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How To Be Happy (Also “Why” …If You Need That)

The other day I was on the phone with a client, and was going over next steps for their branding project. I finished with the words, “…and then we’ll move into your website, which is the most exciting part!”

The client responded teasingly, “Susie, is anything NOT the most exciting part for you? It seems like everything is your favorite thing.”

I had to give that some genuine thought. On the one hand, I guess it’s worth evaluating my sincerity – am I creating false enthusiasm, here? After all, this project will represent an awful lot of work for both of us. But on the other hand, dag nabbit, it really is exciting! I shrugged him off and said, “You’re onto me – everything is my favorite thing. It’s just a good way to live life.”

And it’s true: I believe that the most fulfilling lives are those lived in a state of perpetual marvel.

This isn’t exactly the first time my incessant optimism has been pointed out to me, though – and not always in such a nice / teasing way. In fact, overall I think happy people (ironically) get a bad wrap, for a couple of reasons.

For starters, take it from me: trying to find the positivity in everything can really gnaw at the people closest to you. (As my dad once asked my mom in exasperation, “Will you please stop trying to put a silver lining around my black cloud?”) I think some people wear their unhappiness as a badge of honor, as a proof of their human legitimacy… so being told to look on the bright side offends their sense of self.

Secondly, it doesn’t help that having a cheery outlook on the world tends to be associated with naivete (see: just about any role Ellie Kemper has ever played). I was once in a book club with a bunch of women a generation or two ahead of me – and when I always liked all the books they hated, they said, “Wait until you have some more life experience under your belt.” As if cynicism and negativity were somehow synonymous with maturity? Because, I suppose, if ignorance is bliss then bliss must also mean ignorance???

Along that same vein, I think there’s also an implication that overly happy people lack the emotional fortitude to deal with disappointment or frustration. That their contentment, in all its pristine glory, must also bear an inky ‘FRAGILE’ stamp: Like a sweet little puppy, this person’s psyche must be frail, weak, in need of protection.

If you’re a subscriber to this particular belief system, buster, have I got news for you:

You could not be more wrong.

I emphatically reject the notion that happiness is (a) a sign of ignorance, or (b) a sign of weakness, if only by virtue of the simple fact that – write this down – HAPPINESS IS HARD. It takes conscious energy and relentless attention. Happy people aren’t puppies, they’re goddamn warriors.

As humans, our natural propensity is toward unhappiness… we are psychologically predisposed to be doubtful, judgmental, and combative. So people who are able to overcome those powerful evolutionary inclinations, and lead a life that’s driven more strongly by curiosity than fear? Those people should be revered; we should have holidays in their honor.

Lest I sound too self-absorbed, here, please note that I don’t even consider myself a member of this admirable crew. Despite my efforts, I don’t exactly pretend to be immune to unhappiness. I’ve waded through pools of depression so thick you could pour it over pancakes.

(It’s probably worth noting that depression, by definition, is something different than what I’m ultimately describing here – one’s a mood, the other’s a disease.)

Nevertheless, I am a firm believer that we are the architects of our own happiness – and I am in active pursuit of that happiness whenever possible. As humans, we need to learn to appreciate the value of our own joy – and seek it out, tirelessly, forever. If we don’t, we risk falling into the pit of absolute, crushing despair that is sometimes referred to as life.

As the poet Jack Gilbert writes, “we must risk delight.” In fact, we must be downright stubborn in our gladness – to fortify against “the ruthless furnace of this world.”

Let me give you an example: Not one but three family friends died this year. Two belonged to the same family – mother and son, and as present in my childhood as Mickey Mouse. The same day that I found out about the most recent of these deaths, we lost a client at work… and I also got into an unrelated but brutal fight with someone very close to me. To top it all off, I contracted the worst flu I’d ever encountered – rendering me completely bedridden for days.

Consider all the negative conclusions I could’ve drawn about that week, had I been in the mood to ruin my life: I could’ve assumed the universe was mocking me, while bestowing love and blessings upon everyone else. I could’ve said, “I am fortune’s fool while they are fortune’s darlings, and such is the eternal injustice and tragedy of my cursed existence.” I could’ve turned inward, finding that quiet but all-too-intoxicating indulgence that sometimes accompanies sadness. I could’ve luxuriated in the exquisite victimhood of it all.

To be fair, I did do that – for a little while. I’m human, after all. But it wasn’t long before I figured out how absurdly unproductive it was.

I know how this must sound to people who are currently unhappy. I do. In fact, it’s taken me a few weeks to even write this post because I’ve been going through bouts of unhappiness myself.

Re-reading it in that state of mind reminds me vaguely of having asthma attacks as a kid, when well-meaning adults thought it might help if they just demonstrated how to breathe correctly. “Like this, see? Do this with me.” I would watch them take deep, luxurious lungfuls while I wheezed pitifully, clutching my chest… thinking, Are you TRYING to taunt me?

I imagine the same to be true when a happy person gives a sad person advice. “All you have to do is look on the bright side! It’s so easy, see?”

But that’s the thing: I’m not saying it’s easy. It is decidedly NOT easy. It’s actually really, really, unbelievably, unequivocally hard. You might not even accomplish it. Or maybe you will, but it’ll take a lot of time.

But given the option, wouldn’t you kind-of… rather be happy? If it was in your control?

And if you could somehow know, with absolute conviction, that it was within your control, wouldn’t you do something about it?

So what are you waiting for?

 

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7 thoughts on “How To Be Happy (Also “Why” …If You Need That)

  1. Hi, Susie 🌸 I in San Diego and just read your marvelous post! Beautifully insightful my little niecie and I honesty think you could and should write a book! You are that GOOD 😊 Have u ever thought about doing that?? I would be SO happy to discuss that prospect with you. So far we haven’t seen anyone here since we just arrived but tomorrow l will make arrangements to do just that, especially with your lovely, happy Mother 🌸 ❤️ Auntie S 💖💙💚💋

    Sent from my iPhone

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  2. Love this so so so much!

    Kris Jones Brand Transformer + Design Strategist.

    Brand and website design that grows your business. My 7 step process makes it fun and simple.

    What would transformation look like for you? Schedule a Call

    WEBSITE | INSTAGRAM | FACEBOOK 2580 NW Upshur St, Portland, OR 97210

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  3. Marysusanne Wittbrodt!
    Uncle Larry and I just arrived yesterday in San Diego for a few weeks. I’m deciding that with old age, comes leisure, way tooo much leisure. I’m going to have to take a moment to organize my (our) time so that along with leisure, does NOT come boredom. I do believe that my little sister, your Mother, simply does NOT know the meaning of that word.

    I am writing you because I just reread your last post and have decided that I absoluly MUST tell you yet again, that YOU are a brilliant and gifted writer, which I am certain you know, because of all the input you must receive from your avid readers. Is there a novel in you somewhere? If not, please think about it! YOU have the talent, and with your ability, you MUST create the time. OR at the very least, a book of short stories!! SOMETHING to demonstrate this vast, creative way you posess of expressing yourself with the written word.

    This is the second time in the last few days I have been compelled to write you regarding this subject of your future. Maybe it is because you are my little namesake, but mostly it is because you are just so completely unadulteratedly (new word) talented! I do believe it is my duty as your favorite Auntie, to encourage . . . and prod . . . and NAG you to at least make a committment to yourself that you will consider this prospect of writing in your future. Oh, I know you will never stop writing (it would be impossible for you) but I mean WRITING for publishing and/or remuneration of some kind. You deserve to be rewarded for expressing this God given gift He has bestowed upon you!

    You may not know that your GreatGrandFather on your Mother’s side, my Grandpa, Josiah Daniel (“Cy” Price) was a political writer . . . he wrote speeches for senators in Idaho and, in fact, DID run for Governor of the state of Idaho (but lost.) I still have the poster, which I framed for posterity. It is a little hazy but I think he, himself, was a Senator from Idaho. I distinctly remember him coming to visit one day in Boise when a big, black limosouine driven by a driver with a chauffer’s hat, pulled into our driveway. And . . .THERE was Grandpa, in the back seat. He was brilliant and funny and handsome and smart all rolled into one man. You, my little one, have his talent. YOU, of all his relatives . . . GOT it! YOU, missy! 😉

    So, Keep Up the good work you are doing and know that you sort of “OWE” it to yourself, and to me 🙂 and to your Great Grandpa Price to become just a little bit famous for your absolutely gifted writing skills. (But you do not have to run for governor of California!) Just WRITE!

    I am so proud of you, my little namesake, Susie.

    Love,
    Auntie

  4. Oh my darling little daughter – so eloquent, and so absolutely CORRECT!!!!!
    I am so proud of she!!!! I am reminded of my new mantra I learned in Hawaii this summer – “Attitude os the difference between an ordeal and an adventure!” Love Mama

  5. I absolutely LOVE reading your posts!!! WE are in San Diego so u know the weather is great and I am on the back patio reading your post. I am reminded of our LOVELY time together with Kris, wine and you! Wasn’t that a lovely way to spend several afternoons . . . I think the title of our project was At the Helm of My Own Happiness. You and Kris are the very best ladies I have EVER known. In my LIFE !!! And NOW you are writing about happiness 😉 This article is fabulous and I am copying it for posterity to refer to often. Suej ~ Sent from my iPad s

  6. I just re-read this again . . . YES, Darling Susie . . . AGAIN 😉 I mentioned to you that I saved this to my desktop to refer to often. I wonder how many people get uplifted, just when they need it, when they read and re-read this post? I certainly am uplifted. And I think of my precious sister, your lovely Mother 😉 She certainly makes a conscious decision each day to be positive (I’m sure it is upon waking in the morning.) You two make the world a better place because you are in it . . . and Kristin, too 😉 Love and appreciate you . . . Auntie

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