Happiness is a Choice!
Not everyone has learned this simple concept but it is true! So many of us have had to learn that love, happiness, and a positive attitude are all choices. Today I have been reminded to focus on the latter two - no matter what we are going through, we can choose to be happy and positive.
I haven’t always understood this. Over my lifetime I have experienced anger, carried grudges, nursed pessimistic and vengeful thoughts, and struggled with mild depression. Experience and my faith journey started me on the road to contentment but a few years ago I read a book which taught me that when we notice and express gratitude for the good things in our lives (blessings, if you will), we will immediately notice a shift in our mood. It is impossible to feel gratitude without releasing unhappiness and discontent. I found so much joy in embracing this practice of gratitude that it became a regular part of my day. From there I stretched my mind to look for positives and worked at pushing aside negatives in my life. If others around me insisted on anger or pessimism, I worked on not letting myself be sucked into their vortex of growing negativity by reminding myself that I was neither the cause or the solution to their feelings; I held no blame and no responsibility. The result was that I learned to keep myself happier and more energetic because nothing sucks the life out of us like negativity!
However, as wonderful as this discovery was, I have also learned that I have to make the choice daily! Sometimes several times each day, depending on what’s going on in our lives. Today I was reminded of this and I felt compelled to share my thoughts with you but first, you need to know a little about me.
I am an introvert by nature, by habit, and for the past 17 years, by circumstances. I have always been comfortable left to myself – I can spend hours, even days, completely alone. As a child I would spend hours reading in my room or outside in a hidden quiet spot. I had close friends and usually spent time with them each day, especially through my high school years but almost always my friends came up with the ideas and I happily joined in. If nothing was planned, I simply turned to my books. I wasn’t comfortable putting my ideas “out there” for them to accept or reject. It was easier to wait for them to call or stop by our house.
This arrangement served me well because I lived in my hometown community until I was 31 years old so I never had to make new friends – of course, a few new ones were added to our circle but usually they were brought in by others and gradually became “besties”. When our family relocated to another town, I depended on our children’s extracurricular activities to introduce me to people as well as the simple accessibility of neighbours. I met many wonderful people but none of these relationships survived when fourteen years later we found ourselves empty-nesters and decided to move again, this time to a rural home. My husband worked away, sometimes for a month at a time and I accepted a position with a company which was male-dominated, most much younger than I, so there were no social connections. I went directly from work home each day to feed cattle in the winter, and tend a large garden and yard in summer. After ten years of these solitary circumstances, we had sold the cattle and I quit my job but I hadn’t made any friends in our community and my husband still worked away. It was at this time that it became obvious how deeply ingrained my introvert habits had become - I would often realize at the end of the week that the only other creature I had spent time with had been my dog! By this time I had learned the gratitude = happiness formula so I no longer experienced depression and I didn’t identify a feeling of loneliness but I did feel something was missing. I would decide to make changes and choose activities or groups I was interested in, plan to attend and then at the last minute decide I didn’t feel like it, didn’t want to get cleaned up, or didn’t want to drive at night, etc. I finally found a networking group that met during the day, and met some interesting people but somehow never learned the skill of turning casual conversation into friendship.
Now, here we are in the midst of the COVID-19 self-isolation. For the past week I’ve been reading the social media posts about how difficult it is for people to practice social distancing. My husband is home and he dislikes the confinement. I haven’t experienced any “cabin fever” because other than the empty flour shelves at the grocery store and no church on Sunday, my life really hasn’t changed! Again, I hadn’t given that much thought to it but this afternoon a member of our church called to see how I was doing. Every member of our women’s group was being checked up on to make sure they didn’t need anything and were handling the social isolation. We had a lovely chat and I assured her I was perfectly fine and learned that she was alright but anxious for things to return to “normal”. I hung up and suddenly it hit me – it is not normal to not feel isolated; it is not normal that my life is missing any semblance of social contact. And there I was, teetering on the brink of sadness. I didn’t think it showed but several hours later my husband asked if he had done something to make me so glum. Of course he hadn’t but I couldn’t explain that I was sad because I had suddenly realized that my normal was not normal!
I spent the evening thinking about the great people and things in my life:
· Family, including my parents, our grown children, their spouses, and 13 wonderful grandchildren
· Extended family and old friends that I am grateful for, even if I don’t reach out often
· Roof over our heads and sufficient food
· Heat, electricity, and technology to keep us connected
· I am not suffering from loneliness because I am so accustomed to solitude! 😉
And here I am, feeling so much happier but wanting to share my struggles in the hopes that it might help someone out there who needs to hear this but also so that I might find the courage to take the next step and “put myself out there”. Even introverts need people in their lives. It’s never too late to:
Find your community.