December 2, 2008

Why I’ve Learned to Stop Worrying About Whether I’m Happy or Like Myself

About a year ago, my husband, point blank, asked me whether I was happy. I took a deep breath and answered “no.”

Why wasn’t I happy? What was wrong with me? Why was a failing to live up to my inalienable right as an American to enjoy happiness?

I won’t go into gory details, but here are some of the things that were going on in my head last year when my husband asked me this question.

1. My husband has a chronic health condition that had provoked a series of traumatic events in our lives several years earlier and that continues to create challenges for him, and, he fears, could shorten his lifespan. These past events and these present challenges had contributed to our sense of distance from each other. We had never come to terms in an honest way with these events and how we could continue to live together.

2. I was feeling some dissatisfaction with my job. I work in an industry that I love, and I work with cool, smart, creative, fun people. But I began to wonder how much I would grow professionally at my current workplace. Also, I work in an industry that isn’t known for its generous salaries. It was starting to grate on me that, at my age and level of professional experience, I was probably earning a smaller annual salary than my niece who had recently graduated from college.

3. I never liked myself. There I said it. The-thing-that-shall-not-be-named: that someone like me—from a loving family, with a loving husband and son, educated, well-traveled, reasonably attractive, reasonably intelligent, and living in this nation built on that can-do, power-of-positive-thinking spirit–often doesn’t like herself. Indeed, I can say that sometimes I actually hate myself. This self-hatred makes me feel so out of sync with all the happy, shiny people I see living out here in suburbia.

Fast forward to the past few weeks:

1. I have been in therapy with an excellent MFT over that past year, and he’s encourages that Buddhist approach of trying to live in the moment and of accepting those negative feelings, analyzing them, addressing them, and then moving on. Not focusing so much on what’s happened in the past or what will happen in the future, but what’s happening in the here and now, and just going with that flow.

2. My husband, raised Catholic, has likewise become something of a Buddhist, reading and re-reading tomes by the Dalai Lama and Pedra Chodron. My husband is an amazingly strong, resilient, and thoughtful man. We’ve found ways of talking more about his health condition, how it affects him, me, and us, and to find ways to show forgiveness, compassion and an understanding of we’ve both let each other down in the past but will always strive to do better.

3. The Global Economic Crisis (GEC), or, GD2 (Great Depression 2) hit. We lived through a tumultuous but exciting presidential election. We’re still at war in two countries. Pakistan is rearing its head as the world’s next danger zone. Mumbai just suffered horrific attacks by well-trained, well-organized terrorists. Chaos has erupted in Thailand, a once peaceful kingdom where my husband and I had the privilege to live for three years when we were younger and more adventurous.

All these things: the therapy, learning about living in the moment, my husband’s attitude of gratitude towards live, our reconnection as a couple, and the economic and political turmoil nationally and internationally have caused me to shift my perspective.

I’m not saying that I’m happy or that I like myself any better than a year ago. Actually, my husband and I had a fun but profound talk a couple weeks ago, one morning after I woke up feeling anxious and scared that the world was spinning out of control. He talked about how he had long come to think that the quest for happiness is over-rated. He admitted that he too had been plagued much of his life by feelings of self-hatred. One of the things he said he has learned through his challenges and meditation practices is to stop resisting those feelings of unhappiness and self-hatred.

What a revelation! Stop resisting those feelings. Stop trying to be happy or to convince myself that I am happy. Stop trying to love myself. What a relief. When he said that, I suddenly felt light and free. I would stop worrying about being happy or about liking myself. I would just live and do things I like to do and work to be a loving wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, as well as a decent friend and member of the community.

I would also work at being a good co-worker. With regard to work, I’m not stressing these days about whether I’m in the right job for my personal and professional self-fulfillment. I’m just grateful I have a job, when I know of so many others in my industry who have lost jobs. I’m also grateful that the bosses at my company are working hard to keep as many of us employed as possible and for as long as possible.

I’ll never be content, but that’s okay. That’s the way it is. I’m no longer going to ask myself, “are you happy?” I’ll never worry about the question: "Do you like yourself?" It’s a campaign I’d like to concede I’ve lost, and now I’d like to move on.


Another soccer mom said...

What a great posting.From one soccer mom to another, I just want to say "thank you". Stay strong!

Anonymous said...

Hello Another Soccer Mom,
Thanks very much for your note. You, too, stay strong. I think we can all make it through these crazy times and through the rest of life.

And feel free to let me know if there are other things I should be exploring aalong these lines.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Soccer Mom, interesting line of thought. this is a topic that my husband and i have discussed quite a few times, what will make us happy? being a military family we have thought does location make a difference, is it family, is it stuff? especially after having children and seeing how our daughter seems to have a totally different idea of how to be happy from us (sometimes we really don't understand her). we have concluded the kind of the same thing. we all require different things to be content but maybe being ecstatically happy is not really the goal?