When I write about being happy, I’m almost always talking about a way of living rather than a temporary emotion. No one, after all, is happy all the time.
Bad things happen. It’s normal and natural to feel sad or angry when they do. You can feel sad or angry and still live a happy life.
But what about when bad things seem to be happening constantly? Everywhere?
With our shrinking global society, most of us are more aware than ever that there are always bad things happening somewhere. Aside from tragedies, there is also the slow burn of injustices that cannot be cured in a day or even a single generation.
How can we see all the world’s suffering and still be happy?
Do we have to become oblivious to other people’s pain in order to maintain our own happiness?
These are the questions one reader asked me recently via Facebook – and it’s one I get asked a lot when I do in-person events. In today’s video, I give my most honest answer.
The goal is to be compassionate while maintaining healthy boundaries. This prevents you from hijacking other people’s stories and ensures you have the emotional reserves needed to actually make a difference.
My perfect morning started with an unexpected phone call at 6:30 am.
“This is a message from the Pittsburgh Public School District. All Pittsburgh public schools will be operating on a two-hour delay today.”
I shut off my alarm – the one I’d already hit snooze on three times – and sent a text to my teenager upstairs, “2 hr delay”. I rolled over and went back to sleep.
An hour later I woke to my daughter crawling into bed beside me. “Two hour delay,” I mumbled and wrapped my limbs around her.
“I hope it’s cancelled,” she said.
“Not gonna happen,” I told her.
“Why not? How do you know?”
“It’s just delayed because of the cold. It will be warm enough after two hours.”
She threw back my covers in disgust and left the room. Having been forced into enough lines of conversation to be awakened, I decided I might as well get out of bed. Besides, I had plans for a perfect morning.
The night before, when I was planning out the work I wanted to do during the week, I’d made a list of what I wanted to accomplish in the morning. I had hoped to do some yoga, meditate, journal, and put a soup in the slow cooker before heading into the co-working space I rent. I’d estimated the routine would take me about two hours, which is why I’d set my alarm for 6 am. Even though I’d missed my original wake-up call, I figured I could still hit some of the items on my wish list.
I walked out into the living room and found Devin wandering around with his headphones in, waiting for his time to leave. Emma had plopped herself in front of the computer, an error in judgment I corrected for her immediately.
“Yoga and meditation will have to wait,” I decided. I hate trying to do yoga in the midst of a busy household.
I headed to the kitchen and pulled out the slow cooker. Then, I had a flash of inspiration.
I opened the YouTube app on my phone and loaded up my “music to move to” playlist. I could certainly dance with kids milling around.
Thirty minutes later my heart was pumping and I had a smile on my face. I kissed my son goodbye and turned my attention back to meal prep. By the time I’d plugged in the slow cooker and turned it to Low, Emma was dressed and I had about 20 minutes before it would be time to drive her and her friend to school.
“I don’t really want to try and squeeze yoga and meditation in,” I thought.
I debated getting dressed so that I could start work as soon as Emma was dropped off; it was nearly 10 o’clock after all. Instead, I sat down with the last of my coffee and my journal. I wrote for 20 minutes before a knock on our door announced it was time to leave. I threw on snow boots and a winter coat over my pajamas and drove the kids to school.
Ten minutes later, I came home to a quiet house. I contemplated my options.
I could head to the shower. I could open up the computer and get right to work.
Or, I could go ahead and do that yoga and meditation session that I knew would be so good for me.
I swallowed my guilt, made a conscious decision to embrace my privilege, and I pulled out my mat.
My not so sunny view for sun salutations.
Afterward, I made a fresh cup of coffee and breakfast before getting into the shower. I checked the clock on my phone as I was drying off: 11:01 am.
My perfect morning took me right up to the beginning of what could easily be considered an early lunch hour. It was practically noon and I hadn’t even pulled my laptop out of its bag.
And that was just fine.
I realized I still had four hours of quiet left in my home, plenty of time to accomplish all of my computer and writing work for the day. If I needed more time for other work or chores, I acknowledged that there were still several hours left in the day after school let out – hours that I had the freedom to use as I pleased.
The best part was that I was now totally prepared physically, spiritually, and emotionally to take full advantage of those remaining hours.
This perfect morning that stretched into normal working hours was a pretty significant win for me. It represented a shift in my perspective that I’ve been trying to make for months.
You see, I don’t work a 9 to 5. I don’t have to go into an office. I’m not bound by a boss or a time sheet. Because my children are old enough to mostly take care of themselves in the mornings and afternoons, I’m not really even beholden to the schedule of their school days.
I’m incredibly lucky, in other words.
But preconceived ideas and a lot of guilt have stopped me from enjoying my good fortune.
Because most people have to be at their desks for more than four hours a day. And most people have to be producing by 9 or 10 in the morning, if not sooner. Who am I to laze about journaling and doing yoga until 11?
That’s what I tell myself when I skip a chance to practice yoga or don’t take the time to meditate for ten minutes, write, or even have a decent breakfast.
I can spend hours doing things that are good for me each morning, but most people don’t have that luxury – and therefore I shouldn’t.
But the reality is that I am blessed. I have been given an amazing gift of time and freedom at this point in my life; and I am serving no one by squandering that gift in the name of guilt.
In my quest to do more and get less done this year, one of my goals is to start embracing the unique flexibility that I have right now. I have the opportunity to spend a lot of time not working at a desk or plowing through tedious tasks, and I don’t want to let guilt or some outdated perception of workable hours get in the way.
Today’s perfect morning was a step in that direction.
Specifically, I’ve noticed that I’m struggling to follow through on process goals, anything that can’t be defined by results.
I say I want to practice yoga, but more days then not I skip pulling out the mat.
My hands itch to make stuff, but there never seems to be a good time for arts & crafts projects that aren’t for something specific.
I want to write more often, but I get stuck when faced with a blank page and no clear purpose for writing.
I tend to justify time spent with results yielded, but a lot of what makes me happy is rooted in the process instead of the product.
So much of living is in doing, not in having done.
One of my goals for 2015 is to do more, even if that means getting less done.
I practiced DOING yesterday when I decided to spend an hour painting. I wasn’t painting anything special or frame worthy (seriously, here it is on Instagram), and I didn’t get to check anything off a list when I was done. In fact, I didn’t even get to finish before I had to head off to lead a Girl Scout meeting, but I spent that hour living joyfully. Just because.
This morning I danced around in my pajamas for 20 minutes before I got into the shower. I didn’t measure calories burned or count steps taken. I just enjoyed every single beat, because dancing makes me happy.
I don’t want to stop achieving entirely. A life is, in part, measured by what has been done. I am grateful for my ability to tackle a project and Get Shit Done.
But the best stories are not told about standing on the podium; the most memorable tales are about what happened in the trenches.
Plus, doing just for the sake of doing helps pull me into the present moment. It helps me to let go of my expectations about the future when I’m not mentally attaching my current actions to a future outcome. (That is much easier to write than to do!)
In the spirit of doing rather than achieving, I’m consciously avoiding turning this into some kind of project or goal. I’m not promising myself to be more in the moment in future moments, because that would be the exact opposite of the point.
But boy am I tempted.
And that’s how I know this is an important shift for me.
Humans are weird. We are hardwired to crave happiness, and yet we are terrible at predicting what will make us happy. That’s one reason why so many of us fail to stick to our New Year’s resolutions for very long.
That doesn’t stop us from trying, though, year after year after year.
This year, before you set yourself up for a wave of guilt in March (or February), consider choosing a resolution that will actually make you happier.
How do you know if your New Year’s resolution will make you happier?
Make sure your resolution isn’t a big fat should. Don’t commit a year of your life to living by values that aren’t your own.
Ask yourself WHY you want to do xyz, and then listen to your body. Does it respond with a puking sensation or a physical “yeeee-HA!”
It was late; everyone else had gone to bed, and my sister and I were sitting up in my dad’s kitchen having our very first heart to heart.
I was hearing for the first time why we’d never really talked before.
“You didn’t claim us,” she said.
And she was right, I realized.
I do not have two brothers.
I have three half brothers and one half sister. I’ve had twelve step siblings – I say have had because the lines get confusing when the ties that bind you divorce and move away.
But the ties between my sister and three brothers are permanent. They’re blood. They’re undeniably family. And yet I have denied half of them over and over again for decades.
I didn’t do it to be mean.
“It’s because we grew up together,” I justified, because the brothers with whom I share a mother lived in the same house as me when I was a kid.
“I was always taught that didn’t matter,” she said.
“So was I,” I told her. So was I.
I know what it feels like to not be claimed, to not be chosen, to not feel special or loved enough or as important as. I carry those exact scars on my heart and have aired them out in therapy and lengthy prose.
And all the while I was inflicting the same wound on someone else – two someone elses – and was completely oblivious.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. And I was; I am.
I’m also so, so grateful that she had the courage to tell me. I would have never figured it out on my own.
Because what I learned in this conversation is that we can hurt people without ever knowing. We walk around as the narrators and heroes of our own stories, and we are so often blind to the roles we play in others’ histories. We rarely imagine ourselves as the villain.
This is important to remember.
It’s important to tell people when they hurt us, because most of the time it is unintentional.
And it’s important to believe people when they tell us we have hurt them, because our intentions don’t matter half as much as the consequences.
And it is important to never forget that our story – our perspective – is only one of the many in which we have a part.
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