Unexpected Cherries

I know someone who has been unhappy for quite some time. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it. She never even tried. She just assumed that this was the natural state of things; the cards she had been dealt, as it were.

And then she sold her house and moved elsewhere. And now she’s completely different. Rather than being isolated, she interacts with people. She also gets to see the most amazing things from her balcony. Parades. Fireworks. Choirs.

You might say she’s gotten her groove back. And it’s beautiful to see. She’s excited about life again. All’s right with the world.

The funny thing is, she didn’t make this move in an effort to find happiness per se. That result was just the unexpected cherry on top of the sundae. Isn’t that great?

I love it when things fall into place. I love it even more when that outcome is unplanned. May you have many unexpected cherries in your life, dear reader.

Cherry

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The Winnowing

Well, here’s something that took me by complete surprise: Getting married teaches you who your friends really are. I’m not talking about the people who could or couldn’t attend my wedding. There are quite a few legitimate reasons for people to make that choice. Distance, expense, health, timing… I’m okay with that.

I’m also not referring to the people who might have disagreed with my decision. That’s fine, too. Everyone has a right to his or her own opinion.

I’m talking about those who could not or would not emotionally support my decision, and my happiness, whether they agreed with it or not. I’m also calling out those who were offended by how a fundamental shift in my life goals and priorities had impacted them, as if they had staked claim to the center of my orbit and I had no right to deviate, ever. I’m talking about those who made a concerted effort to rain on my parade, as if they were the grand master thereof.

I admit it. Barb isn’t going to come out and play quite as often. At least, not with them. The center of my world is now the person I am sharing my life and my future with. But that doesn’t mean I’m not an awesome friend to have.

Personally, I can’t imagine saying to someone, or even thinking, “Now that you’re getting married, we can’t be friends because we no longer hang out twice a month.” How absurd. I’d like to think that my friends are grown-a$$ adults who can survive with a little less of me, and yet remain secure in my unwavering esteem.

I fully expect to have friendships outside of my marriage, as I expect my husband will. We are a team, but we’re also individuals. We’re not fused at the os coxae (look it up).

But for that to happen, it will require people to be just a little bit flexible. It will oblige people to make a tiny bit more effort, just as it will necessitate more effort on my part, because the logistics will be more complex. It will also demonstrate that the friends who stick around think I’m worth it.

So, as painful as certain realizations have been of late, I choose to look at this as a winnowing process. The wheat is being separated from the chaff. And what lovely wheat it is, too!

I am very, very lucky to have the amazing friends that I have, old and new. I am grateful for them every single day. Those who don’t have the staying power were apparently never true friends in the first place.

And to that, all I can say is… Namaste.

winnowing

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Don’t Give Away Your Keys

Oh, this was going to be good! I was going to surprise someone. She was going to be happy. She was going to be ecstatic and excited. That, in turn, was going to make me happy.

Only, that’s not how it went down. My big surprise was met with awkward silence. Things were not going as I planned. Not at all. And instead of being happy, I cried myself to sleep. Two nights in a row. But not three. No, not three. And never again.

The mistake I made was assuming I could accurately predict the behavior, priorities, and thought processes of another human being. I had imagined myself in that person’s place, and I assumed that she would react in the exact same way that I would. I was genuinely shocked and hurt when she did not.

It actually has me reevaluating my entire world view. What can I count on? Whom can I rely on? How much of my conclusions are drawn on pure assumption, therefore rendering them invalid?

It is going to take me a long time to digest all of this. It will be uncomfortable, learning to lower my expectations. But I know, on some level, I had been giving away the keys to my happiness to someone else. How absolutely silly of me to build my joy on such unpredictable foundations! Everyone has different priorities and different criteria for their behavior. And guess what? That is each person’s right.

Here are the only things I know for sure: I can rely on myself. I can count on my own behavior. That’s my bedrock.

From now on, the only one who gets to hold the key to my happiness is me. No one can “make” me happy. My happiness lies within me. I can certainly share it, and I delight in doing so, but I can’t leech it off of someone else as if I’m some sort of happiness vampire.

Bottom line: It’s my key. You don’t get to have it. Go get your own.

Key

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The Ingredients of Happiness

It always comes as quite a shock when someone famous commits suicide. Hearing on the radio that Anthony Bourdain chose to take his own life nearly caused me to swerve off the road. This is someone I’ve envied. He got to travel. He had crazy experiences and met fascinating people. He won countless awards. No doubt he also made a boatload of money.

This was someone who was successful, rich, and had an exciting life. Three things many of us strive for, and yet, now he’s gone. On the surface, you’d think that his was a life worth living. But to make this permanent choice, he must have been in a great deal of emotional pain. He must have been suffering. Surrounded by all of us, who admired him, he must have been all alone. Of course, this is pure speculation on my part. I doubt any of us will ever know the full story.

The only thing I can know for sure is that I am happier than Anthony Bourdain was. I would never have guessed this a week ago. But there’s incontrovertible evidence of this now. I’m still here.

So, what constitutes happiness? One thing is for sure: it isn’t money. I know that’s a cliché, but clichés become clichés for a reason.

I know someone who is a millionaire, but he’s also a divorced, estranged father and a raging alcoholic. He’s one of the most miserable people I have ever met. Money does nothing to solve your problems when all is said and done. Most of us know this, and yet so many of us still seem obsessed with filthy lucre. It’s such a waste of time.

As far as I can tell, the two things you need to be happy are connections and purpose. Humans are social animals. They need community. The more you surround yourself with people you love who love you back, the happier you will be. And having a purpose, such as a job you love, or a goal to strive for, or even a hobby, makes life worthwhile. If you have none of those things, I encourage you to become a volunteer. Helping others is the noblest of purposes.

Don’t get me wrong. None of us can be happy all the time. People who are happy all the time are mentally ill. It’s how we cope with the rough patches that truly defines us. But there’s a lot that you can do to make your life satisfying overall.

If you are contemplating suicide or know someone who is, I strongly encourage you to seek help. Here in the US, a great resource is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Their number is 1-800-273-8255. Please, just do that one last thing before taking any steps that, once done, can never be undone. Surely you owe yourself that much.

Anthony Bourdain, I hope you have found the peace you apparently could not find in this life. I wish you had made a different choice.

Anthony Bourdain

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The Giving Gift

A dear friend of mine gave me the best Christmas gift ever this year. It was a card. A simple card. But inside, it said, “In the spirit of the season, a night of housing, hot meals, and hope at the Sulzbacher Center were given, in your honor, to a homeless man, woman or child.”

I love the Sulzbacher Center. It’s a shelter in Jacksonville, Florida, the city I once lived in. They do amazing work. So I got to imagine that for one night, at least, someone was safe and warm and not hungry. Someone could sleep without fear. That gift was really for them, but thinking about it made me feel really good, in the way that getting something to wear or to be forced to dust for the rest of my life would not have. My dear friend knows me well.

If I had children, I would make it a tradition each Christmas to give them a “giving gift”. But I’d take it even one step further. I’d let them choose what charity to give to. I’d make a card that said something like, “You now get to spend x amount of dollars on a charity of your choice.” I’d help them research charities, if they liked. Or they could pick a problem, and then choose a charity that’s trying to help solve that problem, such as homelessness or abused animals or disease in third world countries, or natural disaster recovery.

The giving gift would be an annual lesson in compassion for others and problem solving, and it would demonstrate that happiness doesn’t come from getting stuff, it comes from doing good. There’s no better gift than that. And it doesn’t have to be restricted to just one holiday. It’s great for birthdays or Valentine’s day or any other gift giving occasion.

Feel free to start using this idea. It’s my gift to you. And to help get you started, here are links to two of my favorite organizations, Heifer International and Kiva.org.

Happy Holidays, dear readers! And thank you for making this blog such a delight for me! You are truly a gift.

gift

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Oh, Happy Day!

One of my favorite sayings is that a fish doesn’t realize it’s in water until it jumps out of it. I can totally relate to that. I just jumped out of something myself. Epic revelation!

I just got some really, really, really good news, which unfortunately I can’t share with you, dear readers. Just think about the best news you’ve ever heard in your life, and it’s on that level. The news is so good, in fact, that I’m feeling a little nauseous from sheer relief.

And therein lies the situation I just jumped from. Yes, I knew I had been under an incredible amount of stress. Yes, I knew it was making me miserable. But having the problem whisked out from under me like a tablecloth yanked out from under my mother’s best china, with nary a break, is, well, life-changing. There’s adrenaline involved, for sure. I don’t think I realized just how much the situation was impacting me on the most fundamental of levels.

I. Am. Free!!!!!!!!!

That’s an odd feeling. Because up to this moment I didn’t realize I hadn’t been free. I didn’t truly get how shackled I was to my stress and anxiety.

I feel like jumping in puddles! I feel like kissing someone! I feel like a new person. What a gift!

It’s moments like this that make life truly worthwhile. I hope that you get to have a similar experience at least once in your life. And when you do, I hope you recognize it for what it is: a leap out of your personal pond. Revel in it!

Joy

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Twisting the Knife

The strange thing about grieving is that it’s often at its most acute during times of pure joy. That seems kind of counterintuitive, but nevertheless it’s true. I frequently find that when I’m experiencing a moment of triumph or ultimate happiness, I’ll think, “God, I wish Chuck were here. He would love this.” And then it all comes crashing in.

For instance, twice in the past few months I’ve had a wonderful time with friends whom I know he’d have loved if only he had had the chance to meet them. Both evenings were rounded out with dancing. And then, as is often the case, everyone paired off for slow dancing. Everyone except me, of course, because my dance partner is no longer with us. Both times I wound up crying. Note to self: Avoid slow dances until such time as you have found someone to dance with.

And then sometimes I twist the emotional knife of my own volition. I have no idea why. Perhaps I’ll bury my nose in one of his t-shirts and breathe deeply. It brings him back for a precious second. But it also brings back the realization that he isn’t truly back at all, and never will be again.

Why do I do this to myself? I don’t know. But just try to take Chuck’s t-shirts from me. You’ll pull back a bloody stump.

Grief is a process.

Grief