Do you hurt?

Or do you feel as though you are in a never ending state of melancholy?

Or do you know that you’re simply getting by, rather than living in an abiding state of sincere happiness. . . real joy?

Maybe you suffer from depression or other mental ailments that make happiness difficult to achieve, let alone to sustain.

To each of you, I offer my most earnest namaste. You are not alone.

Sometimes, happiness is hard.

I’m going to be very transparent. October through January . . . hurt. It’s like somehow the days on the calendar are coded into my emotional DNA. . . October rolls around and my chest starts to pinch, a physical heaviness sets itself upon my shoulders and a dull ache arrives and parks itself at the nape of my neck. It doesn’t take much to make me cry once October arrives. It doesn’t take much to make me assume the sky is falling either. This bright and cheery time of year is hijacked by my grief (and/or the anticipation of it).

October 24: Baby Gavin was born.
December 29: Baby Gavin entered the hospital.
January 7: Baby Gavin died.
January 27: Baby Gavin’s namesake, my wonderful little brother Gavin’s birthday (Jan 27, 1986-June 17, 2007).

By February, slowly, but surely, the cloud begins to lift. But in it’s wake, I tend to find the pieces of my broken life, littered all around me. Being so incapacitated for 4 of the wildest months of the year isn’t really conducive to staying atop your throne, and climbing back up to reclaim your rightful place as ruler of your life can be as arduous and painful as the falling down.

And I’m done with that. Yes, sometimes happiness is hard, but I’m up for the challenge . . . how about you?

Join me as I test my Happier Today theory  in hopes of encouraging a brighter, happier, more abundantly joyous future for us all! 

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The Happier Today Objective:

I’m writing this week’s series with three primary objectives in mind:

1. I want to be happier.
2. I want you to be happier.
3. I think God wants you and I to be happier.

What is Happiness?

One of the most profound things I’ve learned about happiness over the years is that it’s an emotion, not a state of being. Happiness is a feeling that is inspired by outside stimuli—an emotional response to the world around us.

We can increase our happiness by the way we choose to respond emotionally to the events in our daily lives.

What is Joy?

Joy, on the other hand, is a state of being.  Joy is achieved from the inside out. It is more permanent.

So why, you may ask, is the project called “Happier Today” when joy is arguably the more sustainable and desirous of the two? Good question.

Here is the best (and most honest) answer I can provide: While joy, as a permanent state of being, may in fact be the greater good of the two ends in mind, I still want to experience a greater consistency of the emotion called happiness. I think you do, too. Also, I believe that the pursuit of happiness leads ultimately to a greater undercurrent of joy in our lives as well.

Producing Happiness:

It’s hard to be happy.

Or, perhaps I should say, sometimes it’s hard to produce happiness.

Being happy, after all, comes as a result of producing happiness, correct? If happiness truly is an emotion, and we are the governor of our own feelings (aka our response to the stimuli that surrounds us), then we are only as happy as we choose to be. . . and the choice in favor of happiness is made one day, no, one decision at a time.

Over the last few years, a huge part of my business has shifted into the world of Personal Development Consulting (I use this obscure term, because “Life Coach” makes me want to gag). This wasn’t an industry I sought out. This wasn’t a goal of mine, nor was it even on my radar, honestly. In fact, I don’t really believe that one person can effectively tell another how to live. Decisions about life, and shifts in the way that we live  our lives, ultimately have to come from the inside out in order to be sustainable (not to mention purpose driven and sincerely fulfilling). So, as inquiries for this kind of service started coming in, I initially turned them all away.

When the requests didn’t stop or even slow down, I did some soul searching and became aware of two things:

1. People are awesome.
2. People need connection and support.

Allow me to expound:

1. People are awesome, because they WANT to be remarkably happy! Other creatures seek fulfillment, safety, comfort . . . but human beings want to be happy! Not just happy-ish, but deeply and genuinely so. I knew this all along, but the constant influx of messages seeking guidance or help in achieving greater happiness (even from individuals who were genuinely happy already), was just astonishing to me. I was inspired and encouraged in a million ways.

2. People need connection and support. Growing up (high school into early adulthood, especially), I was fiercely independent. I was also generally unhappy. I was an absolute island unto myself. For some inexplicable reason, I wanted to be perceived as strong, and again, inexplicably, I thought that strength meant that I needed to stand alone. My “strength in independence” was sincerely my greatest weakness during this period of my life; it lead to far more isolation, anxiety and unhappiness than I could ever say.

As more and more people started reaching out to me, seeking support, I was reminded of this experience from my youth. “If I am happier and more successful when I’m sincerely engaged with others,” I reasoned, “perhaps I can help others find more success and happiness by sincerely engaging with them. . .”

So reluctantly, I took on one client, then another, then another. Now this very unique kind of consulting is one of the most fulfilling elements of my business and life.

The reason I share this with you is because over the years, as I’ve engaged in this kind of work, I’ve found an interesting trend. Toward the beginning of our time together, I almost always ask clients to tell me about a time when they remember being sincerely happy in their lives. Here’s the kicker—nearly without fail, their answers describe a time when they were engaged in important projects: maintaining good physical health, focusing on deeper levels of spirituality, developing a talent or skill, intentionally living with more gratitude and awe, investing wholeheartedly in an important relationship etc etc etc. I have never heard anyone describe their happiest time as being based on any kind of circumstance. In other words, I’ve never heard a report of this nature: “The last time I was sincerely happy, we were rich” or “The last time I was sincerely happy, I was skinny.” When I’ve asked people to dig deep and describe their happiest times, it has almost always been a time when they were actively involved in producing happiness on their own—through the choices they were making with the way they spent their energy and time.

But that’s no mystery, is it? It’s no mystery that we’re all happier when we’re participating in certain activities or when we’re committed to making healthy behaviors a constant, habitual even, part of our lives.

The Choice is Ours:

The choices we make inevitably lead us down one of two paths: the path toward a greater sense of happiness (and thus a greater sense of joy) or the path toward a diminished sense of happiness (and thus a diminished sense of joy).

I’m done with the incessant ache that haunts me throughout this joyous season. I’m not going to run from my pain. I’m sure I’ll still ache, I’m sure I’ll still have rough days, but I’m going to test a theory. . . and I hope you’ll join me (even if your life is wonderful. . . there’s always room for greater joy).

The Happier Today Theory:

When we’re feeling down—be it stress, discouragement, grief, loneliness or depression—it is our tendency to make choices to avoid or numb pain. Many (myself included) find themselves falling into the dangerous habit of distraction. We make choices to avoid our pain at all costs— by spending excessive time searching the web or on social media, by watching exorbitant amounts of television, by shoving our pain down with ravenous eating (or alcohol consumption), by seeking constant entertainment (and immediate gratification) in the form of shopping, going to the movies, going out to eat etc (not that any of these choices is inherently bad, merely that the driving emotion behind the choices being made is that of avoidance).

The Happier Today Theory is that when we are feeling unhappy, we have two choices:

1. We can seek out ways to avoid our unhappiness.
2. We can seek out ways to increase our happiness.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that choice number two has a higher propensity of leading toward greater happiness (and ultimately, abiding joy).

Join me as I test the Happier Today Theory! Over the next week, I’m going to be posting ideas and tips designed to help each of us (myself as much as anyone else) increase our happiness. . . TODAY. Engage in these happiness inducing activities with me, and let’s see if we can’t increase our level of overall happiness each and every day!! 

 

This full of joy, full of love, full of life family is so special to me. I went to high school with momma, Natalie. Now, she’s the mother of FIVE. It’s totally bewildering to me that someone my age can actually have that many children! . . . Then I remember that I’m actually 31 (snerk), and it’s completely realistic for a 31 year old to have five children. . . and after that, I remember that I myself am actually the mother of four (it’s so easy to forget that my family is a lot bigger than it looks/feels, and while we’re on the subject, why does four seem like so many more humans than three?!) Anyway, I hope you enjoy looking at these blissful images as much as I enjoyed shooting them. xoxoxo, N

For those who are interested, this entire session was shot in under 20 minutes flat. . .same thing is true of this shoot from yesterday of Cynthia and her beautiful babes (and of the subsequent posts that will be coming your way over the next couple of days). So many people associate getting family pictures taken with hours of stiff, unnatural torture. It’s just not the case. It CAN be FUN! So if your husband is constantly resisting family pics (cough cough), simply direct him here. And then remind him that if you can push a watermelon out of your you-know -what, he handle 20 minutes of camera time (forcryingoutloud).  Namaste. ;)

I woke with trembling hands.

It was the first thing I noticed. “I’m shaking, why am I shaking?” I thought.

No sooner had I peeled the sleep from my eyes, than they brimmed with hot, knowing tears.

I don’t know what I expected on a day like today. Not much. Certainly not this.

I sat up in bed, still trembling softly through my tears. “Happy third birthday, son,” I silently breathed.

I had known today was coming. She didn’t sneak up on me the way these kinds of days are prone to do. No, Today announced her arrival from down the street and around the corner. I spent the entirety of last week in anticipation.

Anticipation of what, exactly, I’m sure I don’t know.

“One week from today, he’d have turned three.”
“Once the weekend is over, there will only be three days to go . . .”
“The day after tomorrow. . .”
“Tomorrow is the day. . .”

Even then, you still wake up with trembling hands.

And so it goes.

I got the kids off to school (2 hours late), and settled in to cry the day away. You know, like you do on your dead son’s birthday.

Then, there was a knock.

A few deep breaths (and a quick wipe of the nose) later, I cautiously cracked open the front door.

I stared into loving, albeit somewhat reluctant and unfamiliar eyes. A moment later, all propriety fled, and I fell uncontrollably into safe, generous arms.

“I didn’t know what I could do,” she said, eyes wet with tears, “so I brought you the ocean.”

In her outstretched hand she held a candle, deep blue as the California coast.

On a day like today. . . this new friend brought me the sea.

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And that’s what it’s all about.

Surely, if nothing else, that’s what my son taught us to do. That was Baby Gavin’s legacy. . . bring the sea.

When we bring the sea. . . we give the best of ourselves to the people around us.

We reach to the depths of who we are and offer unconditional love, freely and without requisite.

We give.

We smile, we laugh, we dance, we sing.

We respect and treasure what we have right in front of us.

We let go.

We forgive.

We don’t get carried away by tomorrows or pulled under by yesterdays.

We cry. . . deep, harrowing sobs. . . that crash over us without remorse.

We change.

We connect.

We feel.

We rejoice.

We share.

We serve.

We care.

We embrace.

We reach.

We strive.

We dream.

When we bring the sea, we LIVE, today, because we know that it is the only day that we are truly guaranteed. . .

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Son, I love you more today than ever before. Loving you taught me how to live. In grief, I have learned more of life than I ever knew I could live.

“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy.”

There has been much “obliterative” hurt, I have been “inconsolable” and quite “literally crazy.” Missing you has been “dislocating to both body and mind.” I have prayed for your return. I have begged, bargained, pleaded with the Lord . . . to do for me as he did for Lazarus. . . for Martha.

And yet. . .

And yet.

This is my life. There are unique lessons to be learned. Grief has been a mighty teacher, cruel and kind in almost the same breath. And I could never have learned in any other way.

This is my time to LIVE, to laugh, to cry, to connect, to give, to dream. . . this is my time to bring the sea. But YOU taught me that, little boy. Not grief. You.

Until that blessed moment when you are again in my arms, I love you with all of me. . . no, more.

Mom

The quotes in this post are from Joan Didion’s extraordinary exploration of grief, The Year of Magical Thinking. I recommend it to anyone who has ever experienced great loss.

The first time, I worried over what to wear, how to sit, what to say. What colors would be most flattering? Should I cross my legs? Which statistics would pack the most punch?

I’ll be honest. In the very beginning it was fun. For a total of about 33 seconds.

Then you remember what you’re doing it all for. You remember what it felt like to kick and scream and pray and bargain and plead. You remember what it felt like to put your child in the ground.

Yes, you remember why you’re here. And you stop caring what you’re wearing or how it will look under the lights. You stop caring if you’re eyebrows look even or if you brought the right color slip.

I remember after Raleigh was born, I’d fantasize of a full night’s sleep. I’d imagine how wonderful it would feel to go to a hotel room, all by myself, climb in to bed. . . and wake up in the morning. UNINTERRUPTED SLEEP. Oh. The. Glory. Now? I’d give exactly anything for Gavin to interrupt my sleep. Heck, I’d be perfectly happy with that arrangement all the way until he turned 18. Where do I sign?

I’m only an hour from home, but it may as well be 4,000 for how lonely I feel. I tucked the boys in to bed, and I’ll likely be back home before they even wake up in the morning. Even so.

Hold them close. As hard as it is, the sleepless nights, the changes in your body, the new dynamic as husband and wife, the laundry, the messes, the MADNESS, it’s such a gift. Every bit of it.  I hope you NEVER have to learn first hand just what a BEAUTIFUL gift it really is.

Yes, I’d love to be home. In my husband’s arms, with a bed wetting toddler in the room next door. But yet, here I am. All alone. Wishing to be anywhere but here. Anything but this. But on the other side of all that pain, I’m so happy to be doing this. So willing to be making this TINY little sacrifice of time and emotional energy.

. . . Because babies are still dying. And every time one does, I think, “AREN’T YOU PEOPLE LISTENING?!”

I don’t know how to make my voice loud enough. I don’t know how to say this all in the right way, in the way that will STICK. In the way that will inspire ACTION. So I’ll just keep on saying it, over and over and over again. Hoping and praying that the right people hear.

4:45 am call time over at ABC. Time to tuck myself in. Wish you were here Rich. Love you millions.

Good night, all.

xo,

N

PS. The title of this post is mostly for me. . . we sang a song in church today. . . one of my very favorites. One of the lines is “the blessings of God on our labors we’ll seek,” and I suppose that’s what I’m doing. . . my very best. Seeking His blessings along the way. Knowing I’m not enough on my own. Knowing I can’t make a dent in this big bad world all by my broken little self. Praying that HE hears my voice and somehow amplifies it in ways that only He can.

POST EDITED TO INCLUDE: 5:35 am. I did the interview for the 5:00 hour. It was by FAR the worst interview I’ve ever done. I felt so blindsided and unprepared. There was a breach in communication as to my expectations and what actually happened at ABC this morning. Then. . . my story was bumped from the 6:00 hour because of breaking news of a house, car, apartment fire in the area. That’s show biz, baby. But here I am, back in this lonely hotel room. Quite certain that I am the reason the story was bumped and that the fire was the cover. Bleh. Anybody have a time machine? I’m ready to go back to my real life. . . where babies are healthy, and mommie’s are frazzled because of being up all night, not because they woke up at the crack of dawn to botch morning show interviews at ABC.

Two weeks ago, I photographed the funeral of a beautiful, strong, sensational 16 year old girl. “Coincidentally,” she died 2 years after my sweet son, to the day. I arrived to the funeral early and had the opportunity to spend some time “with her” in private before the family arrived. I looked into her radiant, peaceful face, and I asked her to find my brother. To please find him and to tell him I love him and that I’m doing my best to really LIVE my life for him. I held her mother in my arms as she cried. I comforted her in a way that only a mother who’s “been there” ever could. It broke my heart wide open. SHE broke my heart wide open. I learned so much from this girl. This beautiful girl I had never met. I left the funeral that day knowing, deep in my heart, that I had been exactly where I was meant to be.

Exactly one week later, I stood helpless and watched a man die after being struck by a truck while riding his motorcycle (without a helmet). I held the man who hit him in my arms while he cried, over and over, “I don’t want to kill anybody; I don’t want to kill anybody.” I prayed with him as they covered the victim with a sheet and loaded him into the ambulance. Then I took his face in both of my hands, looked him squarely in the eyes and told him, with all the energy of my heart, “THIS IS NOT YOUR FAULT. THIS IS SOMETHING THAT HAPPENED. THIS IS NOT SOMETHING YOU DID. YOU ARE GOING TO GO ON WITH YOUR LIFE, AND YOU ARE GOING TO REMEMBER, THIS.WAS.NOT.YOUR.FAULT.” We held each other tightly as I offered one last prayer. . . and then I got in my car, and I drove away. Changed. Knowing that for whatever reason, I had been in the right place, at exactly the right time.

A day shy of a week later, I found myself here, watching Chelsea give birth to her first child. A beautiful little girl. She was born 5lbs 6oz, with dark eyes, and a beautiful head full of hair. It was awesome—in the literal sense of the word: as in, I was full of awe at the beautiful miracle God was bringing to the Earth. After Baby J was born, she experienced a bit of distress, and Chelsea wasn’t able to hold her for long before they whisked her away. At that moment, Chelsea and I locked our tear filled eyes and she thanked me, in very few words that were full of every ounce of her heart. Again, I knew, there was nowhere else on Earth for me to be in that moment but there.

I don’t share these things from a base of egotism. Quite the opposite. I am humbled by the gifts God has given me in such quick succession. Gifts that have changed my heart, completely, and reminded me that THESE are the moments that life is all about. Moments of true, significant love and contribution. Moments where we let our guards down and simply love one another as God so freely loves us. Moments where we are able to see into the Heavens and to KNOW that somehow, someway, this is all part of a greater plan.

I hope these images touch you as much as they do me.

Like I said, when Baby J was born, she was quickly taken away from her mom to be checked by the “nursery team.”

She didn’t love them. Obviously. ;)

My favorite image of the day (times a million):

Chelsea simply watched her new daughter from afar, with so much love written all over her face you could smell it in the air.

Her mom showed her cell phone pictures of Baby J, so she could see close ups of her new daughter! I love this image, so much. Look at Chelsea’s face! RIGHT?!

I did a guest post on Kitchen Corners! Candied Pecan Salad. Check it out here.
My Making Things Happen post is up: The ART of Living. Read that here.
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