As often as I write about and spend time exploring the concept of happiness, you might be surprised to hear that sometimes happiness actually scares me. When I come across those moments when I'm feeling so deliriously happy that I can't stand it (moments that, through all of my work on the blog and because of some pretty awesome things in my life, are becoming more and more frequent...), I feel a slight sense of panic, thinking to myself, "Watch out! That happiness is going to leave you and then where will you be?" Having lived so long in a state of unhappiness, I actually have begun to mistrust the happy times, as if they are some deadbeat who will come and leave at whenever it's convenient. When I see happiness coming my way, I tend to look suspiciously at it out of the corner of my eye, wondering just how long it's going to stick around this time.
I realize, of course, that that's not the best way to handle the happiness I'm experiencing. It's not productive and it certainly takes away from the happy feelings. I've found myself struggling with this a lot lately. I've felt very happy, but it's almost as if I don't want to feel that happy because I'm scared of not always feeling that happy. Like most people, I go through ups and downs -- sad times and happy times -- but I find that, while I fully embrace the sad times, wallowing in them for all they're worth, I hesitate when it comes to happiness. I find myself standing on the edge of it, just dipping my toe in like it's freezing cold water. Even though I'm burning up and would love to dive into its refreshing coolness, I still stand on the edge of the pool, dipping one foot in and then the other, my heart hesitating, my mind telling me it's much too cold to jump in.
To be perfectly honest, this fear is starting to get on my nerves. I see other people jump in fearlessly, un-fazed by the chill and popping up from under the water refreshed and relaxed. Why can't I do that? Why I can't I just jump in, untethered by my fear of losing a happiness that, before now, I didn't even know I would be scared to lose? I know I'm not the only one up to my ankles in happiness water, scared to submerge my full self, but sometimes I feel very, very frustrated by the way that I hold myself back. And that frustration has built up to the point where I've had enough of it. I'm done holding back. I'm done standing on the edge, scared to jump in. This time I'm not going to be scared of the happiness. I'm going to jump right in and let it soak me to the core.
Now that I've made that decision, I feel relieved. It definitely takes a weight off of my shoulders to think to myself, "Hey, I'm going to allow myself to be as happy as I want to be and I'm not going to worry about whether or not I'm going to be this happy forever." It all comes back to the main focus of my blog (and my life): to live happily ever after now. I'm not going to sit around worrying about the future and what could happen. I'm not going to doubt the happiness I feel and tell myself that it's not real or that, for whatever reason, it's not something I deserve. Instead, I'm going to to recognize the happy emotions, embrace them, and validate them because, in this very moment, they are real and, like it or not, they are what I'm experiencing. No more worrying about the future (live in the now!). No more doubting the veracity of my happiness (be positive!).
As I was laying in bed last night, a big silly grin on my face, I tried to rationalize with myself. I tried to tell myself not to get too excited, not to allow yourself to be too happy. And then this voice came out of nowhere. Like a two-year-old just learning her way around the world, after every statement I made, the voice would say, "Why??" When I told myself, "Don't let yourself get too happy," the voice quipped, "Why?" When I told myself, "You shouldn't be lying in bed smiling like a big idiot," the voice spoke up again, asking, "Why?" I started to realize that that little voice of mine was right and it was there for a reason. When faced with all of those "why" questions, I began to realize that there really is no good reason why I shouldn't be deliriously happy. Even if it passes and I never feel this way again, wouldn't I want to look back and realize that I embraced that happiness whole-heartedly? Wouldn't I want to remember it as a happiness instead of the battle between happiness and self-doubt?
And, as smiled into my pillow, I allowed myself to feel it, to really, really feel that happiness. I pushed all of the doubts from my mind, all of the "what ifs" and all of the "buts" and I just let the happiness lay down beside me. I pushed myself against it and let myself -- for once! -- relax by its side. And, you know what? It felt amazing. It was, in fact, one of the best feelings in the world. There is something to be said about clearing your mind of all doubt and just letting yourself feel that is amazingly rewarding. My mind always being a whirlwind of activity, this doesn't happen for me very often. I am always a jumble of thoughts and feelings that I never really just allow myself to just feel without thinking of all of the consequences. Last night I allowed myself that small but powerful moment, a chance to just be happy.
Of course, doing this wasn't easy. It took a lot of back-and-forth in my mind, wondering and realizing and rationalizing, but once I finally settled down, it was great to just be happy and not to worry about what it meant or why it was happening or how it might go away. When I woke this morning and thought about it, I realized that I went through a little process before I was able to actually accept the happiness I was feeling...
How To Allow Yourself To Be Happy
Recognize the happiness. The first step, of course, is recognizing how you feel. For me, this is actually kind of hard. I'm always on the go, always rushing and doing and thinking, and sometimes it's hard for me to realize how I feel. I try to pay attention to my body because that usually gives me some pretty obvious clues. For example, last night, when I was grinning like a fool, I realized that something was up. I paid attention to that sign and realized that the reason I couldn't stop smiling was because I was really, truly happy. So many things in my life were going well and I had a lot to smile about. It's been awhile since I was able to pin down happiness in that way and really realize that's what I was feeling, but once I did that, it felt really great (until all of those doubts started creeping in...).
Accept it for what it is.When I started doubting the happy way I was feeling, when that little devil on my shoulder started telling me that it wouldn't last and that I shouldn't get too attached to it, I realized that I had to accept the happiness for what it was. It was what I was experiencing, what I was truly feeling, and I couldn't let my thoughts (those little devilish thoughts!) get in the way of how I was feeling. Sure, it could fade away. Sure, I could wake to find that something devastating had happened. But that hadn't happened yet and, for the time being, it was up to me to choose: did I want to be happy or did I want to be worrying that the happiness I was feeling would go away? I don't know what you would choose, but the former seemed like a much better option.
Experience the moment NOW. Like many people, it's easy for me to get caught up in thinking about the past and the future. I found myself going back to the past and thinking of all the time I'd been happy and then been hurt or disappointed or saddened by something. I found myself thinking about the future and wondering what I would feel like if the happiness went away. And then I realized: I wasn't living in the now. I was comparing my happiness; I was forecasting unhappiness. And there was absolutely no logical reason I could think to do this. The past was over so I shouldn't let it worry me and I had no idea what the future would bring. Maybe, hard as it is to believe, I would always be this happy. Or, even harder to believe, maybe I would even be happier. Who knows?!
Avoid worry and doubt. So, I decided to experience the happiness in the moment and not let my feelings be bogged down by the past or tormented by the unknown future. It wasn't easy to do this because there's nothing scarier to me than being smile-so-hard-my-face-hurts happy. I wanted to challenge the happiness and say to it, "I know you're going to go away and, because of that, I have to ignore you while you're around." What I realized after having that thought was that it was completely ridiculous. What if I did that with Bella, my sweet, adorable dog? What if I decided I wasn't going to spend time with her because I knew someday she was going to die? How ridiculous would that be? When I thought about it that way, I realized that I had to make a home for happiness. I had to push all of the worry and doubt from my mind and just feel it -- even if there was a chance it would someday be gone -- because that's what acceptance is. It's all about feeling it and not letting your mind take over with it's pesky little what-if notions.
Share the feeling with others. Sometimes I struggle with being deliriously happy because I don't think it's fair. For whatever reason, I have it in my mind that there's a limit on how much happiness there can be in the world and when I'm feeling super happy I feel like I'm hogging it all. Even though I know that the amount of happiness is infinite and that it's not selfish or wrong to feel giddily happy, it still helps when you can share your happiness with others. It takes some of that Catholic-school-girl guilt away, I guess. So I've been trying to share my happiness -- to be kind to others, to smile at strangers, and, most importantly, to tell people about it. I used to be afraid to say I was happy because it wasn't "me," but now I realize that telling others about how happy you are makes them happy too. When a friend or family member tells me how happy s/he is, I feel great. I feel happy too. So why shouldn't I give him/her the same feeling? If you're happy and you know it, tell someone about it!
I'm sure there are some people out there reading this and thinking, "What's the big deal? If you're happy, just be happy." I would love for it to be that simple. For me, happiness is hard work and, as I said at the beginning of the post, sometimes it's downright scary. After years of being a grumpy ol' Eeyore, I'm still adjusting to the idea that it's okay, it's normal, to be happy. Rather than splash around in my happiness, I tend to hang back, unsure, slightly nervous, and worrying, so for me to get to this place, the place where I can just be happy without fearing that I'm someday going to be unhappy, is a pretty big deal. Last year around this time I was going through some pretty tough stuff. I can truthfully say that last November was one of the hardest months of my entire life. But now I'm here -- and I'm happy! -- and I'm finally realizing that it is not only okay to be happy, but it's okay to admit that I'm happy.
This happiness, like everything in this world, is temporary, but that doesn't mean I should run from it. After all, nothing lasts forever. That doesn't mean that I shouldn't enjoy it while I'm here, living this life. Yesterday I was listening to a Dave Matthews Band song and these lyrics really stuck with me as I was trying sort out all of my happiness issues: "I'm saying open up/And let the rain come pouring in/Wash out this tired notion/That the best is yet to come/But while you're dancing on the ground/Don't think of when you're gone." These words have always served as a reminder for me to stay in the present and focus on life now, but they also really apply to my struggle with accepting happiness. I'm here, dancing on the ground, and I have to allow myself to be happy. If it's for a moment, if it's for a day, if it's for a lifetime, it doesn't matter. What matters is that it's real, it's happening, and I'm finally, finally allowing myself to feel it.