’s true. And acknowledging their pain actually validates their feelings and makes them feel less alone.
Ring of Fire
I’ve focused on letting my voice be heard (even when consequences are as risky as losing a job). Because I realized even in the worst situations, I would feel better if I had stuck up for myself and my team and done everything I could then if I hadn’t said anything at all. I’ve also tried to be a better listener. Ever heard a friend telling a story, and it immediately reminds you of something you experienced, and you almost trample over their story to get your own story out? Yeah, I tried to stop doing that and instead listen to what the person was actually saying. Just being heard can make a world of difference.
I drank a lot of bourbon. I found a new hobby. At first, it started because I’m from Kentucky, and I figure I should know something about bourbon. Then it became a bonding moment between cousins and pretty soon a pick-up line. But either way, I learned that I am always growing and changing. And trying new things can open up so many possibilities. So many new joys. And a way to connect with others I never knew existed.
From Now On
A good friend of mine once told me she listened to The Greatest Showman soundtrack to get pumped up for job interviews. When I lost my job this past year, I couldn’t imagine getting pumped up for an interview. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back to the rat race. But I had bills to pay, so I applied and interviewed and applied and interviewed and networked and applied and interviewed. And then I found a job I love. I’ve never felt this excited to start the day. But it has made a difference in my overall happiness. For the full story, check out my recent post on The Niche Movement: How a Job Loss Landed Me My Next Opportunity.
Bloody Mother F^cking A$$hole
I learned to forgive myself for the worst of circumstances, and I made a conscious effort not to blame myself. Instead, thanks to the advice of an amazing support network, I took time to heal. It doesn’t mean I certainly didn’t have my days where I started drinking at noon. But I let myself breathe and find relief. And as much as certain circumstances sucked, when the worst of those toxins was stripped away, I realized what an amazing life I had created for myself – the loving people I had surrounded myself with, the creative energy still flowing in my veins, and the endless possibilities.
I had found the joy within. I still have my bad days. But even on those days, I let myself be mad or sad or confused. We’re all human. But I don’t let myself stay in those negative spaces too long. I remember how I feel exploring a new trail or listening to live music with a good friend or walking along the water at dusk.
Happiness, just being.