I saw an old friend from high school today in the coffee shop on my corner. We talked for a few minutes, and right before she left, she asked me if I was happy. “You look happy,” she said. “You look happier than the last time I talked to you.” Which had been nearly a year ago. But am I happy? I don’t know if I know how to answer that question. Specifically, she asked me if I was happier now than I was when I was living in Huntingdon all the time. And to tell you all the truth, I don’t know.
So much has happened to me in the past year or so. So much has changed. And changed again. And changed again. But has it made me happier?
I do know one thing; it’s made me different. I deal with a lot of stuff at school. I have a lot of struggles. And the ups and downs of this past year have caused some old struggles to come back up. But there are some things that I’ve learned that keep me from going completely crazy.
I need to write to keep sane. This seems pretty obvious, but it’s something that anyone can apply to themselves. When you do what you’re passionate about, you help maintain a balance of happiness. And as a creative outlet, writing is good for your brain (you can read the brain science about it yourself). And since the end of January, I have done a lot of writing.
Sociability– it works! Spending time with people, especially people that you like and who like you, is also good for your brain science. People are social, and even extremely introverted people need human interaction in order to maintain a healthy level of serotonin in their brains. But it’s important to be spending the right amount of time with people (and to be spending time with the right people!). Exclusively devoting yourself to a single other human being is dangerous. You don’t just need one other person; you need several other people in moderation. Along a similar vein, your relationships should be balanced and edifying to both parties, so if you’re only ever giving to someone, you ought to consider temporarily cutting that tie. On the same note, if you know that you take more than your fair share, you need to learn how to give to others. In the emotional sense. This past year, I have had some beautiful and some toxic (and some beautifully toxic) relationships, but I have been working on letting go of unhealthy connections. And let me tell you, releasing the bitterness and stress of those relationships increases your general level of happiness.
Emotions are real and valid, but also deceptive. When you feel something, that needs to be acknowledged. Learning to acknowledge what you are feeling and how you are feeling it is important, because if you don’t understand your own emotions, then you won’t be able to understand how you work at all, not to mention how anybody else works. Emotions have been negated and marginalized as the opposite of rationality for well over 2000 years, but it’s time to reclaim a healthy understanding of them. And let me start by saying that emotions are rational. That’s right, you heard me. Emotions are rational. If someone wounds you deeply and you feel hurt for a long time, it is rational to feel hurt. And not only are your emotions rational, they are logical and valid. When people try to negate how you feel, they disrespect you as a human being. How you feel affects everything else about you, even your physiology. Stress, for example, is an emotional reaction that manifests itself in loss of sleep and acne etc. So we need to take emotions seriously.
But at the same time, we need to realize that some emotions, as valid as they are, lie. If you feel ugly, then you feel that way. And we, as observers, need to respect that. However, if you feel ugly and you’re not ugly, then that emotion is lying to you in order to keep you down. I consider these feelings superego put downs. And superego put downs are difficult to get past. They’re constructed by media and society and all that stuff that Dorothy Sayers criticizes in Murder Must Advertise. When you feel bad about yourself, you feel bad about yourself, but we need to learn to identify those emotions as deceptive. Don’t trick yourself! When you learn how to recognize the lies you tell yourself, you can weed them out. Which, in turn, leads to higher self esteem and increased happiness.
There is a reason that Patience is listed as a fruit of the Spirit in the Bible. It’s hard. It takes a long, long time to learn. You have to be patient to become patient. But the more patience you have, the easier it is to handle the stresses and struggles of life (and the people, too). Some things have happened in my life that have made no sense in the moment, but perhaps they happened to teach me a thing or two about patience. Patience, the quiet diligence of waiting that so very few people manage to have, is a form of love. And the more you are able to master patience, the closer you come to understanding love. And of course, the more love in your life, the happier you are. Patience is a rare breed of love, and I don’t think most people would consider it as such, but it is.
These are lessons that I’ve been learning this past year. And I think that when you stop to consider and apply them, they do lead to more happiness. So am I happier than I was a year or two ago? Despite all of the pains and difficulties of this past year, I think so.
What have you discovered about lasting happiness in your life?