Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Protect the Happy

Bunny brought to you by Free Digital Pictures
Going on a bit of a rant today, but it's something I think we all need to hear. Also, disclaimer: this is just my opinion. Your mileage may vary. 

Life is a funny, fickle mistress. I have a great life. I am relatively healthy. I have a great family and a wonderful husband. I have a job, and I am able to pay all my bills (on time no less!). I have my own office, and bookshelves full of books.

Life is good.

But I have realized that the state of your happiness is dependent upon your personal mind set. This feels counter intutive. It feels like once you achieve XYZ you will be happy for ever and ever. But this is not so. 

I distinctly remember figuring this little nugget out. I was sitting in my car, in the parking lot of my first ever "real" job, and talking to my best friend on the phone. We were discussing a mutual acquaintance. We couldn't figure it out. No matter what happened in this woman's life, she was never happy. Never satisfied. Always had a reason to complain.
This bunny knows happiness is just a hop away.
You've met people like that, I am sure. They especially like to hang out at gas stations in the lotto line, for some reason. Draining to be around, a black hole of energy. Energy vampires, not the sparkly kind either.
So while talking to my friend, we both came the realization that being happy isn't the fallout of a perceived event, even though things can make you happy. You graduate college, you're a happy camper. You get married, happy too (right??). But are you really going to wait around for a big milestone in your life to make you happy?
I hope not. I hope people can look at the good things they have in their life, and be overjoyed about it. There's always something to be happy about, and there's always something that can disturb this happiness. Some events are bigger than others, like I realized yesterday.

Like I said, life is good. I am cruising along, happy as a calm, and BAMN! Major stressor. Huge source of stress. I won't go into details because this is teh Internets (relax, I am not dying. Still healthy. It was a personal life related thing dealing with my family.)

So I did what I do best (not eat chocolate!) and started to worry. Man, I am good at worrying. I mean, Olympic Gold Medalist class worrier. In high school I almost gave myself an ulcer worrying about tests, conversations, big events. It was my default state of being, a near panic that made it hard to eat and sleep. 

I mostly have the worrying thing under control, once I realized that no matter how much I worried (or "planned" is what I called it, "If she says this, then I will say that." "If I flunk this test, I will sell myself to a goat shepherd in the Andes.") I still couldn't predict how I would respond to the event I was worrying about.

Worried that you're going to fail a test? That sucks, but once you fail the test, your emotional response lasts for a few seconds, and then you're on to damage control. 

Last night while trying to sleep, I reminded myself of all this nifty things that I learned. No matter how much I worried, I literally couldn't do anything to change the outcome. We just play the waiting game. Naturally this resulted in my vacillating between sleepy contentment and blind panic, but hey! One day at a time, right?

Because it comes to down this: protect your happiness. Seriously. Arm yourself to the teeth--to the gills if you have them, for my fishy followers--and you protect your happiness! There is always something to panic about. To worry about. To feel bad about. I am not saying that worry won't win the day sometimes, especially if the worry is major stuff like surgery and life threatening illness. I am not saying you're a bad person if you feel sad. Not the case!
Worry-wort Bunny worries.
I far from have this "Don't worry, be happy" stuff down pat, if last night was any indication. I just wanted to share my thoughts about this with you guys, because writing isn't exactly for the faint of heart. Querying can suck the life out of you, and then you get an agent (yay!) but then agent edits (boo! hiss!) and then you go on submission (yay!) and then editor edits (boo! hiss!). You might not sell the book, or it might get published but everyone hates it.

It's a veritable cornucopia of worry and stress that will turn you into a ball of anxiety. So you have to be proactive about your happiness. You have to go after happiness with a big stick and straight club it upside the head. Waiting for things to make you happy will make you miserable. Because that event last only so long, and then you're back to waiting again.
This bunny has wisely armed himself with some lettuce.
And who likes to wait? Why not be happy right now?! (I got so excited I used an exclamation point AND a question mark! The horror!)

Two things that help protect the happy:

1. Think about all the awesome stuff you have going. 
It's really hard to be upset and worrying when you're thinking about how awesome that book you're writing is. Or when you think about how much you love your spouse/parent/sister/brother/goldfish. You have to really be happy about your awesome stuff though. Not a mentally checking off, "Yeah yeah, health and family members, blah blah, yay for them." Focus on how much you love spouse/parent/sister/brother/goldfish and let that take over the worry.

If you are single and you don't love anyone, not even your pet bunny, and you're homeless, and sick with all sorts of diseases and have made your way to my blog about writing and life and the writing life anyway, welcome! You can be happy about your favorite soup kitchen, and maybe that other homeless guy that lets you borrow his tarp.

You don't love Mr. Floppy?
2. Think about how it could be worse. 
It could be worse. Much worse. We're writers, so we KNOW how things can be worse, since we regularly do awful stuff to our characters. I have a confession, and this is so stupid and silly, but whenever I get really upset, I think about how I am not in a hostage situation. It's true. I think about how even though I am worried about money, or health, or a person, it could be worse. I could be stuck in a gas station with a crazed gunman waving a gun around. It's silly, but it usually helps calm me down. "Okay, yeah. We're eating beans and rice for a week, but no one is robbing me at gunpoint! Thank goodness!"

So there. Some weapons to protect the happy with. I am sure today's post has revealed my not-really-a-secret that I am a optimist, but that's okay. I trust you guys.

Chime in if you have strategies to keep the worry away. What do YOU do to protect your happy? We could train each other in the Art of Happiness War, and become like...Happiness Ninjas. We could be called the Happiness Harpies. No, maybe Harpoons. Hmmm, the name needs work, but we could make an ARMY of happy happy people.

I for one, am off to work on my book which is going fabulously, by the way. It's time to torture some characters, because well...doo doo rolls downhill.

*the rest of the bunnies were brought to you by Wikicommons. Aren't they adorable? They could be like, mascots or something. Ninjas have mascots, right?



  1. This is a great post! Sometimes I make myself list five good things that happened each day.

  2. Aubrie: I like the each day part of that list! I shall add it to my arsenal.

  3. A friend of mine had breast cancer, at the ripe age of 37. She went aggressive, had a bilateral mastectomy (even though there was only cancer in one side) and is now going through chemo. She has been getting into Buddhist practices of mindfulness, acknowledging the discomforts non-judgmentally and so forth. I really am amazed by her fabulous attitude.

    My mom used to worry if there was nothing to worry about even, but I think she has mellowed. In fact, I think that is part of the maturation process (something that doesn't always seem to be associated with aging!) - to start to be able to put things in perspective.

    I always try to remind myself that the bad things don't last. And often I look at the good things in my life and get all warm and fuzzy. Because that's the way I roll.

    Besides, life has chocolate. ;-)

  4. Nice post :) Yes indeed I know people like the ones you described. I had to part ways with a friend last year because she was SO negative and always moaning about how everyone's life was better than hers.

    When I have a worry, I get past it by reminding myself that everything is transitive, and that the thing that's bothering me today will probably be forgotten in a week/month/year.

  5. Linda: See, that's exactly what I am talking about. Your friend is amazing to have dealt with breast cancer that way. Putting things in perspective always helps me because it reminds me that things can be worse, and thus, make my issue not matter as much.

    Rachel: Thanks! It's hard to let go of people who are negative like that, because at least I always feel like I should try to help them, but in the end only they can make themselves happy.

    That's a good reminder too, that even if this thing is horrible, it's not going to be like this forever.