What is Happiness? And Joy? And How Did I Find Mine?
My daughter made this mask when she was in high school. Her wisdom was striking, and still is, actually! This was her favorite poem, and now it's become mine too. She's going into her senior year in college studying biochemistry, and I swear she is one of the most grounded people I have ever known in my life. I adore her. And I have learned many great lessons from her over the years.
So, I was in our bathroom the other day, and I have this mask hanging right on the wall in front---you know, so I can be reminded of her and ALSO have a reminder of what Happiness is. As I was sitting there, I was inspired to write this article, because I began reflecting on my life.
It has changed SO very much over the past ten years, not to mention five decades, and not all of it has been rosy. And quite honestly, for some of the last ten years, I actually thought I was going to DIE due to certain life circumstances.
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Have you ever met someone who is just miserable? I mean, they just complain about EVERYTHING? Or someone who isn't happy unless they are buying the next great thing? Or even worse---the person who's actually only happy when they are literally ruining someone else's life? Or the self-destructive person who just can't seem to make good choices no matter what?
I've probably been all of these kinds of people at one point in my life or another (except for the one who wants to ruin someone else's life literally---I just knew a person like that TOO well--HORRORS). I remember going through a terrible time a few years ago: Divorced, jobless, I had lost my home, and had to move temporarily back in with my ex-husband. Looking back, I was probably severely depressed. I know I felt hopeless and definitely joyless. I was journaling, and I remember writing that, "I just want my JOY back."
Here's What I Have Learned About Joy
I'm an older lady in middle age now. I'm a grandma, wife, mom, and daughter. I think I can say I've reached that place where I can see what people are doing, and pretty much know if it's going to work or not. At least most of the time. There are lots of ways to define joy, but true joy is just inside you. And there are ways to make that feeling happen, no matter what. That's my opinion.
Here is what I personally know about joy:
Joy Ultimately Comes from God
The most important thing I learned from my troubles is that TRUE joy comes from God. When you finally realize that you are His child, and that He's always got your back, and He has a plan for you, and that seriously....everything you ever go through is for a reason---well, then you can rest in that.
When you learn and know and realize that your identity is in Him, and that He hears your every wish, sees your heart, and KNOWS you, then when you desire to please Him, your life will turn around. Well, at least it did for me. In some REALLY great ways, too!
Once I learned where my Joy really comes from, here are the things that happened to me:
1) I found the love of my life.
2) I moved to a beautiful mountain homestead with the love of my life.
3) I started learning more and more and becoming empowered to help myself and others by using plant medicines.
4) We learned how to homestead, or at least we have continued in pretty massive ways on our journey these past 5 years.
5) I have allowed God to guide my choices, and only good things have come of them.
6) I was able to drop all the shame, guilt, and negativity from my past and learn to live in the light of His love. THAT's huge!
7) I do not ever feel alone--because I know like I know like I know that God is THERE.
2) I Appreciate Everything More
I loved raising my four beautiful children to become productive, amazing, intelligent young adults. I am truly blessed. But now, after going through the dreaded "empty nest" syndrome (and boy, did I), I just love where I am right now.
When I look back at where I was, and I realize that IF I hadn't learned what I learned about God (above) back then, then the choices I could have made might have ruined me. Really ruined me.
I am so very glad that I chose a man I would never have previously even considered dating to actually marry.
My husband is the BEST man I have ever met in my life. He is as honest as the day is long, loves God, keeps me grounded, and he loves me. He supports my decisions, and we work together as a team. I am seriously, seriously blessed.
We have the same goals, interests, plans for the future, and our lives are working!
And actually, we all hear about practicing gratitude, right? That's really what this is all about. It is SO true that when you can look at any aspect of your life and feel gratitude, then you will have joy. You cannot have joy if you have an ungrateful heart...and conversely, you can't be unhappy if you are feeling gratitude.
3) I Have Learned to Have Some Control Over My Life
I used to feel powerless. Completely. Totally. Powerless. I HAD to do this. I HAD to do that. I HAD to look a certain way. I HAD to put on the right show. My kids HAD to belong to certain sports teams. We all HAD to perform to the extreme.
(Actually, I'm not too sorry about that because I think one of the reasons my children have turned out so great is that I pushed them so hard in the academic arena, and their dad pushed them in athletics. They've all made great lives for themselves because they all have learned to have an amazing work ethic.)
Regardless, any way you look at it, powerlessness is a TERRIBLE feeling to have. And it's probably even worse when you don't even realize you are feeling powerless. That's when you make terrible choices. I think.
I also learned that I had to have some boundaries in my life. I had no idea about what boundaries were until I read this book by Townsend and Cloud, Boundaries. It changed my life. So did the Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner.
These days, I am in control (well, God is really the one in charge, but I do make my own choices). In fact, I'm making decisions about my job (with my husband of course) that will affect our future in some really huge ways. More about that later. The thing is, if you aren't happy, or if things aren't working for you in some manner, then you really owe it to yourself to do everything in your power to responsibly make some changes.
My friend, Emily McCafferty from AccidentalHippies.com, just wrote an article about this very thing. It's about why she decided to leave her job. She knows what I wish I had known at her youthful age.
I just read an UH-Mazing book by Greg McKeown called Essentialism. It seriously will help you dial down what is truly important in your life. Really. I think every single person from high school on up should read this book.
FINALLY, in my mid-fifties, I have some tools to really figure out what is essential. I love that word. You keep only what is essential, and you let go of all the rest. The thing is, what is essential for me will be very different quite possibly, from what is essential to you!
You Need to Know What You Want
Really. You do.
I think a lot of people go through their lives thinking they know what they want based on what they are "supposed" to want. Or maybe what other people want for them. Right?
Finally, I figured out that I really DO want to live in the mountains and be a hermit. (Joking! That was my desire when I was ten years old and just watched the movie, "Heidi." I wanted to live like Grandpa in the movie.)
When you dial down what it is you really want, then you can start making shifts in your life, your thinking, your spirituality, etc. to get you where you ultimately want to be. Right now, we do live in a rather isolated place, fairly far from a large city, off the grid, with great neighbors. We are almost to our dream place. The thing is, we didn't even know what our dream place was when we moved here...my husband and I are still working toward that. And does one ever stop? I don't think so.
That book I spoke of above: Essentialism? It really helps out with this. At least, it did for me.
Learning what is important and only doing that. Greg McKeown talks a lot about trade offs in this book. You simply cannot do everything, and for every thing you decide to do, there is something you simply cannot do. That's that.
I have found this to be very true.
What do you think? I would really love to hear your thoughts on this topic, because I have struggled so much with it, and I suspect many many others do too. And we are all on our own paths and life journeys.
Hugs & Self-Reliance,
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