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

 

What’s Important

I just gave my new dog Quagmire a stuffed squeaky toy, and for about a half hour, his life was complete. He ran around the house squeaking it at random, shaking it within an inch of its life and covering it with slobber. Then he ruthlessly ripped its little head off and coated the bed in stuffing. I don’t think he’s ever known such joy.

For a brief shining moment, nothing else mattered to Quagmire. I suspect I could have waved a rare steak under his nose and he wouldn’t have noticed. He was in the zone. Pure bliss.

If someone were to give me a stuffy, I wouldn’t reach such heights of ecstasy. But there are other things that do it for me. (That steak wouldn’t hurt.)

It’s kind of fascinating that each one of us has a different source of joy. It’s also probably the only reason our society can maintain itself. If there were only one thing that made all of us happy, we’d soon be fighting over that thing, and none of us would be able to enjoy it.

So seek out your equivalent of a stuffy, and shake it silly! And don’t let anyone make you feel silly for doing so! Do your thing.

The fact that we’re each unique is the best possible thing that could have happened to us. It sort of makes you wonder why we are so hellbent on discriminating against others for their differences. Thank God for the differences, I say! That way I can have my stuffy all to myself!

IMG_1425
Welcome to Quagmire heaven!

 

Drop Dead? Really?

We all come with baggage if we’ve actually made an effort to live our lives. Mine includes staying in a 16 year relationship that made me, for the most part, really unhappy. Don’t get me wrong. He was a really good guy. And we did have our good times. That’s why I stayed so long. That and I couldn’t justify, in my mind, hurting someone who hadn’t done anything wrong. When he finally did do something wrong it was a doozie, and that’s why I left.

In hindsight, I suppose it would have been kinder to be cruel at the outset and nip it in the bud so that we both could have moved on, but I didn’t know how to do that. I do have some regrets about that. I was always the stronger one, and by not breaking things off at the start I did us both a huge disservice. We could have been great friends, I think.

But deep down, I didn’t want to be considered the bad guy. I never cheated on him, I even financially supported him for many years, and I helped him start a career. His uncanny ability to be the victim made me loathe to be the perpetrator, but I didn’t understand the unwritten rule: the one who does the breaking up is ALWAYS going to be considered the bad guy, even if it is totally justified.

Friends have told me he seems to have landed on his feet. He’s married now, so I’m assuming he’s happy. At least I hope so. Genuinely.

In every other way his life doesn’t seem to have changed much, whereas mine has changed so much that it’s barely recognizable. That was one of our problems. My dreams were always a lot bigger than his. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Your dreams should fit you, and no one should force you to change their size. If you’re happy, that’s all that matters.

Given that he seems to have found love, you’d think he’d be glad I finally ended things. But this is a guy that is still bitter about things that happened to him in high school. He’s a grudge-holder. He doesn’t let things go. People always wonder why he can’t even smile in photographs. He wants the world to know how unhappy he is. He doesn’t move on. He lets things fester. That always made me very sad for him.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised to see what was on his facebook page the other day. He posted the song “Drop Dead” by Ghoti Hook, and said, “Makes me think of my ex…”

Seriously? You’re that angry over something you brought on yourself? When you’re supposed to be happily married? You hold onto a little cup of acid in your soul like that?

If anything, it makes me feel even more justified, because I wouldn’t wish death on anyone. Especially not someone I shared 16 years with. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to sleep next to someone with those sorts of sentiments about another human being.

The irony is that the reason I went to his Facebook page in the first place is that I wanted to give him some good news that affects him, too. It was something that I strongly suspect he’d have been happy to hear about. But instead, apparently, I should drop dead. Ah well.

The fact that no one “liked” that particular Facebook post of his, even his family members who never liked me in the first place, tells you all you need to know about how sad that sentiment is. I’m sure he assumed everyone would find it amusing. Not so much.

For my part, I don’t maintain any bitterness. Everything in my past brought me to where I am now, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I wish him well. But I also feel very sorry for him, when I take the time to think about it. If I could send him a song in response to his “Drop Dead”, it would be “Let It Go” from the movie Frozen. I truly hope that some day he is able to do so.

drop dead
[Image credit: knowyourmeme.com]

The Stupidity of Loneliness

One of the problems about writing a daily blog is that you’re always left with a vague sense that you’ve written all of this before. I could swear I wrote this blog entry within the past couple weeks, but I’ve searched and can’t find anything. So, if you’re a regular reader and are feeling a sense of déjà vu, my apologies. On the other hand, maybe I just thought about writing it and then never got around to it.

I had an epiphany the other day. Loneliness really makes no sense at all. It’s the mistaken assumption that someone out there, whom you’ve yet to even meet, holds the key to your happiness. How absurd.

First of all, from a mathematical standpoint that would also mean that I hold the key to some stranger’s happiness, and I’m keyless and clueless. So that formula is easily disproven. (And I don’t even like math.)

Also, loneliness means you’re giving all your power away. I don’t like that concept at all. I’m not going to live in some emotional limbo, on the off chance that some random person is going to come along and care enough and be capable enough to fill my every emotional need.

Ever since I had this epiphany about two weeks ago, I haven’t felt lonely at all. It’s like a weight has lifted off my shoulders. I sort of feel as though I’m back in the driver’s seat of my life. What a liberating feeling.

Not that I plan to go live in a cave in the wilderness, mind you. I still want friends. I still want companionship. I still have itches that I very much would like to have scratched. But suddenly the urgency is no longer there. The sadness is gone. I appreciate my life for what it is, and look forward to what it can be, in whatever form that may take.

I hope this feeling lasts.

[Image credit: wallpaperscraft.com]
[Image credit: wallpaperscraft.com]