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Remembering to Be Happy

In the tiny world I sometimes create with my very dichotomous thinking, life is either amazing and awesome, or it is depressing and anxiety-producing. These are, of course, the same moments when I am eternally grateful for Prozac so that I don’t dig an even deeper trench into the land of cynicism, but they are also a stark reminder to look at my life as bigger and more complex than this.

I’ve been struggling for a few weeks with one of those core issues with which we all become intimately familiar over the course of our lives. When I’m in the grimy depth of it, when I feel exactly as dispirited as I felt when I was 13, or again in my 20s, or even three years ago, I feel dejected and hopeless. “I will never get past this feeling,” I think to myself. “I am stuck forever having this reaction to this set of circumstances.”

What then follows is a fairly predictable set of events that includes me getting into an argument with my partner, saying something along the lines of “my life is really stupid,” feeling completely overwhelmed, and then overreacting to every tiny thing that occurs for the next 24 hours as if it was all happening "to me." At those times, everything from the dog throwing up, to the recipe I made for dinner not turning out as great as the picture looked, to the high school senior not being thrilled than I’m there to work with her on homework becomes a personalized sign that my life is always going to suck.

I know that ... more likely than not, being cheery and positive is not a choice. Still, I couldn’t shake this thought: What if it is?

To make these dark periods even more frustrating, my partner is an extremely optimistic and upbeat human. She sees the best in everyone and she has what both she and I refer to as “magical thinking,” that everything is always going to work out just fine. Weirdly, for her, it almost always does. When I was recounting for her last night all of the horrifying aforementioned things that were happening to me, it actually occurred to me that I could just try being happier about life, like she is. Let me point out here that I am not a total idiot. I know that just deciding to be happy is not really going to change my life and that, more likely than not, being a cheery and positive person is not a choice. Still, I couldn’t shake this thought: What if it is?

Since all of this occurred in the last 24 hours, it’s probably too soon to make a solid determination, but I have had an interesting time today with my experiment. When it was raining this morning and I started to feel sorry for myself because it was interrupting my exercise schedule, I went out and ran anyway, reminding myself the whole way that, in the bigger picture, getting wet in the rain is actually kind of lovely. When I got back an hour later, my dog Tairiq was as happy to see me as if I had been gone since January. He looked at me so lovingly that it was really hard to feel at that moment that my life was stupid.

But later in the day, when I was lamenting the fact that the book proposal I’ve been working so hard on has not found itself in the middle of a bidding war among several top New York agents, I started to take a pretty big dive. Then I remembered that idea about choosing to be more positive, and it really did stop what would normally have been a fairly quick trip to Stupid Life Land. It’s all a process, a work in progress, I reminded myself in such an optimistic voice that I could hardly believe it was coming from me. Then I did some more writing which, not surprisingly, focused me on something else, and I really did feel better.

As I’ve noted here before, much of my cynicism is my own handy built-in defense that I’ve been crafting since I was a young kid. I learned early on that if I figured nothing great was going to happen, I wouldn’t be nearly as unhappy about the results if they were negative. That might sound sad, but most of us have created our own particular armor that we can don quickly in the case of calamity. Mine was just not to expect too much. Then, when the dog barfs on one of the few un-barfed-on parts of what was once a great carpet, it’s easy to say, “See why I can’t have nice things?”

Don’t get your hopes up here. I’m not planning to become a delightfully blissful and joyful individual. But, I would be a fool to not stop the grousing occasionally and recognize my good fortune at how many lovely people I get to have in my life, the miracle of just getting to watch the movement of the light every day, and the wonder of that crazy, sweet dog. Here’s to remembering all of that a little more often and the possibility that my life is a whole lot sweeter than I sometimes think it is.

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