Every single moment of my life I become more and more myself. Not the perception I once had of myself, nor the woman who was married to that man. Not the perception my family has of me. Just me.
The path I walk now is much more interesting than the path I would be traveling had I not made that first painful decision—the one that set into motion all the other decisions I’ve made since. My life has become fuller and more beautiful than anything I could have imagined when I made that one ugly, wrenching choice.
It’s a word I never pictured in my future. So many of us walked into marriages filled with hope, only to find ourselves staring helplessly at divorce papers years down the road.
Somehow I thought divorce and the aftermath of it would be so much harder.
Hope may be a thing with feathers, but happiness has wings. I’m soaring in this new life, and I know that I will never again choose to be the woman who disappeared into the shadows and became a ghost in her own home.
It turns out that happiness is a choice. Once we realize that, it becomes nearly impossible to make any other choice. Why would we choose to be anything but this?
Of course, we all have our days when sadness weighs heavily on us. We have times where we’re carried away by anger. We experience loss, grief and disappointment. However, we can always choose to return to ourselves.
It has to be a conscious choice, accompanied by conscious action.
How we return to a place of happiness may differ from person to person. I have a list of things I do when I’m unhappy to regain my equilibrium and equanimity. Here is an abridged list, along with a tough decision I have to make in choosing each joy. May it be of benefit to others in the effort to choose happiness despite life’s obstacles:
1. My Choice: A bath. A long, hot relaxing bath almost always tops my list. We can add aromatherapy, bring a book or just settle in and let the hot water soothe us.
My Challenge: This is not time to rehash an argument in my head or revisit a relationship loss I’m grieving. This is a time to tune into happy thoughts, or no thoughts at all.
2. My Choice: Self-care (pampering). When we struggle to find our joy, we can practice self-care rituals. I will often give myself a facial or other home spa treatment. Pinterest has a plethora of ideas on ways to pamper oneself at home using common grocery items.
My Challenge: It’s so easy to stop taking care of ourselves when we’re unhappy. To throw on our yoga pants and just go with a messy bun. But I’ve found that I feel so much better when I take good care of myself. Spoil myself. Dress up. Put on lipstick. We need to do these things for ourselves—not just for others.
3. My Choice: Setting the mood. When we’re unhappy, we may need to create an atmosphere that will cheer us. For me, that might include lighting candles (at night), opening the curtains (during the day) or listening to cheerful music. Instead of dwelling on sadness and anger, we can make the effort to do something to lighten our environment.
My Challenge: When setting the mood, I sometimes have to steer myself away from setting the wrong one. Skip the angry music. Turn on a light or two, rather than sitting in the dark.
4. My Choice: Going outside. Fresh air, sunshine, long walks. We can find ways to reboot our moods. If it’s raining, splash in mud puddles, but by all means, find a way to return to happiness.
My Challenge: I’ll want to just stay inside and pull the covers over my head, but that won’t lead me to my happiness. We can indulge every once in a while, but we have to lead ourselves away from shutting down when things go badly.
5. My Choice: Baking. This is certainly specific to me, but others may also find the ritual of baking to be soothing. Colors, scents and textures all work together to create something delicious. Practicing a little kitchen alchemy can go a long way to soothing ourselves (so long as we ignore the mess).
My Challenge: It’s wonderful to bake and indulge in a special treat, but over-indulging in comfort food can also create a dangerous precedent if we find ourselves self-soothing with food rather than using it to nourish our bodies. This can be a destructive pattern of behavior. I say, when life hands you lemons, make a lemon cake. Then just have one slice of cake.
6. My Choice: Exercise or projects. When we’re frustrated and unhappy, exercising or cleaning house can be a way to burn off that frustrated energy to return to a place of peace. If energy cannot be created or destroyed, it must be redirected. Getting moving also increases endorphins and helps us to reach a more positive state.
My Challenge: We may want to be sedentary and sit in our grief or anger, but we have to rise above that feeling if we want to get back our happiness.
7. My Choice: Create something. Get out an adult coloring book. Build something. Write a song. Write a poem. Build a Play-doh sculpture. Paint a wall. Find a way to create something from those feelings. Find the happiness. We can each find an artistic outlet and let it lead us back to our joy.
My Challenge: Not to break something. Sometimes I want to burn my bridges. I want to say the unforgivable thing. I wish for karma to come after those who hurt me. The challenge is to “do no harm but take no sh*t.” We must resist sending out that negative energy into the world, and instead try to reclaim our joy.
However we choose to rediscover our happiness, it’s important to remind ourselves that we can choose it. Some days are more difficult, and there will be days when it’s impossible. But on all the other days, we can choose it again and again.
We can only find joy in being ourselves when we make the choice to live our lives mindfully and authentically.
When we wake up and choose to be happy, we will find so many opportunities where others see only obstacles and frustration. We may need to keep retracing our steps, finding ways to be joyful regardless of what life throws our way.
It’s often in making the most difficult decisions that we truly find our joy.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Editor: Toby Israel
Image: Brooke Cagle/Unsplash