Monday, 28 December 2015

How to be happy

What is happy? What makes you happy? What are the things you chase in an effort to be happy? How high on your list of priorities is being happy? And, ARE you happy?

I'm noticing lots of blog posts about wrapping up 2015 and looking ahead to 2016. A lot of them focus on looking ahead and making sure 2016 is better than 2015. A lot of them talk about being happy, striving to be more happy. 

So, I started thinking about happy too. 

The things that make me happy are pretty simple really. A nice meal with someone I care about. Cooling rain after a stinking hot day. A call from one of my children. Finding a book I've been searching for for months (that was yesterday afternoon!). Having things to look forward to - my goddaughter will be here in January and emailed me asking to meet up for lunch. That's not a definitive list, it's just what popped into my head as I typed. If I try to make it longer, my head will empty out and I'll have nothing to type because it won't DO lists! The really important thing about that list is how random it is, and how 'small' each thing actually is, how fleeting. Also, apart from the book, how there's not much to do with actual 'things'. 

The flip side of this is the number of support groups I belong to for chronic illnesses, and the number of people I know who are really sick. Being happy is a topic that comes up in many different guises, mostly in the framework of NOT being happy, due to pain, many losses, issues with doctors/drugs/family/friends, any number of other things. Alongside that are my own sadnesses - illness, the loss of my beloved friend from ovarian cancer, news from No.1 that his youngest half brother is battling Hodgkins Lymphoma for the second time at 15, endless delays with Dragon Dad's business that see us still in Sydney a year after he said we need to be in Melbourne, and so on... And yet, despite my illness, I have achieved a number of important (for me) milestones and goals, I was able to spend time with Lizzie before she died that was very special and that will always be a lovely memory, No.1's reports of his brother's progress are peppered with his awe about how the boy is managing that for himself that has been a huge lesson for No.1 about real priorities, and the extra year here has enabled - among other things - me to have priceless time with a cousin that I'd not have had. 

For me, happiness is not just a feeling. It's a 'doing'. Happiness isn't something that just happens, it's something we make. All year, I've watched the gratitude thing happening on Facebook - people posting a number of things for which they're grateful daily for a week and tagging friends to challenge them to do likewise. I resisted picking up those challenges, because I usually resist being part of the herd, but I watched with interest. The big flurry of gratitude posts has faded away, but there are a few individuals who clearly decided that it was a good habit to make and continue posting daily. Clearly, they've found that habit, in itself, created a different attitude with which to approach life. 

The reality is, if someone is determined to be miserable, there's not much anyone else can do to help them. We've probably all had that experience of trying to cheer up a friend who's having an awful time over something. And, being miserable isn't bad. It's absolutely natural in the face of sad or nasty things happening, and needs to be acknowledged as valid. However, I question a determined effort to NOT try to move out of it - particularly if that comes with building complaints about how no one understands, and how increasingly lonely the person is getting. That old saying, 'Laugh and the world laughs with you. Cry and you cry alone.' comes to mind here... It's very difficult to be with someone who is always unhappy, always complaining, always asking for support and help, but refuses to make any effort of their own to change their situation. 
Dragon Dad does this stuff. He smiles at everyone he encounters, and mostly, people smile back. He chats with the checkout staff at supermarkets and asks how their day is going, and usually, by the time our groceries are all bagged and we're paying, we get sent off with a 'Have a nice day!' that's NOT like the routine script they get trained to deliver to customers. He managed to get himself moved to an earlier flight home one time by being friendly and nice to the airline staff - the guy before him had been aggro and demanding and didn't get the flight... Basically, Dragon Dad approaches life positively, and a lot of positive stuff comes right back to him. Consequently, while there are inevitable challenges he has to face, he's a pretty happy guy most of the time. He's made a habit of doing that, and it's paying off.

When friends ask me how I am, and what's happening with treatment, and so on, I find that they are often more unhappy on my behalf than I am myself these days. Don't get me wrong - I'm NOT happy to be sick. No one in their right mind would be! BUT, I'm alive and breathing, and there are many other things in my life to think about apart from being sick, so I make the choice, as much as possible, to do that rather than dwell on the illness and what that means for me every day. There's a blogger I've been following who has terminal bowel cancer, and has four little girls - the eldest has just finished primary school. While there are definitely posts she writes about her darker times, her blog is mostly a shining story of someone who is fiercely living each and every moment she has, and focusing completely on that. As things stand, she's just passed the time span she was originally given to live - and with fabulous humour, posts photos of herself as the 'undead' that are so triumphant I have to smile when I see them. There's a lesson there - a BIG one. My disease is highly unlikely to kill me. Hers is ultimately unlikely to let her live - but is that what she focuses on? Hell no! Her energy goes into every moment she can have with her husband and little girls, and she celebrates that, and there are, as a consequence, oodles of dizzyingly happy posts to read on her blog! 

Every single thing we encounter in life can make us happy or unhappy - it's a matter of how we respond. How we choose to respond. We can let ourselves get beaten around by circumstances that are less than ideal, wallow in the misery of being neglected or hurt by people we thought were our friends, bemoan our lot constantly - and we will be very unhappy most of the time. Alternatively, we can choose to tackle life quite differently and look at the other side. The frustrations of delays that have held up Dragon Dad's business and our move have been very real. The lost time can never be regained, and that sucks. On the other hand, he's had much more down time for us to spend together and for him to get stuck back into his cycling (and now he's decided to compete in the World Masters Games in 2017...oy!!). We've had more time to spend with family and build relationships there. We were able to get our second kitten from the same breeder as the first one. We've also been able to do the sorts of things that one never does in the place where we live - and make sure that we create some excellent memories to take with us. I got to meet a friend I had met on line in person, because our cities are just close enough for that to happen if we plan well. At times it's all been very frustrating, but on the whole, it hasn't been a terrible year. 

I'm going to finish with another meme that someone posted in one of the support groups I belong to - I think it's a great idea, especially if the notion of making your own happiness is a foreign concept. Is it a little bit twee and geeky? Maybe. But, I figure, if it makes a difference to how any of us feel and helps build a different attitude to living, then that doesn't matter at all. 
The good things don't have to be spectacular - while we'd like to win the $50M in Powerball, the odds against that happening are enormous, so it seems to me to be a bit of a waste of energy to focus on that particular hope! However, if you manage to time your next grocery shop (as I managed to the other week) so that you get one of those times that nearly all the things you usually buy are on special, well, that's something to be really quite tickled about I think! And if you manage to achieve something that you didn't think you could, even if it was a struggle to get there - well, go you!! Add that in too and the hell with the struggle - you did it, and that's what really matters. You made it happen. And I really believe you can make happiness being a normal thing in your life happen too, if you really set your mind to it.

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