I woke up this morning at the beginning of my time off from work until Monday. I have dinner plans tomorrow with two other misfit toys who have been socially isolating, but now I’m wondering if even that is safe. Look what happened in Canada.
I have spent Thanksgiving away from a traditional family setting before. Last year I went out for my birthday instead. When I was in Korea, I either ate dinner with other expats or with Koreans explaining Thanksgiving to them. Actually, I spent a few Christmases away from a family-like setting. The first one I spent with an acquaintance in the Army who was dating a colleague of mine because we didn’t go back to the United States for Christmas. We ate Malaysian food and went shopping in Myeongdong. And then there was that Christmas I spent on a cruise ship and the day I froze my ass off at Disneyworld because it was unseasonably cold.
But when I woke up this morning, I didn’t wake up sad or depressed. Actually, I have been pretty down for the past week because of a disappointment and an existential grief, but I’m still working, living, writing (there’s going to be a three-part series on soul mates in the works, and an blog post teaching everyone how to read a traditional astrology chart correctly). I woke up thinking that I should find out if there’s an alternative route for lawyers to become teachers in Illinois, or even some other state, because frankly, that’s probably what I should be. My work as a lawyer in-court and as an astrologer who likes to teach astrology fills some of that role, but I wonder if I should be explaining evolution or To Kill A Mockingbird to Children, or maybe, when this pandemic passes, if I should get back into tutoring for the ACT.
A few months ago, the company I worked for reached out to me.
I miss it.
I should be miserable. My life sucks, objectively. I mean it does. My boyfriend died in front of me, in my arms, about eight months ago, during the pandemic. I’m alone, and I’m actually more alone than I ever have been in my life, partially due to necessary choices. I have a stressful job that I’m lucky to have. Rick left me with a bunch of debt I have to pay off. I’m now in the best physical shape I’ve been in in the last six or so years, but I’m still overweight (not obese anymore!) but sad that I never took care of my body and am struggling to be happy for my weight loss and increased strength. I’m getting older and wondering if I will ever achieve what I wish to achieve. I’m not necessarily “young” anymore, and I’m confused, because while most of the anxiety of my twenties is gone, the time and the ability to recover from my own stupidity is being rapidly swept away by the winds of time, and this is starting to turn into the Season of Regret, the mid-life crisis. On top of that, I didn’t have a good start in life, and that will haunt me no matter how much I try to use this to help others.
But I’m not miserable. Somewhere in me is a sadness, but not a prevailing one. There is an existential loneliness, but not an overwhelming one, and certainly not one I would say defines me in general.
Happiness isn’t a choice. It isn’t an emotion.
Happiness is a predisposition, and you’re probably born with it, and there’s probably a switch that gets turned on or off.
That’s the best explanation I can come up with.
It is probably genetic, and it’s probably based in the personality, because many of us who are generally happy people or at least, not unhappy people, don’t have much of a reason for it.
I know what it is like to be situationally depressed. I know what it’s like contemplate whether my hope is useless and to wonder if death would be preferable, but despite that, despite some other things I don’t think I should talk about here, I have not seriously attempted or planned suicide because I have always had some hope, even if it was absurd, and curiosity for the future.
I don’t actually know what it means to feel empty on the inside. I don’t actually understand the chronic need to numb one’s self with drugs and alcohol. I don’t actually understand the feeling that without someone in particular, you will cease to exist, or that it’s other people who give you meaning because by yourself, your own existence gives you no satisfaction.
I understand, and I can empathize, but I have not really experienced these things, and I realize that because I probably have a predisposition to happiness. It’s probably genetic in part, and probably in part my personality. I’m a mutable type, and we tend to go with the flow and slip away from things more easily.
And I say this because when I describe my childhood to people objectively, they apologize to me. I’ve hinted at it, and I don’t want to start blogging in detail about in part because I don’t want to make this a trauma blog, and in part because while my childhood informs me for the kind of work I do, specifically representing and advocating for abused and neglected children, I don’t want to make it seem that I am advocating for myself in some way, or that I cannot be objective. I can. And there’s lots of rules. And there’s lots of people, and lots of different circumstances. But I know I’m not alone in my job, and there are colleagues who became attorneys to give the help they could have used back in the day.
And let’s not talk about the struggle of dealing with teen clients.
But my childhood was not happy, and my parents were not happy, and the way that they dealt with that was to ensure misery for everyone around them by any means possible, and where they saw glimmers of happiness, they brought sorrow and pain. They do not have a predisposition to happiness. They could not teach me happiness. They could not model happiness.
And I know it specifically pissed my father off to no end that he could not somehow erase my innate happiness, as much as he tried. That was a special mission for him. Sociopaths can’t be happy, and they can’t understand it, but it does confuse and anger them.
But I also know that his siblings, and maybe his mother, didn’t have the same predisposition to misery; in fact, they have a predisposition to happiness.
On my mother’s side, it appears that my grandfather, and maybe one of my aunts, had a predisposition to happiness. My grandfather has let me know that he’s moved on to a new incarnation away from this family, and I think that’s for the best.
But how do I know this?
It’s in the way they conduct their lives, the choices they make. Sure, some of them make terrible choices and others have to live with the consequences, but they tend to go about life in a way in which it seems that they don’t get beaten down by life and find ways to enjoy it as it is, in the moment, even if it’s just remembering that there’s hope.
And I didn’t end up sick the way a lot of people in my family are. I didn’t end up with the the switch turned off and a rigid mindset that makes sure that it stays off. And as I’ve said, I was completely set up for that through the first half of my life, so how do I not have a personality disorder or chronic depression or addiction? And why haven’t some of my siblings been able to escape the family fate?
I have my problems. I have my dysfunction. But I don’t have chronic misery.
That Feeling You’re Looking For Is Hope, Not Happiness.
I think that we tend to confuse these two feelings. Hope is sustaining, hope is the better of the two, but we tend to think that they’re the same thing.
Happiness is the ability to sit in your room and be like “this is okay, and I find things I like in the world and with myself, and I don’t want to die, and I want to keep experiencing things.”
Hope is like “No matter what happens next, I want to keep living and being here, because even if it’s bad now, it’s not always going to be this way, and there is beauty right here.”
Similar, right? But different. Hope looks into the future. Happiness is a feeling right now.
You can’t give yourself a false feeling of hope from taking drugs or doing risky things to increase your adrenaline or sleeping around for love and validation or putting yourself through other neurochemical con jobs, even if you can generate a feeling that can mimic happiness.
You can be happy without hope. Like, if you’re lying in bed with someone you’re really into and there is no future there and you’re dodging the commitment questions but you’re okay with things right then and you’d love to do this a few more times, you’re happy. You don’t have hope that this is The One, but you’re happy.
But what if you do? What if you’re circling the thoughts in your head, trying to convince yourself that this is it, you’re getting older, this makes sense where you’re at in life, you get along well, you could maybe possibly see yourself being okay with committing to this person, and you know, maybe there is no one else out there for you? This is how you screw up hope in your head.
This is also how you set yourself up for disappointment, because that’s the other side of the coin: hope and disappointment.
And as someone who is naturally romantic and does believe in true love, and whose chart says there’s one more out there for me, I have hope.
Disappointment is not forever.
It almost seems cruel, the Buddhist belief that hope is the root of unhappiness, but without hope or expectation, there is no disappointment. Things just are.
I think it’s good to experience both hope and disappointment. I don’t think any emotion is bad. I don’t think that’s the lesson, either. I think experiencing the full range of emotions a person can have, in and of itself, is part of the beauty of incarnation.
And that means sitting with your disappointment. It means enjoying your fleeting moments of happiness. It means allowing yourself to hope knowing that you could be disappointed later.
And even if all the emotions are illusions, I think that experiencing the illusions are what help us understand that they are, in fact, illusions.
It’s Okay to be Disappointed with Life Right Now.
It’s not just Thanksgiving. It’s the aloneness. It’s the struggle to use this time productively when you’re lonely and uncertain because you don’t have the people around you to let you know where you stand in the world that you’re trying to maintain contact with. It’s the feeling for a lot of us that if we don’t make quick decisions now that we will die alone. It’s the dread that once this pandemic is over, the careers that we thought made us happy because they gave us a sense of achievement and a place in the world just won’t be there the way they were.
And as someone who has lost a career completely before and completely humiliated over that, and has had a few other different ones out of necessity before this one, I can tell you that in the end, it’s not so bad to have to switch gears and do something else with your life. In fact, it’s pretty awesome to have the opportunity to go back and revisit old aspirations and discover new ones.
But you don’t have to run from disappointment, because that won’t make it go away.
Do this exercise this week. Do it daily.
So my suggestion is that if you’re feeling disappointed and lonely this week, and if you wonder if you’ll ever be happy, stop worrying. If you’ve never been a generally happy person, you probably don’t know what you’re missing. It’s not even the glee you see in people’s social media or in commercials. It’s just a type of stillness sort of like serenity, but the kind where you can look around the world and see beauty in it despite everything.
Do you have a pet who looks at you with loving eyes? That’s beauty. Is it sunny today? There’s beauty. The wind rustling the leaves in the trees? The snow falling, muffling the sound and bringing sweet silence? That’s beautiful, too. A nice balanced cup of black coffee? Gorgeous.
Look around and look for the beauty in things. Do this every day. If you’re predisposed to happiness, you do this naturally, but if not, practice and you’ll start feeling happiness. Don’t expect it to be profound, because it’s not ecstasy. It’s subtle, because that’s where happiness actually is – in little things, in little places, and how we react to them.
And one day, you can look at your own messy self, and your own messy life, and even all the messy decisions you’ve ever made to avoid confronting your feelings, and you can say “that’s okay. That’s beautiful, and I am right here.”