Monthly Happiness Project Blog: Lighten Up

By Shamyla Tareen

The other night, I had a telling dream. It was Halloween time- my favorite time of year. My roommate and I were cutting paper bats and spiders out of black construction paper for a party we were planning that night. It was morning; the sunlight was streaming into the living room; we were laughing and chatting. Suddenly I heard pounding on the front door. My boss stood there frowning. “I know it’s only 7 AM,” she said. “but you need to get to work NOW.” Then she disappeared and I woke up panicking an hour before I needed to.

When we are too serious or overly invested in work or personal problems, and cannot manage both, it seems so hard to lighten up. When the balance is gone from life, we struggle the most- and can’t do a good job.  This month, I had weird dreams, got a couple of speeding tickets and lost my keys. I got feedback I didn’t want to hear; well-meaning friends said and did things that irritated me; some sad things happened to people I care about, images-1and the news in the world, as usual, was horrific. I dragged along, feeling as if I wasn’t doing enough to please anyone. Not knowing exactly how to be in a tough or new situation always makes me feel agitated, and I am my own worst critic. In everyday life we get criticism, and at work we can sometimes get feedback that something we are doing has to be fixed immediately. But sometimes we can internalize this to mean that WE are broken and need to be fixed. And when we feel that we are broken… well, that’s when things start to fall apart.

Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift.” I’ve probably read this quote a hundred times (on Facebook) but never paid it much attention.  However, by the mid-month, I began to actually consider it. I’m a generally pleasant and easy going person, but once someone hurts me deeply, it’s extremely difficult to forgive and let it go. It’s easy to go down that well beaten path called The Past again, analyzing minute details of why and how until I confuse myself. it seems like it’s happening all over again… I keep wondering if I could have somehow changed the outcome if only I had been different.

My daydreams for the future: I’m extremely powerful; the head of something… (unclear as to what department or company I’m the CEO of, but I’ll figure that out soon enough!). I’m the new Pakistani Oprah Winfrey, who also advises Presidents on culture, gives worldwide public motivational speeches  runs schools and charities, has not one but two PhD’s. I am the perfect mother (move over Mother Theresa, Mother Shamyla is in the house!) with angelic children and a devoted husband and many admirers and other wonderful things… until I wake up from my lovely dreams and find rice burning on the stove!

I started trying to lighten up by…. letting my own inner light show. I started believing that in this moment, whatever I am and have is enough. I wanted to try to live a life that did not always involve regrets and confusion, but fit with my core values of being an independent, kind, courageous woman who helps others in need. I didn’t want to try so hard to impress or please. I just wanted to BE. I did more deep breathing, reflecting, praying and meditating this month. I talked with some really wise friends and mentors. I tried to avoid things and situations that would be potentially painful, and listened to Fred Luskin’s “Forgive for Good” CD in my car on the way home from work every day.


I let myself enjoy small things – like the sun on my face while I walked on the path in my neighborhood – thinking “this is all I need.” The time to sit quietly for a few minutes during lunch with my eyes closed became important and precious. I sang in the car sometimes, warbling as if I really could sing, or pretended I knew how to dance really well. That immediately shifted my thoughts from “this sucks” to “this is fun!” And if I was going to go down Memory Lane, I actively tried to remember good memories too. I didn’t want to trick myself into thinking everything was always difficult. And when a bad memory came… I told myself, “ Look how far you’ve come! You’ve already made it!”

All that being said, some days are tougher than others- today was one of them. I spent the entire morning at the DMV; it was raining, traffic was horrible, and I got yet another speed camera ticket on my way home. I wanted to scream. I found myself asking God out loud “why me?” About half an hour later after my plea, my neighbor Jen came over with what seemed like half the produce section from the grocery store, and she, my roommate and I proceeded to giggle and watch ridiculous videos for the rest of the night. Those moments were golden! After Jen left, I thought: “Today was alright… maybe not what I expected, but still pretty good.” It is enough. My life is enough. I have more than enough laughter, friendship, love and light to carry me through this topsy-turvy path called life.




Shamyla is our monthly Happiness Project Blogger and member of the CHAI Book Club, which meets every other month to discuss the latest selection.

In June, the book club will be revisiting The Happiness Project 6 months after their first discussion of the book to see how some of our members have been doing after embarking on their own happiness projects.  The June book club meeting will be held on June 23rd at 2 pm in Ellicott City.  Email to RSVP and for address.


2 Comments on “Monthly Happiness Project Blog: Lighten Up

  1. I particularly related to your comments about internalizing feedback at work to mean that “we” are broken and need to be fixed. I have the habit of internalizing most feedback or constructive criticism (not just at work) that way! This is something that I want to work on changing. I also liked your suggestions about lightening up. I am going to try to get a copy of Fred Luskin’s CD. Thanks, Shamyla! Your blogs are very well written and helpful!

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