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! 

__________________________________________

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!! 

Getting ready to move, and I found a box of things I kept from the hospital after Gavin died…

Inside was a picture one of the nurses took of me holding him as we said goodbye. It was an interesting experience, seeing that again. Anyone else would likely have struggled to look at the image…found it morbid, probably.

His edema made his skin taught and paper thin. He was intubated and covered from top to bottom in tubes and wires (the highest IV was in the skin of his head and the lowest was inserted into the top of his right foot—then there were countless other tubes and wires littered across the space in between—so, in this case, “from top to bottom” is not used as a figure of speech). His coloring shows clear evidence of how close death loomed—literally moments away.

I’ve never been able to look at the picture myself for longer than a glance without turning my head, and I am his mother. . .

But this time was different.

I not only found myself able to look at the image, but I lost myself inside of it.

For the first time ever, I looked at that boy, in that physical state, and I didn’t want to turn away. In truth, for the first time ever, I saw so.much.beauty there.

The image didn’t disturb me at all. . .there was so much love in my heart— longing, yes, and also abundant love—overwhelming in proportion.

I wept tears of joy at the peace I had found.

_________________________________________________

I share this for those who mourn—no matter the cause.

I share this for those who are in the darkest parts of the trauma called “grief.”

There is hope.

There is another side of the tunnel called grief—for it is, as they say, a tunnel, not a cave (though I know there are days, weeks, months, years even when it certainly does not feel that way).

Someday, you will be able to open the box of the darkest hours of memory, and the terror will be gone.

There will always be remnants of sorrow and pain, it is evidence of our very humanity, evidence of the depth of our love, but the terror, the horror, the racing heart, the crushing in your chest, the inability to recall and look at certain events of your past without the threat of complete physiological and emotional overwhelm. . . that can change.

It can.

The change comes in and through a God, a literal Father in Heaven, who knows and loves you perfectly.

Ask.

Wait.

Exercise patience (though I know, the wait can be excruciating).

And through his perfect love and grace, you can find peace, even understanding, to free you from that darkest part of the grief and pain by which you are bound.

I KNOW this is true, for I have lived it.

It took a miracle, but thankfully, we live in a world that is full of those.

xx,

N

I had to take some time off to do just a little bit of this, living that is.

I needed to fall apart just a little.

I needed to have a good, long cry—to face the messy parts of what is.

I needed to shake some of the sorrow up to the surface, and exhale it away. . . or inhale it in. (I’m not sure there’s much of a difference with grief.)

It’s been 2 years now, almost 3, but usually it feels like last Thursday.

I go through this madness, thinking I shouldn’t be falling apart anymore. It’s foolish. What will people think? How will they react when they know the truth? What will they say when they know that sometimes, no often, it still hurts like Hell? That sometimes, no often, I still feel like I’m suffocating underneath it all?

. . . and then the sun comes out.

And then despite the rain, despite the thunder and the lightening, despite the begging and the longing and the bargaining and the pleading . . . through all of that weight. . . there’s light. And you know, somehow, someway everything truly is OK.

Out from under all.that.pain, you’re watching a miracle unfold. Right there in front of you. Layer by layer. Breath by breath.

And the miracle. . . is you.

You breathe in deep, flooded with inexplicable gratitude—oxygenating your very soul. Suddenly, for the first time in months, your feet hit the ground. You see all the pieces of yourself—the pieces of your sanity— and you know you can put it all back together again.

A day ago, or even a moment, you wouldn’t have believed.

Now, here it is. . .

Right in front of you.

The miracle of you.