I’ve recently come face-to-face with a strange conundrum: I, optimistic little happy-go-lucky Layla, am afraid of being truly happy. How can this be possible, when I see the metaphorical glass as half full? When I always want to give someone the benefit of the doubt? When I am thrilled to make someone laugh? I’m generally a happy person who isn’t bothered by a lot, and I can honestly say that I have never once contemplated suicide.
And yet, I am apparently afraid of real happiness. Maybe this is because I believe in the saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it is.” I heard that phrase growing up, and I later repeated it to myself many times in my journalism career. If everyone understood that concept, we wouldn’t have fraud victims (“Give you $50,000 against my mortgage and I’ll double my money? OK!”) or embezzlers (“If I write this company check out to my husband’s business, nobody will notice!”) — believe it or not, I covered criminal cases involving those exact scenarios. It extends to property crimes (“Hey, if I steal this car, nobody will ever know!”) and violent crimes (“If I kill my husband and bury his body, nobody will suspect me!”) — yep, those are real-life examples, too.
But when does that concept end and true happiness begin? When does reality trump self-esteem issues? I have this not-so-subconscious belief that people will always let me down, because we’re all humans who make mistakes. However, I’m a human who constantly makes mistakes, yet I genuinely love making people happy and feel terrible when those close to me are unhappy. I guess it’s only fair that I let others make me happy. Sure, they make mistakes but, like me, most of them mean well.
“Happiness is scary because it means that we might fall—and it’s true we might—but if we live life waiting to fall down, we’re always falling.”
That line comes from this site that, while it has too much yogi-type stuff for me, still resonated. Author Jennifer S. White also had this to say:
“Are we afraid of happiness? Why do we think happiness is something fleeting, temporary and delusional? Is it because we don’t want to be happy or because we don’t know what to do once we are?
It seems that much of our life is spent trying to “fix.” We try to fix others; we try to fix ourselves; we try to fix everything and anything in order to feel safe and secure in the real delusion that we can control our situations in ways that are actually very much out of our realm of control.
Does happiness actually bother us because it can’t be controlled?”
I think that’s one key: allowing myself to just BE, rather than trying to control. I really wrestle with the knowledge that I don’t know where my life is going to end up, but you know what? I’ve made it this far. For 30-something years, I’ve managed to do OK. Sure, I have much unfinished business, but it would be weird if I didn’t have far-off dreams and un-met goals. I can’t always control them, just like I can’t always control my own happiness.
So, for those who have realized that we fear happiness, what next? I think recognizing and acknowledging happiness is the first step. The next step is to accept that it’s there, and that you deserve it. That’s been my stumbling block: I’m “Little Miss Tuffy McTufferson” who doesn’t need to rely on anybody — so there! (Yes, you may picture me stamping my foot, wrinkling my forehead and crossing my arms.) And, once you realize you deserve it, the next step is to embrace it.
“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” –Aristotle
In researching this post, I typed “happiness” into the search box on my own blog. Three years ago I came across a study in which researchers concluded that when people fake a smile, their mood worsens. I was quite surprised (still am, in fact), and I blogged about how maybe that had been proven in my own life: “I was faking the smiles and thinking everything would be fine. The truth is, I was dying inside.”
Six months ago, I wrote: “If everything around you is chaotic and miserable and out of your control, sometimes all you can do is find a sliver of happiness and hold onto it for as long as you can.” That may initially sound sad or pessimistic — sad, perhaps, but I don’t think it’s pessimistic. If you recognize happiness and realize that you should hang onto it, you’re going in the right direction.
Between the post three years ago, the post six months ago, and today’s post, maybe I’ve actually been making progress all along without realizing it? Four years ago, if someone had given me a dose of seemingly absurd happiness, I know I would have run away from it: I would have said it was too good to be true. At least six months ago, I clearly realized that happiness should be held onto.
And then there’s the fine line between learning from the past so you don’t repeat the same mistakes, and living in the past. This article/post about “10 risks happy people take every day” lists that as the last one: “Don’t waste your time trying to live in another time and place. … You must accept the end of something in order to begin to build something new.”
So, where am I going with all of this rambling? It comes down to this mantra that worked its way into my head nearly five years ago: “Life is short; live it.” I’ve spent the past five years trying to do that, but it’s been slow going. Heck, once I adopted that mantra, it took me months to even realize it, and many more months to act on it. But I DID eventually act, and that’s a good sign. So, here’s to embracing both life and happiness. Here’s to realizing that I should settle for nothing less than happiness. Here’s to accepting that life is too short to not be happy.
“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; But often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us.” –Helen Keller