Tuesday, September 01, 2009

On How To Be Happy

Are you happy? I'm happy. I haven't always been able to say that. It's taken some time and some days it takes courage to say it out loud. But I am, I AM HAPPY.

Not everyone is happy. I am not always happy. I have had times when I wasn't happy for a long stretch of time. My natural curiosity works around the clock to discover how come I am happy now and I wasn't happy before? How can I stay happy? How can I share this secret of being happy with others?

Do you like yourself?:
Well isn't that just huge!? I've found that if I don't like myself, I am not happy. I've had to make peace with the past. If you don't like who you are today, the past is an easy place to look and blame. Looking backwards and hating who it made you. However if you like who you currently are, the past (as much as it may have sucked or rocked) is just the vehicle which brought you to where you are. Everything that has happened, has happened to bring you here, to the present. If you like yourself, then thank god those hardships happened because they made you who you are today and you like YOU!

I was talking to a friend yesterday about a trip I took to Peru 6 years ago. The shanty towns we saw outside of Lima where entire families were living in a three wall lean-to on an 12'x12' square of dirt. Row after row. Mile after mile. No running water, no roads, no fourth wall... We got home from that trip and I remember saying, "Well, my job may not be the best job, my car may not be new, I can't buy a suit at Gucci this week, but I've got indoor plumbing! INDOOR PLUMBING!"

I think I lived off that perspective for over a year.

A low water mark.
It's tempting to look at your life the day you drop the pickle jar and it explodes all over your kitchen and shout, "THIS IS THE WORST DAY OF MY LIFE!" I do. But it's not. I've had the worst day of my life a few different ways.

The day I got fired from my dream job.
I'd worked my entire adult career towards this dream job, it was all I ever wanted to do. I would rule the world from my dream job... until I got fired. I spent a year going out every other night (or more) drinking with friends and hanging out with porn stars and drag queens. I was numbing the pain and spent away my 401k on fabulous outfits and booze. I had a really good time. But then I got a new job. At my new job I worked a lot less and made a lot more money. I would never go back to that "dream job" I had before. Is it a cliche to say now that the day I got fired was the best day of my life?

The day I broke up with "the love of my life" (or so I thought at the time).
I stormed off, loaded up my car to move back home, gunned the engine and (I think this is the term) threw a rod. The car went putt, putt, sputter, sputter, DEAD. A week later I was home at my parents with no job, no income, no boyfriend. A month later I was in London working for the summer. It was one of the most formative experiences of my entire life. Twenty years later, I'm working on being friends with that ex. It's much easier now when I look at how much he actually gave me.

The day I spent at the hospital.
It's uh, kind of personal. So I'm going to gloss over it. Watching someone you love in pain and wondering what comes next. Worried if they will pull through. I call it the worst day of my life because it was. No matter how bad a situation is, I know what I am made of. I know my strengths. I know what I would do because I've had to consider it. I know who my friends are because they were there. I know my very core.

I also know I can buy a new jar of pickles and that the housekeeper will get that sticky spot behind the fridge. There is BIG stuff and there is small stuff.

As a child, my parents would have us make a Christmas Wish List. I would sit down with the Montgomery Wards Toy catalog and just list pages, "Anything off of page 62, all of page 38, 2 of everything from page 40..." and then I would sit back and dream of the large truck required to deliver it all. Christmas morning, there it would be, only 20 gifts. Some of them pencils. I didn't list pencils! Where is my page 38? Where is my double page 40?! And then I would storm off to my room slam the door, open the door to throw all my gifts into the hallway, then slam the door again! "Christmas sucks! I HATE ALL OF YOU!!!"
It would be a lot funnier if it hadn't really happened... every year.

Turns out, I had some unrealistic expectations. My mother had to sit me down and explain there was a budget, priorities needed to be made and I needed to know that I was always only going to get 20 gifts and there were always going to be things I didn't expect. I learned that surprises and the unknown are not my friend. I have a grand and vivid imagination and not much in life can meet up to what I could dream. I need to distinguish dreams from goals.

Goals are good. They give you something to aim for, a reason to get up in the morning. But what if you've set your sights so far beyond what could happen?

I no longer tell myself I am a failure because I am not a household name (oh sure, I am at YOUR house). I believe that my purpose is to affect change wherever I am. If it is to be on a smaller scale in this world, so be it. I am still doing what I am supposed to do. I'm learning to accept what happens and feel that being a good person, being kind, loving the people around me are the better way to measure success than fame or money.

Everyone has a crap day:
I've had crap years. It's important to distinguish the difference. I used to want to be happy all the time. (I used to need to be happy all the time). Do you have any idea how exhausting that is?

A plane can't fly forever. Sooner or later you need to come down and refuel. The trick is to get to the ground before you run out of gas or you will crash into the ground and be buried. I like my life to be like a good plane ride, easy lift off to a great height, turbulence accepted as part of deal, then a nice gentle landing where my plane gets refueled for the next great time. Maintenance and groundings come with the territory.

Now when I'm having bad day I honestly say to myself, "It's just one day. You are entitled to a bad day." Then I cancel my plans, dish up the ice cream and do whatever I want. It's just one day.

No one is perfect:
I'm not and I'm certain Lyle would pleased to tell you in what ways. My goal isn't to be perfect. My goal is to be ME. I have a ton of little tricks I play on myself to keep track of where I am in this world and how I'm feeling. This one is my favorite, as my good friend Sheryl Crow sings in one of her songs, "It's not getting what you want, its wanting what you've got."


Julie said...

That was the most thought provoking, uplifting blog I have read in a long time. It made me think back on my bad times and realize that is what makes me today. I am proud of who I am and coming to realize that those things I can't change - to hell with it. We are richer than most in terms of family, friends, and yes, indoor plumbing. Some days we just need to sit back and reflect on that realize how lucky we all are.

Margaret said...

A hearty AMEN to everything you just wrote!

My trip to Calcutta gave me that perspective you talked about. It was a challenge to come away from that experience and start to plan a wedding. Somehow, dresses and flowers didn't seem quite as important after watching small children living in the street and using the gutters as their bathrooms.

I hope to give that same kind of experience to my girls (when they're a bit older), so they realize that life in America isn't what people in other countries live, that we are blessed beyond belief even if don't get a brand-spankin-new Wii for our 8th birthday, and that knowing joy and having the love of family and friends is what keeps us going, striving to be the best "me" each of us can be.

jason said...

wonderful post! Beautiful and true.

Sherri said...

You should know that I owe you a hug. Maybe two hugs. And some chocolate. If we ever get into the same 10 square feet at the same time, I will pay up happily, although I might have to go get the chocolate.

Just sayin'. You, Mr. Stranger-not-so-stranger, are important to me.

"Just David!" said...

That's fabulous, you'll never know how much that trip to LA and meeting you guys did for me! What a laugh riot! I came back a whole new person! MFL thinks you're pretty fab too!!

Christina said...

Just what I needed to read this morning.

Cheers to you & Lyle :)

Martin said...

What a great post. It's so easy to get lost in the shiny shit. Where did you work in London ?. Have a great one Jim.

Rachel said...

Muah! And I'm sharing this. Love you, Mister. And I remember you giving me this same talk back when I lived in San Francisco and we were having dinner at that place called Columbus (?). It was in North Beach and then moved to the Marina.

Anyway. Thanks for the reminder.

Carolyn said...

Well, I'm glad your uplifting post made all those other commenters feel better. It just made me feel worse because I can't put things in perspective like that. I just helped my very best friend, Laura, pack up her house so she and her stupid husband can move to stupid Miami and it is, in fact, one of the worst days of my life. She always promised that I could have a kidney if I needed it...well, what if I need it and she's in stupid MIAMI?? Who moves to Miami in their 40's???
Fuck Sheryl Crow. I want to get what I want, I don't want to want the shit I've got.

Cheryl said...

One of my favourite songs is "You Can't Always Get What You Want" by The Rolling Stones. It's true, but you get what you need, and wanting what you have builds character. I'm happy too. I like my life. I wouldn't have it any other way. Thanks for the thought provoking rhapsody.

ophelia said...

*sniff* loved this. add a few kittens and a puppy and it will send me over the edge. xoxoxo

Iheartfashion said...

What a great post! I find that travel always gives me a new perspective and is essential to my happiness.

ricola said...