*Warning: naughty language ahead!
I love my life. I’m happy. I’m down to my roots contented—and yet, I don’t feel comfortable saying that out loud.
I don’t feel like I’m allowed to be so happy while happiness eludes so many.
I feel like my declaration of joy will be met with eye rolls and thoughts of, Well good for you, Little Bo Peep. Go frolic about with your joy while the rest of us scrape by and try to find a moment of peace, let alone contentment, amidst the piles of bills and school projects and debt and marriage problems.
And so I’ve shrunk from it. Joy. I’ve shrunk from joy.
Are you hearing how twisted that is?
Being happy is like the almighty quest in our culture. Everywhere we turn there are signs directing us to this holy grail: from the latest “How to Find your Joy” article and “10 Habits of Happy People” list to the books, bumper stickers, and coffee mugs instructing us to “Choose Joy!”
And I have had the amazingly good fortune of finding this holy grail.
Yet, instead of wildly celebrating my blessings, I stew in guilt. Instead of feeling good about what I have, I feel bad that I have something others don’t. I’ve traded war story for war story to convince others that, in spite of my happiness, I’m relatable. I’ve kept my joy wrapped in secrecy, like a sweet, private delicacy that I only unwrap in still, safe moments of solitude.
It seems wrong and insensitive to be so happy while so many others are struggling. Instead of celebrating my health, I feel bad that others are sick. I feel loved and supported, but am cautious not to talk about it because others are suffocating in their loneliness. I enter into conversations with people who are stressed and overwhelmed, and I feel that my happiness is salt in their wounds.
I have never given myself permission to emote my happiness in the presence of those who are still searching for it. I stay small. I keep it confined.
I have busied myself functioning from the tape reel in my head that plays like this:
I don’t deserve happiness any more than others do, so why me and not them? I must not emulate too much joy lest others feel bad about their lack of joy. I must remain small and keep my joy encapsulated. My happiness is surely offensive to those who seek it. To exude my happiness would be to invite loathing and condemnation.
I’ve decided to replace that tape reel with a new one. The new one goes like this:
Fuck. That. Shit.
I don’t want to play small anymore. I’ve worked my ass off for my happiness (not that this matters—happiness doesn’t need to be justified).
I’ve left careers and friendships and homes and a marriage, despite the agony and pain of those choices, despite the judgment and criticism that accompanied those choices, because it’s what I needed to do to thrive. I’ve learned to say no and establish boundaries after years of putting others first. I’ve learned to stand up for myself when someone is treating me like shit.
I’ve learned that self-care outranks service, and that I can’t genuinely be of service until I’ve tended to my own garden. I’ve accepted that my choices may at times look selfish and unforgiving to others and stopped seeking approval. I’ve gotten down and dirty with my life choices, examining every one, and painstakingly carved out a life that brings me peace and gladness.
I have tended to my wounds and worked through my emotional baggage so that I can have the healthy, loving partnership I’ve always wanted. I have taken my health into my own hands to overcome medical crises. I have stopped accepting toxic friendships so that I could find my tribe of loving, supportive friends and have nourishing and mutually beneficial friendships. I have dedicated myself to the slow, arduous, often painful task of cultivating my well-being.
I have fallen on my face a thousand times to learn how to walk with grace. I have tediously unraveled the million little ways I was told I was supposed to live so I could discover how I wanted to live. I’ve done the work and it’s paid off — I’m happy.
And I won’t dishonor that blessing anymore by downplaying my joy.
I am not telling you all of this to validate my joy. I’m merely telling you how I got here. It is not my concern if anyone feels that my joy is justified or not (part of joyful living, I’ve discovered, is this severing of external validation).
I’ve come to realize that I can be a far better force of good in the world through contentment than guilt. I hate that not everyone feels happy. I hate that people suffer and struggle. But I‘m done apologizing — with hidden smiles and downcast eyes, with guarded expressions and a tempered spirit — for not suffering. If I could have it my way, everyone would be happy. But that’s not under my influence or control.
I freaking love my life! I have given myself permission to thrive and permission to unapologetically feel my joy.
I hope that it doesn’t upset you and I hope that you don’t hate me for it. But I won’t spend my time worrying about that. I’m too busy allowing myself to be happy. Finally.