What does it mean to be happy? Is it even a thing? Is it attainable? This is really what I wanted to know...
Can You Really Get There?? And WHERE is it???? Because in my experience I’d always been running right behind happiness...this restlessness pushing me toward a perpetual high of some kind. If I was in a perfect relationship I’d be happy. If I had the perfect job I’d be happy. If we made more and more money I’d be happy. If I’d lost 15 pounds and had a brand new boujee car I’d be happy. If my kids had the best toys, clothes and Pottery Barn inspired bedrooms life would just seem perfect. The thing is, I would get there but happiness would somehow still be up ahead, just around the bend. The bar had been raised and just like that I had set a new standard for happiness and once again I was on the fast track in trying to catch it.
In 2013, my marriage ended. My husband and I separated. Life sort of stood still that day. It was that eerie quiet like when the power has gone out and the whole town is shockingly silent. You’ve grown so used to the electric hum in the background that when it stops abruptly it wakes you out of this mind-numbing trance of whatever the hell it was you were doing.
Days led into weeks and weeks into months of utter despair, rage, sadness, grief, anger, depression, hatred, loneliness...and painful solitude. I was in the most pitiful, desperate, pathetic place I had ever known. One day I made a call to my former teacher and life coach. It was a call of desperation. I could not stand the physical pain I was experiencing...every part of my body ached. The physical pain of a broken heart. I don’t mean to sound so tragic (I’m told I have a flare for the dramatics. Whatever.) In hindsight, it wasn’t just the circumstances of our parting, it was the crumbling of my entire facade-of-a-life. The image of “us” as I thought everyone knew us to be….You know, the Facebook image. “Look at us being happy, perfect and always having fun!”
“Annie, I just want to be happy. Whether we divorce or reconcile, I just want to be happy. How do I do that?”
From that day forward, I began my most sincere efforts, not exactly in finding happiness, but in finding RELIEF. I did what any good, self-reliant woman would do. I opened the blinds and I called the plumber. We had a problem with the toilet, a task my husband, under our previous arrangement, would have been in charge of. I started getting my house in order, making lists of what needed tending to, changing the locks on the doors, removing pictures from the walls that reminded me of what used-to-be, and in the spirit of that, I rearranged my bedroom and purchased new bed linens and a table setting for 4. My husband and I were friendly during our separation so it wasn’t a matter of “getting rid” of him, but if I was going to achieve happiness for myself I had to reconstruct my life and my surroundings. I was like a phoenix rising from the ashes. The girls and I got into a rhythm. I would go for long walks in the park with my steadfast, loyal friend and look forward to coming home to an empty house while the girls were still in school. I spent A LOT of time alone. I would read, meditate, do yoga, journal, sip tea...weep.
Annie and I were having regular life coaching sessions. She encouraged me to make 3 lists. I was to make a list of things that brought me PLEASURE, a list of things that were MEANINGFUL to me, and a list of STRENGTHS or things I was good at. Where there was an overlap between PLEASURE + MEANING, those activities would foster a fertile ground for happiness. Where there was an overlap of PLEASURE + MEANING + STRENGTHS, this would show me my “sweet spot” for what kind of meaningful work I could put out into the world.
I took an inventory of my overlap for happiness: eating healthy food, exercise, quality time with my children, hiking, learning something new, travel/adventure, cooking, creating beauty, organizing, spending time with friends, meaningful discussion, meditation, decluttering, sitting in the sun, appreciation.
From my journal...
This last one...appreciation, otherwise known as gratitude, flipped the switch for me, as boring as it sounds. I began a daily practice of appreciation. Being grateful and feeling appreciation for everything as it is right now, rather than wishing for my circumstances to be different. I journaled this daily as evidence of my new practice. On the shittiest of days I found something to appreciate...the sun shining, the 5 minutes spent with my daughters lying at the foot of my bed, my dog’s unwavering loyalty and devotion, a call from a friend. I pledged to do this for 30 days and on Day 19 I noticed it had become a new habit. Instead of automatically seeking out all the wrongs in my world, somehow I had gotten into the practice of seeking out what was right. From this place, of gratitude and appreciation, is where miracles happen, friends. It’s where the seemingly impossible becomes POSSIBLE. The lights turn back on. It’s where forgiveness lives.
I found that happiness isn’t a place after all. It’s not a finish line or staking a flag in the ground to say, “I made it”. Happiness is a by-product of living a meaningful life.. I’m finding that happiness is a state of BEING...a sustainable one as long as what you’re doing is in alignment with PLEASURE + MEANING. Even on the bleakest of days (I still have them; I’m human after all), I would still say that I’m truly happy and have maintained a sense of steadfast fulfillment and contentment.
Incidentally, my husband and I reconciled. It turns out he was going through a good bit of healing and transformation himself. I hadn't been paying attention. I didn’t even entertain the thought of us getting back together because all my attention was focused on being happier and becoming a more fulfilled, healthy individual.
And in the space of appreciating what is, two awakened, shaken, broken -open souls were able to fall in love again...better than before, and build a new marriage based on something real instead of something we might be or have one day . He’s “my person”, I always knew that...
I can’t predict our story to be a happily-ever-after. But it’s a happy NOW. Our lives are rich in ways money, prestige, or things will never bring. We have had to make uncomfortable and painful decisions in order to reach higher ground and continue to grow. This means walking away from circumstances that no longer serve us. This means living apart in the short term to do things right for the long term. There is comfort in discomfort...especially if it means creating a better life, a brighter future, a more meaningful, magical now.
If you’re experiencing a marital crisis or any kind of despair, I would invite you to choose to see your life from a higher perspective. Dressed up as the Grim Reaper, it’s hard to recognize this situation or predicament as something good. It feels terrifying and painful; it causes us to run back to where it’s comfortable and safe, denying us, once again, the freedom that comes with living our best life. Find relief in the KNOWING that this darkness is the only place from which we can grow and change in BIG, lasting ways and live a more fulfilled life, if we're willing.
A butterfly seems so cliché, but I love butterflies. As caterpillars, they go crawling into the darkness of the cocoon where they experience transformation and re-emerge into something a hundred times more beautiful than before ...and take flight!
Jeanmare and Cristy are creators and contributors of the Living Simply Nourished Blog. Grab a cup of tea (or coffee!), find a cozy spot, scroll around, read some stories, find some inspiration, and enjoy!
Search our blogs