Quilting Happiness

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Recently I had a conversation with someone where they helplessly said “I don’t know…I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I’m just not happy with anything in my life.”  Hearing that broke my heart; living unhappily is such a terrible existence.  And yet, so many people live the majority of their lives in a permanent state of misery.

Sometimes, this misery becomes so ingrained that it doesn’t even feel like misery.  I had no idea that I was living such a wretched existence until I separated from my ex-husband and felt little inklings of happiness stretch like tentative rays of sunshine after a storm.  While I certainly knew I wasn’t ecstatic, I had no idea how bad that life really was while I was in it.

In this moment, if you were to ask me if I was happy with my life, I would unequivocally answer “yes.”  This may seem strange if you know my present circumstances: recently laid off, freshly single, one million minor crisis’ happening at work on a daily basis.  And yet, overall, I am joyful.

This got me thinking: WHY am I so happy?  What is it that I, or anyone with a constantly positive state of mind, do or don’t do that contributes to this feeling of joyful contentment?  After some contemplation, I settled on several key factors:

Have a reliable, positive, and multi-leveled network.  This is such a big component because we as humans are wired to interact with others.  However, you cannot have all surface acquaintances or all deep bosom buddies; our connections need to be varied.  I have a couple of extremely close friends, several good friends, and lots and lots of positive shallower connections.  Going through my recent breakup, I lost one of the major keystone connections in my life, and had he been all that I had, I would have been completely at a loss.  However, with the help of my close and good friends as well as my continued positive interactions with everyone else, I have been able to stay afloat and keep my spirits up.

Putting in the time and effort to create and maintain these relationships may seem like a burden, but I firmly believe that if you do not have quality relationships in your life, it is impossible to be truly happy.  However, these relationships must be reciprocal; you cannot simply mooch off of someone else, and you should never allow someone to mooch off of you.  When both parties put in the same level of effort, that is when this piece of happiness falls into place.

Exercise.  As much as we like to deny the hard science of how our minds work, putting in some sweat equity on a daily basis is a serious piece of the happiness puzzle.  Although starting a workout is pretty much the worst thing ever, finishing it is one of the best feelings in the world.  Your endorphin’s are kicking, and anything that negatively effected you throughout the day simply fades away into a haze of “ahhhhhh that was awesome”.

And lets face it, it’s hard to be happy when you don’t like what you see in the mirror.  Presenting the best version of ourselves physically primes us to be the best version of ourselves mentally.  It’s difficult to be miserable when you reach for something and notice a little baby bicep flexing as you bring it back.  Hard work is hard freakin’ work, but it seriously boosts your mood to see results.

Work towards something specific.  Throughout my entire life, I have always had something to work towards.  First, it was my degree.  Then it was finding a job.  Then it was my Masters.  Now, I am working on getting my real estate license and have plans for an admin credential and possibly a life coach certification within the next ten years.  The point is, I am never resting on my laurels.

If you are working towards a specific goal, it is obvious if you have achieved it or not.  And working to get that accomplishment tucked under your belt gives you a sense of purpose, which contributes to happiness.  If you know you are on the road to achievement, you feel excited about getting up each day and have the gumption to persevere through the rocky patches.

Actively seek improvement.  I am constantly looking for ways to make myself a better person and teacher.  If I hear of an awesome teaching strategy, I try to implement it in my classroom.  Outside the confines of my work, I am constantly reading all different types of books and online articles as well as listening to podcasts on various topics.  I love getting into deep conversations about the world.  All in all, I am always trying to be better than I was before.

Truly desiring to make yourself better requires a humble acceptance of yourself as you are right now.  However, acceptance does not mean stagnation.  Just because you have accepted that you have slid into the ditch does not mean that you stay in the ditch.  Seeing yourself grow and looking back to see how much you’ve changed for the better is a big piece of long-term happiness.

Love the majority of your day.  There are very few parts of my day that I dislike.  I love breakfast.  I love jamming to my tunes as I drive to work.  I love getting organized for the day.  I love interacting with my students.  I (usually) love the gym.  I love writing blog posts.   I’m ok with learning new real estate things (although I’m not going to lie, I’ll be pumped when it’s over).  The only things that I truly hate about my day are when I have some students act like a-holes, or when something goes awry that I did not forsee (usually traffic-traffic puts me in a TERRIBLE mood).

If you genuinely LIKE/LOVE 80% or more of your day, it is highly unlikely that you will be unhappy.  So many people tie themselves to jobs, people, or circumstances that they hate, and then wonder why they are miserable.  If you find yourself unhappy with something, make moves to change it.  Money, “security”, and comfort are NOT worth a constant state of misery.

Be ok with YOU.  You have to be ok with who you are as a person before you can truly settle into a state of contentment with your life.  I recently went through a period of time where I thought that my career goals and life aspirations were not good enough because I saw other people passionately pursuing other things that seemed ‘better’ or that might bring in more money.  My happiness severely diminished during that time.  When I mentally slapped myself and replanted my foot firmly on the soil of MY dreams, my joy returned.

You are a unique person.  It is impossible to accomplish the exact same thing that someone else has accomplished, so it is silly to even try.  You know what gives you joy, you know how you want to live your life, and you know what gives you a sense of purpose.  When you fully embrace what YOU want, not what the yoga masters, hardcore businessmen, or spiritual gurus tell you to want, THEN you can embrace your personal happiness.

Overall, your happiness is like an old, hand-pieced multicolored quilt that has been in your family for generations.  It blankets everything.  It is handmade.  No one else has one just like it.  Sometimes, a square or two might come loose, but if it’s a quality quilt, those squares aren’t completely lost and there are still enough squares to cover up with until the damage gets repaired.

If you find that you are unhappy with your life, take stock of all of the pieces.  Magnify those squares that give you joy.  Mend the squares that let in the draft.  Sometimes, an entire square might have to be replaced, and that’s ok.  Happiness IS something that you have complete control over, no matter how much we lie to ourselves and argue that we do not.  Take charge now; in the end, our money will be spent or given away and our possessions will break or change hands.  It is only the intangible-our relationships, our integrity, and our happiness-that we will get to keep for all time.

“Perfection”

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Lately, my thoughts have been meandering around the idea of perfection.  We all grow up as little boys and girls thinking that when we are finally adults, we will have to power to make everything ideal.  We will find our perfect spouse, the perfect job, and live in the perfect house.

Eventually, we shed this childhood grandeur; everyone “knows” that perfection does not exist.  Yet, somehow, we still find ourselves rejecting opportunities and people simply because they do not live up to the ideals in our minds.

This got me thinking–what exactly WOULD a perfect opportunity or a perfect person look like?  Would it meet all of said person’s schedule requirements, salary requirements, coworker requirements, and have free cookies in the breakroom every day to boot?  Would the perfect person always acquiesce to any request made of them, never do anything annoying, and always know the exact right thing to say each and every moment?

Eff that.

Just writing it makes me yawn.  Becoming in possession of true perfection in all aspects of life, to me, simply means that you will stop experiencing life.  How can something be considered perfection if it never prompts you to grow?  

If you are truly living up to your potential, that which is quote unquote ‘perfect’ for you in May will cease to be so by June.  We change so much throughout our lives, it is ridiculous to have the expectation of finding someone or something that fully and 100% fills our every wish and desire in a manner identical to our glowing mental picture.

This holds true for our self-image as well.  We all have an idea of what we think it would be to be perfect.  I have been guilty of beating myself up when I feel that I have missed the mark, and I don’t think that I am alone.  However, if we ever actually reach our idea of impeccability, we would find that it more than likely is not what we thought it would be.

Perfection as an idea is lovely.  Perfection in actuality, not so much.

There is one place where perfection does exist, however, and that is in the moment.  Sometimes in life, there are tiny little spaces in time where seconds stretch and give us a glimpse of pure flawlessness in the universe.  Regardless of the fact that you are not with a perfect person, in a perfect location, or at a perfect time in your life, those points in our lives can be treasured.

It could be lying on the beach with the one you love, snuggled together as a shooting star zips across the sky. 

It could be straining at the weights, faltering at the final rep but mustering the mental strength to push them up one. more. time.

It could be the moment you hold your first child in your arms, exhausted from labor but exquisitely in awe of the tiny life you now influence.

All we have in life are moments, and those flawless junctures in time cannot be sought or forced, but they can be relished.

The defining factor of a moment is that it is fleeting.  It happens, and then it is gone.  If that pure moment were to stretch into a perfect day, month, week, or year, we would cease to recognize its perfection.

So, rather than seeking perfection, seek instead to find spaces in which to grow and develop in some way.  If a choice gives you an option for mental, physical, or emotional expansion, make it.  If you feel yourself flourishing around someone, keep them.  If an opportunity will help you become a better overall person, seize it.

Perfection is an ideal that exists only in the mind.  We were not set on this earth to be perfect, but instead to seek experiences and wisdom that will broaden us from where we started.  If everything in life was perfect, how would you even know that you were alive?

Savor the imperfection of life.  Appreciate the occasions where existing seems chaotic, because it is only after that storm that you can truly delight in the pure moments that creep up on you when you least expect it.  And most of all, strive for your own personal perfection without condemning yourself or others for remaining in the rough.

The closer you are to the best version of yourself, the more you realize all of the little tweaks that still need to be made, pushing that image just a little bit further out of reach.  Striving for perfection should drive you, but those ideals continuously being pushed ever so slightly forward should not discourage you.

Ultimately, our happiness does not depend on everything flawlessly falling into place at every single moment in our lives.  And that is perfection in and of itself.

 

 

 

 

Making a Choice

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If you are a frequent social media user (and really, who isn’t these days), I’m sure you’ve seen the “Just Do It!” video put out by Shia Lebeouf over a year ago. While his gesticulations,  posturing, and total commitment to this piece invite a lot of humor, his overall message fits in nicely with my thoughts today.

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We as humans are masters of making terrible choices and of avoiding decisions whenever  possible.  Which, of course, is the opposite of what we should be doing.  Most people avoid making choices because a)they don’t know what they actually want, b)they don’t want to work hard, or c)they want to keep all options open as long as possible.  In order to get ahead in life, you need to Make. A. Choice., which means you need to have an awareness of the following things:

What do you actually, honestly, want?

There are few, if any people in the world who are true free agents.  Every person has obligations to someone, whether it be to a parent, a spouse, a child, a boss, or another established relationship in your life.  Before you make any choices, you need to think about how your options will affect those commitments, if at all.  Most of the time, we find that we have been using our responsibilities as an excuse to get out of making difficult decisions.  “I know I need to eat healthier, but my family won’t eat the healthy food I make” or “I know I need to work out but my boss demands so much of my time time” or “I want to stop drinking so much but my friends go out all the time”.  The only conclusion that can be drawn from this is that you actually don’t want it that bad.

If you really, truly want something, there will be nothing that stands in your way.  I have a friend whose boyfriend drove an hour and a half, in traffic, every weekend in the beginning of the relationship because he valued her.  He actively CHOSE her, against all inconveniences and drawbacks, because he knew what he wanted.  I have another friend who uses his lunch break to work out so he can focus on other personal goals before and after work.  He actively CHOOSES to sacrifice sleep and social time because his aspirations are important to him.  I get up at 5am every weekday so that I can complete my cardio workout regardless of what might come up after work.  I actively CHOOSE to forfeit lazy mornings because I want to maintain my health.

Figure out what you wantMake that knowledge so ingrained in your mind that no one can make your focus waiver.  Then, make choices based on that solid foundation of desire.

What are your options? 

When people make a passive choice (something that they chose by their thoughtless actions rather than actively pursuing it with their mind) they are allowing themselves to believe that they don’t have any other option.  Passive choices come from not acknowledging that there are, in fact, two or more options, but instead simply falling into the easiest pattern of behavior.  “Ah, its after dinner, time to sit and watch TV” or “It’s Taco Tuesday-margaritas again!”  Stop.  Think. What are your actual options?  Which ones are going to lead you closer to where you want to be?

There are always alternatives.  Absolutely hate your current job?  Get a new one.  Sick and tired of constantly buying a bigger pants size?  Change your lifestyle.  Completely annoyed with your roommate?  Find a different living situation.  For every passive decision you have made, there were 2 or 3 other choices that may have led you down a better path.

“But wait”-you’re thinking-“It’s not that easy!”  Of course it’s not easy.  If it was easy, you would have already done it.  We are more than water falling down a hill-we should not always take the path of least resistance.  Honestly look at all of your options, and choose the one that leads you closer to where you want to be, whether it is one big decision or many small cumulative choices.

What aspects about that choice are going to be tough for you?

If you already have a set pattern of behavior, making a choice that directly conflicts with your established system will be difficult.  But what’s even more difficult is looking back ten years down the road and realizing that your life could have been so much different (i.e. better).  Yet you are also not doing yourself any favors if you blithely make a decision and skip off towards your goal without actually considering where you may stumble.

Take measures to be successful.  I know that if I come home from work absolutely starving, it’s going to be extremely hard to wait for my healthy meal to cook without devouring everything in the kitchen beforehand.  Therefore, I cook everything a day in advance so that I don’t have to wait and tempt myself.  If you know that you cannot say no to cookies in the break room, don’t go into the break room.  If you know that being alone with a certain person may cause you to be unfaithful to the man or women in your life, don’t be alone with that person.  If you know that you won’t go to the gym if you stop home beforehand, don’t go home until your workout is complete.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can will yourself through any and all temptation that comes your way when you are first starting out.  Believe me, I’ve told myself that “I got this” for many a social gathering, and then the next day I wonder how the hell I let myself get so out of control.  By anticipating your weak moments in advance, you can make sure you have barriers in place that prevent total collapse.

What do you have to sacrifice?

For some choices that we decide to make, there will be nothing to sacrifice.  However, for most life-changing or hard decisions, there will usually be something that has to be given up.  If you want to lose weight/get in shape, you have to give up unhealthy foods and sitting on your butt all day.  If you want to start a business, you have to give up time spent on happy hours and Sunday Football.  If you want to initiate a new relationship, you have to sacrifice one night stands and going out on weekends prowling for the opposite sex.

However, most of the time our ‘sacrifice’ is not really a loss.  Once you start eating good food, you feel amazing and can’t believe you ever ate crap to begin with.  Once your business gets off the ground, you realize that most of the hours you ‘gave up’ would have actually just been wasted existing rather than growing.  Once your relationship is established, you appreciate the steady love of someone who supports and complements you more than the momentary excitement of a new conquest.

If you truly want what you are choosing, the things you are giving up will not feel like losses.  And when all is said and done, you may realize that your sacrifice actually ended up being a blessing in disguise.


In the end, our most defining feature will be our choices.  Don’t let fear, other people, or routine make your decisions for you.  Don’t make half-choices where you waffle back and forth between two or three different things because you don’t have the cajones to take a stand.  Decide who you want to be and focus your selections based on that conception.  Once you start narrowing your vision and making strides towards your optimal life, you will find whole other planes of existence opening up to you.

You control your future.  You control your present.  You control you.  If you really sit down to think about that, its a terrifying reality yet an amazing opportunity.  Decide what choices will get you to where you want be and Just DO IT!