By Shamyla Tareen
November was a great month! Forget the 5 pm sunsets, the arctic cold, the long, boring nights! As the year drew to a close, the shift in my attitude seemed to be paying off; it felt as if the “Happiness Project” blogs were finally making a real dent in my life. As I was driving home from work one day, I caught myself thinking: “I feel lit up inside!!”
Historically, this has not been so. When I was in college, all of us were trying to find songs that defined us. I wanted to find a really emotional song, because that’s how I defined myself – full of topsy turvy feelings. I asked a friend to recommend a song for me.
“‘I’m only happy when it rains’,” she declared, referring to the song by the band “Garbage.”
“Heyyy!! No! Pick another one!” I protested. I had never even heard of this song, but I knew right away that I did not want to be associated with it.
“But I’ve never met anyone as dramatic as you,” she said seriously.
Like many people who have been through trauma, my days were a cycle of highs and lows – coated with anxiety, depression, and complexity. It was what I was used to. I rolled through life complaining or being bitter in between moments of excitement over inconsequential things. I told someone once that I didn’t deserve real happiness, because I was afraid that the moment I would be happy, someone would snatch it away from me.
That has changed!! Through writing this blog, meditation, and learning to take responsibility for myself, I see things so differently now. I no longer fear being happy… I crave sunshine, being calm, fun activities and happy times. I enjoy my own company and don’t crave being on the roller coaster of emotions. My new challenge is to be accepting of everyone – even those that who don’t particularly like my new way of seeing things, who still find darkness so enticing. Another challenge is to accept is that it’s okay to be sad some days, and not to completely wipe away any other emotion besides happiness – when it’s appropriate. “Some days must be dark and dreary,” as Longfellow writes. And that’s okay, as long as you don’t get stuck in them!
In the “Happiness Project”, Gretchen discusses why it is so satisfying to criticize, and why it is so difficult to be more enthusiastic. One reason, she states, is that “being critical made me feel more sophisticated and intelligent – and in fact, studies show that people who are critical are often perceived to be more discerning.” I definitely tend to think someone who criticizes well is smarter than me. I was teased for living in “La-La-Land” and being “too naive” and having friends say, “oh I forgot, sarcasm goes right over your head!” and chuckling … after hearing things like that for years, somewhere along the way I too learned to laugh at people, and adopted a more sarcastic, cynical worldview, perhaps hoping that by being meaner, people would take me more seriously and not hurt me. (That didn’t really work.)
In my experience, being humble, gracious, giving people authentic compliments or positive reviews, having good manners, laughing a lot (at yourself and the funny things in life) and having an area of refuge for yourself are the keys to making the hand you’ve been dealt a LOT better. Of course it’s not easy. but it’s how you CHOOSE to deal with your problems, not the absence of them. It’s hard to have good manners when someone just cut you off in traffic, or is hogging the line when you’re hungry at the cafeteria; not to replay the “woe is me” tape when life pinches you. After a tiresome day, it’s an effort to find a quiet area of refuge to quietly recover. According to the popular magazine “Psychology Today,” research shows that in relationships, positivity must outweigh the negativity by 5 to 1 – because humans tend to react to the bad more strongly and persistently than the good. I know it’s healthy to vent, but we often get stuck on the bad stuff, and that is quite tiresome. Patterns are so hard to break. As one of my friends recently put it: “well, if we don’t gossip about anyone … WHAT can we talk about?”
This month, I won an award for my efforts in helping reduce stigma for mental health in the community, partly through writing blogs for CHAI. That was a big surprise; I felt like I was winning an Oscar!! I had to work on it though. At first, I got embarrassed. I thought, “I don’t deserve this! I still have pounds to lose, haven’t done nearly enough, I’m not even married yet… my parents….my community… do they believe in what I do, will they even understand it… why me?” Then I commanded myself: “STOP!! You’ve earned it. Why NOT you?” It’s always been a dream to be be recognized for doing something great; that day has finally come! This could be the start of even better things, so why hide my face in shame and second guess myself? I hung up my cloak of doubt and enjoyed it.
A few days later my birthday arrived; with it came most of my favorite people. We sang and ate with minimal drama and lots of laughter. My mother came to visit me …. our relationship has progressed into one of mutual respect between two adults instead of a naughty child and a chiding mother (as much as can be said for a Pakistani mother and daughter!) At the end of the month, my relatives got together at Thanksgiving and we feasted to our hearts’ content. I kept turning from one good thing to the next, thinking “this is great! Another blessing!” After years of grief and pain, it is at last easier to keep a contented, grateful heart. I read some quotes from every major religion that made me smile :
“Verily, after Hardship, comes Ease,” – The Quran.
“Weeping may endure for a night but joy cometh in the morning,” – The Bible
“As soap is to the body, so laughter is to the soul,” – Jewish Proverb
“The contented are always happy; the discontented are ever miserable.” – Hindu Proverb
“Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.” – Buddha