Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be happy. It’s a question I’m sure everyone’s asked themselves during their lives, right?
Why am I thinking about happiness so much now, though? It’s because of my New Year's resolution.
Let me back up.
New Years is my favorite holiday. Most commercialized holidays spew gifts and involve too much shopping. But New Year’s is about hope, growth, and self-improvement. In general, people walk around with high expectations and optimistic views of the upcoming future.
Take away the overindulging of alcohol. Remove expectations for a kiss. (Both of which I did without this year). What did the holiday become?
A breath of fresh air to my wallet and psyche.
Side note: For those reading this post in the years to come, I’m writing this with the 2020 to 2021 mindset.
Anyway, now that I’ve put that in perspective, I’m sure you can see what I mean. People were looking forward to the end of 2020. All the heartbreak that came with the COVID pandemic. The surge in police brutality. The political pressures of one of the most heated elections in American history.
We wanted it gone. Done. Finito.
Of course, as happens within the first month of any new year, 2021 brought down the excitement of a fresh start quickly.
Let’s not get into those specifics just yet, though. First, I want to talk about how most years begin.
What happens is people fall off their New Year's resolutions bandwagon prematurely. That results from a variety of reasons, whether it’s a laundry list of goals, setting unrealistic expectations, or just creating plans that are unsustainable.
It’s a new year. Yes, it’s a chance to become a new you. But to get there you still have to work with the old you.
You know what we say in social work? Meet the client where they’re at, not where they’re supposed to be.
So, that’s where our society is right now. We’re moving toward where we want to be, over the hump of this epidemic, systemic racism, and transfer of the political administration here in the United States. But to get there? We have to start at the heartbreak. Hence, the first weeks of January.
Remember January 6th, 2021, anyone?
It’s no wonder so many of my friends and family weren’t into celebrating New Year’s with me. Look what we had waiting for us!
At an individual level, we’re all so exhausted and, dare I say it, downright struggling with depressive symptoms. I, for one, want to stay in bed, watch TV all day, shirk my responsibilities, play video games, and either overeat or not eat enough. The emotional waves are too high and too low to handle sometimes. And my advocacy has dwindled.
That brings me all the way back to my original point: happiness. My social work supervisor mentioned to me she had a friend who didn’t do New Year's resolutions. The friend did a one-word theme for the new year.
With everything I’ve mentioned so far, I’m sure you can understand why I chose the word “happy.”
How can we be happy again? It’s difficult, right? I mean, have you read any of what I’ve mentioned so far? It’s horrific! I can’t wait until it’s all over.
If I’ve learned anything with my mental health, though, it’s the following. You’ll always be chasing happiness if you don’t learn how to be happy where you already are.
I used to think that way. My thought process was this. I’ll be happy once I graduate or am in a relationship or have a full-time job or am out of debt or move out of my parents' house or have children or become a published author or…
Get what I mean?
As I accomplished some of these, I’d be happy high for a while. But then I’d come down. I’d want to figure out the next step. So, I’d come up with more goals and the mantra restarted.
“I’ll be happy once I (insert new goal here).”
Amid turmoil in our society’s current climate, I want to find happiness. Right now. Smack dab in the middle of the storm.
Now, there’s still work to do. And I’m not saying the actions of our society shouldn’t appal us. What I am saying is we can’t let that take over our entire lives. If we allow the stress to overwhelm us, then what good will we be in fighting for the common good?
I’ll get back to that. But let’s return to my resolution for a minute.
I’ve talked to friends and family about it and I’ve researched online what the best research says about happiness. I’ve gotten a variety of answers that I won’t get into, but you’re welcome to check out this cool app that’s based on scientifically proven research methods for mental health improvement. It’s called Happify. It can help you with more than just being happier too.
But I digress…
Here’s what I realized after listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Irenicast, in their episode, “Your Authentic Self – The Difficult Work of Becoming,” which you can listen to here.
I’ve based my happiness on others. Helping others be happy makes me happy, but that’s not what I mean here. I mean defining happiness using other people’s definitions. Measuring my happiness with someone else’s yardstick.
This may be obvious to you. And I’m sure I’ve heard it before somewhere else. But this reminder overcame me. It’s all about the journey, not the destination. Becoming my authentic self, as Irenicast reminded me, is a journey I’m going to go through repeatedly in my life, coming to different destinations and parts of myself based on that chapter of my life.
I can say the same about happiness.
This year shouldn’t be just about generic happiness. It should be about my happiness. As I define it. Based on where I am in my life right now. I have to meet myself at the current level of happiness I’m at in order to increase it, to continue my personal journey.
And isn’t that something we can all use? Happiness from within ourselves as we each define it individually. A healthy happiness that doesn’t come from harming someone else or an empty place, but our core authentic selves. Because, as difficult as it may be, we can’t move our society towards a happier place if we can’t find moments of happiness right now.
See how I tied that all together?
As 2021 continues, I encourage you, my #worthyreader, to find what makes you happy in this moment. And I encourage you to find that source of happiness within yourself.
After all, who has been consistent with you throughout the hot mess of 2020? And who will continue to stand by you through what awaits in 2021?
You. So might as well be good company!
What makes you happy this new year? Share in the comments below!