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happiness is a choice: lessons from my mother

I learned many lessons from my family growing up.  I learned lessons from my parents, siblings, from my mentors, from my friends.  

The second most important lesson I received from my mother was this:  

Happiness is a choice. 

At the Las Vegas “Life is Beautiful” festival, the year it first began, I painted this sentiment on a brick.  Someone collected the bricks and built a wall from them (a wall that actually made people feel better).  The girl next to me remarked, “That is profound.” I forget, sometimes, how lucky I was to have learned this lesson and early on.  

Of course I didn’t feel lucky at the time.  I fought it like a cat about to be thrown into a bath. My mother used to ask me what I “got” out of being unhappy– and of course I responded that I didn’t! That I didn’t have any control over my feelings! How stupid was she?  What did I “get” from being unhappy? Nothing!

Truth is, I got plenty out of unhappiness.  I think most of us do. We gain sympathy from our friends.  We gain blind sympathy from strangers (what true value that gives us is debatable, but crying out for sympathy rarely results in no response.  Social media is proof of that.)  We gain an outlet for our frustrations.  Perhaps most importantly, we gain another day’s reprieve in dealing with our actual issues.  We can feel bad for one more day.

Sadness serves a purpose, whether good, bad, or indifferent (I am not interested, at the moment, in defining the meaning of “good.”) Remember Pandora’s Box?  Without all the bad feelings, we would never have had hope.  Hope is only possible in the context of all the bad feels.  And it is a wonderful feeling that I am grateful to feel every day.

It’s silly to dismiss negative feelings entirely. Even if we could, I don’t know that we should. I would posit that selectively indulging in sadness can provide legitimate benefits. If we survive some kind of hardship and, well, perhaps not suffering, but at least frustration and anger,  we generally have better perspectives and ability to enjoy the good times.  It’s not good when life is too easy.  It’s relieving to release tears.  

If the hurt runs deeper and we find ourselves the victim of a painful experience, we can still find a small amount of solace in unhappiness…until we are able to deal with the horror itself. 

We humans even get a twisted pleasure out of the very feeling of being unhappy.  Like a mild masochistic pain, such as how I feel when my eyebrows are waxed.  It hurts—but it’s a GOOD hurt.  Or it feels good to me.  

But we’ll never feel the good feelings, certainly not achieving true “happiness,” unless we force ourselves to rise higher. We cannot control our circumstances, though we can find ways of modifying them.  But we can’t control all of it.  

So what happens when the bad things happen? When we inevitably feel sad, or worse? I believe it is our choice if we strive for happiness, or fall into sadness; or if we choose to actively fight for unhappiness, afraid to see what would happen to us if we let our perceived wrongs fall by the wayside.   

If we want to be generally happy, versus generally sad, I believe we need to actively make decisions that bring us happiness.  We need to breathe.  We need to count our blessings, and, yes, when I needed it, I mentally recited every good thing that happened to me that day.  Silly, but effective. It helped so much!  Write it down, and recall your list on cloudy days.  Do what it takes for you personally.  Because we need, in some form, to say, “I am going to be happy,” and affirm that statement by making positive choices.  Like love languages, I believe there are “happiness languages,” too.  

I discovered, at a certain point that I won’t disclose here, that being happy, well, made me happier.  What purpose, I asked, does being unhappy serve me?  I used to have answers that I found acceptable.  The answers were no less valid.  Still.  I stopped accepting those answers.  Yes, I told myself, unhappiness still gave me something; but it no longer gave me enough.  Sadness, even misery, can provide.  But it can only provide so much.  The older you get–  and no need to grow up too quickly!—the emptier those indulgent feelings get. That’s nice, your inner angel/demon says.  Now what? 

Choosing happiness fulfilled me beyond my considerably active dreams and imaginings.  I began assuming those who loved me were trying to make me feel warm and fuzzy, instead of assuming the worst.  I attempted to take compliments at face value; not immediately twist them into an attack.  That took real effort.  It’s second nature to me, today, to instantly work out the positive in a situation; to find at least one solution to a problem.  I am unsure that I am a natural optimist; part of my progression involved surrounding myself with optimists.  I do credit myself with some natural optimism, however.  

I’d like to think I age like a fine wine or a brandy.  That I am better (even more attractive?) as I grow older.  Because I AM happier. I rarely feel “unhappy,” anymore. Instead, I feel angry, frustrated, disappointed.  A myriad of negative emotions, yes, but I can actually feel them.  My mind isn’t filled with vague “unhappiness.”  I can feel other, more validating emotions.  Heck, I even have time for the stupid, petty ones!  And can learn about those petty emotions, too, as I learn do deal with myself and others.  It actually helps me with my self growth.  Sometimes, okay, a lot of time, I even feel positive ones.  Imagine that!

I just don’t have time for unhappiness, anymore. Not that pure, unadulterated, wave of sadness washing over me.  There’s too much else I want to feel.  

Not to mention, with the state of the world as it is—and I acknowledge the bad, even as I believe society truly has progressed so much and we should feel good about it!—we don’t have time to just be unhappy, anymore.  

There is far too much to do.

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