It Is Okay To Be Happy

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Today started out in a good, good way.

And I was instantly suspicious.

I have been noticing this tendency in myself over this past year—my commitment to suffering, to melancholy, the deep safety I feel within chaos and misery.

Today, I had a tasty protein heavy breakfast. I and my boyfriend joked before I headed out the door. The air was slightly warm while waiting for the bus. My students laughed at my jokes and we talked about Junot Diaz. I had lunch with a professor who was kind and engaging.

And all throughout the day, I was awaiting for the piano to fall. For the stomachache to start, for the mean person to cut across my path, anything, anything, anything, that would ruin this sweet blessing of a day.

I know today, to pay attention to such feelings. To sit with them, to jot them down on my phone or a nearby notebook.

Why is it that happiness and feeling good simultaneously make me feel so ill at ease? Why does a heavy cloak of foreboding feel ever present, on the edge of my consciousness anytime my life starts to go well? Why do I expect bad shit to happen to me?

Sometimes it feels obscene to be filled with anything resembling joy in a world like ours. Especially in the last week with the horrific (but oh so sadly predictable) shooting in Las Vegas, the devastation in Puerto Rico, the fact that DACA is being phased out…what right do I have to call myself happy?

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I worry it is yet another form of American propaganda, this cult of happiness, and that I am falling into it, that I am another hippy-dippy privileged woman who is unaware of the real pain in this world.

But, I know this is not the complete story. I know that my fear of being happy and well-adjusted are not just social or national concerns. I know that my misery or depression does nothing to alleviate the depression or misery of another person or nation. I know this but…

When I allow myself to dig deeper, I see something else: I see a little girl who was well used to being on edge, tense, anxious, and afraid. I see a little girl who has immigrant parents who work and worked so damn hard and were not always rewarded for their efforts. I see a little girl who was taught that it is not “if” things go wrong, but “when” they go wrong…

I see the way this little girl has a limited understanding of happiness, that she truly believes her happiness and well-being is a betrayal to the people whom she loves. These belief are bone deep, not exactly conscious, but always there.

Last week, I did a vlog about the story of trauma as told by Bessel Van Der Kolk in The Body Keeps the Score. One of the main machinations of trauma is a tendency to repeat the painful patterns that keep us stuck in the past. We almost can’t help it. Such behavior is hardwired into our brains and into our bodies.

We want to eat well, but stay feeling shitty on processed foods.

We want to date people who care about us, but find ourselves attracting emotionally unavailable people who ghost or leave us every single time.

We want to go for our entrepreneurial dreams, but we stay stuck in comparison and afraid to take the action to make our dreams a reality.

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We want to be happy but find ourselves self-sabotaging our well-being time and time again.

To be sure, there are things we cannot control. Life is life. We don’t get to call all the shots. We will never be able to control other people’s behavior. Ever.

But, I think we can be curious about our patterns, especially in relation to self-sabotage and being stuck, especially if we notice that feeling good makes us feel uneasy.

Unless you are a sadist, I think it may be useful to know why we tend to distance ourselves from happiness and keep ourselves mired in misery.

I’ll admit it: there is something about chaos and sadness and disappointment and being alone that feels oddly comforting to me. These are feelings and emotional states I have an almost sisterly connection with. I have had many experiences of being let down, of letting my heart open only to have it crushed with severity by those closest to me.

So, it makes perfect sense that when I have good days, when life seems to be handing me lemonade with extra sugar, I start looking upwards at the blazing blue sky waiting for the piano to crash upon my head.

It makes sense that these are the days I am most likely to pick fights with my partner, to eat something I know my digestive system will hate me for, to laze around so that I have to hurry and rush before an appointment even though I had more than enough leisure to be on time.

Part of me is absolutely terrified of being happy.

And I can love that part of me. I can slowly, gently, but always assure her that she deserves good things, that she can open her arms to more than the basics in life. I can let her know again and again and again that she not only deserves to survive, she has full permission to thrive.

It will take time to stop looking for falling pianos, this I know.

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So, if you are a Queen (or King) of self-sabotage, I urge you to take a holy pause to remind yourself that you deserve to feel good. I suggest you sit with those parts of your soul which are used to being left, being sad, being alone, being pulled in seventy directions and let them know that your new normal can be peace and love and ease. It will take time. It will take patience.

I am right there with you, trying to learn that being happy is not sin or a sign of immaturity or selfishness or a betrayal to those I care for. Being well-adjusted is a gift we can all pass on to those who follow us.

And I urge you to remind yourself as much as you need to:

It is okay to be happy. 

It is okay to be happy.

It is okay to be happy.

I will do the same.

Onward,

Hannah

Loving the Unloved Girl

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One day I went on a weekend bike trip in Ohio with my boyfriend. It was all awesome and good until he pointed out a deer and I looked a bit too long, crashed into his bike, and fell to the ground.

I wasn’t badly hurt–mainly just grumpy, but I could not wait to soak in our hotel’s whirlpool and ease my aching shins, arms, and ego.

Once at the hotel, I lowered myself into the bubbling hot tub, probably even emitted a long soda-commercial “aaaaahhhhh” as the water enveloped my entire body. It was late and the swimming pool area was completely empty.

Seconds after I entered the steaming waters, a woman knocked at the window. I groaned. No way did I want to exit the whirlpool, but she stood there, waving at me from afar. I sighed loudly and left the pool, the cold instigating goosebumps along my arms and made my way to the door. I cursed the lady under my breath for forgetting her hotel key and quickly wrapped a towel around my waist.

As I got closer to the door, I realized the woman was not a woman.

It was a little girl, probably about eight or nine years old.

Immediately, I felt bad, and wondered if she had seen my pissed countenance the entire time I had walked toward her. I softened my face, tried to offer a welcome smile and opened the door.

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The little girl had her hair wound in the same candy-ball baubles my mom used to braid my hair into when I was her age. Her skin was dark brown and radiant in the way that only really young children can shine. But, her face carried a faint quiver, she had clearly seen how I had looked when I got out of the pool and her fear was evident.

“I just wanted to say hi,” she said softly.

She tried to smile.

“Hi,” I said. I offered the widest smile I could.

Her smile grew more. She waved again and then she walked away.

I am thinking of this story a lot lately. How I mistook that little girl for a grown woman and was set to open the door with an attitude. Once I realized how young she was, I quickly decided to treat her with compassionate kindness.

There are times when the unloved and unwanted girl within me speaks and I treat her like a grown woman. I am short with her. Annoyed, sometimes even downright angry. I wonder why she can’t just get it together. I reason with her, lecture, ignore her. I withhold all manners of compassion.

The unloved girl who reaches for instantaneous fame, sugary foods, negative thoughts, stale friendships is not a grown woman. She is a girl. She does not react to “reason” or “logic” for she is pure, raw feeling, as children usually are. All she wants to say is hello, to have me welcome her and ask her what she needs in that moment.

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It is tough to do this. We don’t exactly live in the Age of Introspection. We are taught to beat our “badness” into submission.  But I am getting better. I know there are ways in which I learned to reach for substitutes for true love and instead of being afraid or dismissive of these impulses, I am now choosing to say hello.

There is reoccurring theme in many meditation circles of holding our pain, greeting it, letting it be as big as it needs to be. Of saying hi how ya? to our anxiety, jealously, procrastination, grief, and anger. Some meditation teachers even liken it to sitting down for a meal.

That little girl at that Ohio hotel taught me something so profound that day and I am still digging deeper and deeper into this lesson. I forget the lesson and then I remember, I circle lower and lower into the healing this teaching requires, growing the entire time.

It all comes down to being where we are. Greeting our pain with open arms and offering ourselves what we did not get as children. For some it is a gentle reminder that it is okay to be different. For others, it may be permission to set boundaries, to eat slowly and mindfully, or to love ourselves even when we fuck up.

For me, it’s a bit of all the above.

I am learning to greet all my selves with a hello and to love that unloved girl within me. Every time I take the minutes to acknowledge her presence, to tell her that I still love her, that I hear her cry for attention, care, celebration, or connection, her cries lesson.

In the end, all she really wants to do is get my attention.

My hope for you: that you greet your pain and unloved portions of your heart with open arms. Journal, take a walk, cry, listen to sappy songs, do whatever makes that little unloved girl (or boy) feel heard. Ask them what they need for you to do.

And it all starts with a simple hello.

Onward,

Hannah

Art: Gerald Sanders, Merry Jaye, and last picture attributed to fullten