Anyone else feel like you're inundated with self-help articles? 7 keys to happiness! 12 ways to cheer yourself up when you're at your lowest! 9 ways to beat belly fat! (I admit, I always get suckered into clicking on that one, and then they lose me at 'quit eating sugar'). 8 things successful people have already done before you even hit snooze for the 80th time and drag your sorry ass out of bed!
Personally I'm sick to death of these articles. They're glib, full of grammatical errors and reek of that fake, pasted-on Stepford Wife smile. But there's a reason these articles are out there, luring us in with their promise of perfection. On some level, as a culture, we are constantly in search of the elusive secret to happiness.
I consider myself a happy person. But 'happy' is a pretty broad term. Do I walk around life elated, jumping for joy, cheering all the time? Nah, and thank goodness, because I'd be insufferable if I did. Do I often feel sad, angry, other 'non-happy' feelings? Yeah, pretty much every day. At least once. Or twice. Or more. In fact, if you saw me driving, you certainly wouldn't peg me as a happy person. You'd probably want me institutionalized.
But I am content. I am comfortable with who I am, where I am in my life. As a default, I feel pretty good. And lately, I've been trying to figure out why. Not because I believe I can write anyone else a prescription for contentment. One reason those articles I referenced above irk me so much is because there is no one-size-fits-all plan for happiness. We're all different-- chemically, hormonally, environmentally--so how could anything work for everyone?
But I wasn't always this happy. And I've certainly gone through some pretty dark times--probably darker than many of my friends are aware of. And maybe some of what works for me could work for others, who knows? In any case, I've been thinking about it, and here it is: The Things That Keep Me Content.
1. I let myself feel. I cry often. Sometimes watching a movie or listening to a song; sometimes hearing about something sad that happened to someone else; sometimes because I am sad myself. When I'm angry or frustrated, I voice it. I find someone to vent to or I face the issue. I'm not saying you have to cry every day or swear at drivers in the car to be happy, but I do think that not allowing yourself to feel your feelings could be a deterrent to contentment.
2. I don't compare myself to others. There are zillions of people who are richer than I am, more successful than me, in better shape, more graceful, have a bigger house, etc. etc. etc. I don't spend time worrying about it. I applaud the successes of others and keep striving for my own. I'm sure there are things I can do that they can't. Each of us brings something unique and beautiful to this world. There's room for all of us. No one is falling short.
3. I don't hold myself to a vision that's beyond my control. Is this the life I imagined for myself? Probably not. I didn't expect to be divorced. I thought I'd have more than one kid, and definitely a daughter. I never thought I'd live in Chicago for my entire life. But this is where I am now--single mom of one boy, still in Chicago--and I don't lament what couldn't be. I try to find the joy in what I do have. For instance, teenage boys seem to be easier than teenage girls--at least if you're comparing me as a teenager to my son as a teenager. For that I am grateful beyond belief.
4. I do what I love. I know you can't always get paid to do what you love. If you're one of the lucky ones who does, awesome. If not, find ways to do what you love to do. I love dancing, so I dance. I love writing, so I write. What do you love doing? Do it!! And as an addendum to this, I make time for myself. This is much harder when you have young kids--especially if you're a single mom. Believe me, I know. But I still found ways here and there to make time for myself. Honestly it made me a better mother to take time away from my child for myself.
5. I ask for help. I'm lucky enough to have a rich support network, and I use it when necessary. I pride myself on being a strong, capable person who can handle my own, but even the strongest of us can't do it all all the time. The beginning of this year was a real rough time for me, and it was the kindness of my friends and loved ones who got me through it. I even enlisted the help of my old therapist, who I hadn't talked to in years. It's not easy to do, but it pays off in the end.
6. I'm patient with myself. I know I'm a work in progress. I know that I'm going to screw things up. I know that I'm going to have rough days. I take pains not to beat myself up for it.
7. I savor what I do have. I am very, very grateful for my life. Even when things aren't going well and I'm feeling low, I am thankful for my family, my friends, the little things in life that I'm able to enjoy.
I suppose I could get into specifics, which might involve wine, chocolate, cuddling with cats, hot baths, and exercise (not necessarily in that order!!) but I won't. Suffice to say these are some of the things I do to try to keep on keeping on, and have a pretty good time while I do it. What are yours? I'd love to hear some!
Oh, and as for how to be beautiful? Can't help you there. I woke up like this.
For as long as she can remember, Lisa Litberg has loved to write. Over the years she has amassed quite a collection of short stories and poetry. Free is her first novel. Ms. Litberg has been a high school teacher for nearly twenty years and helps empower her urban students with the power of the written word. Currently she is working on a short story compilation geared toward urban youth, as well as her second novel, which will answer her readers' questions about what happened to Free.