The Pitfall of Happiness

If there is one thing you need to know about younger Mari, she chased happiness like it was her job. And most of the time, she succeeded in that chase. She won happiness. She was happiness. The color yellow, personified.

She also had a lot to be happy about (and still does). A very loving and supportive family, she enjoyed school for the most part. She had kind friends. She participated in every sport and activity under the sun, and was usually quite good at them. So in her head, happiness was success and anything less was a failure. She chose not to fail.

This works to an extent when you are a kid and in your teenage years. I busied myself with activity after activity. I would leave for school at 7 am and get home around 7 pm most days. That was my normal, and I honestly thrived. But I look back on that and realized that although it served a great purpose at the time, and led me to where I am today, it also led to this undeniable desire to never be satisfied or happy enough. Once I achieved one award, it was on to the next. Once one sport season had passed, it was on to the next. I knew I could always do better, so I strived for better. Being good at the things I tried hard to be good at brought me joy, and that was what life was all about- feeling the most joy. It worked. Until I hit adulthood.

There is something about becoming an adult that requires you to really pay attention to what a sustainable and joyful life really is. All of us experience joy on different spectrums and many have different thresholds for joy (and pain) depending on both our biology and environment (hello, nature versus nurture).

My constant chase for the high of happiness was seen as extreme optimism, I was a ray of freaking sunshine. I was (and both begrudgingly/gleefully sometimes still am) the glass is half full, look at the bright side, life is always wonderful, type of person. Some days, that badge is worn as a complete honor. Some days it weighs on me heavily, an unnecessary anchor.

But what this has led to is the belief that if I feel anything other than complete bliss and joy and happiness, then something is wrong, I am failing. We get this one life, I cannot stand to spend it feeling anything but happy. So what is the pitfall?!

Happiness is ONE emotion, and newsflash younger Mari, humans experience 27 CATEGORIES of emotions. To think that we can be one thing for the rest of our lives, or that we should even try to strive for one emotion forever, is mathematically ludicrous (and the fact that I care about math, as an English teacher, should surprise you and then let you know how serious I take this).

I chased joy until I was joy. That became my identity. An addiction. Striving for happiness will be the pitfall of our happiness. Then, in my twenties, when I started to experience mild anxiety, which eventually led to more extreme anxiety and depression (something that I still find hard to verbalize because younger Mari didn’t fully believe in depression…I know, I know- WHAT), this is when I started to feel these deep and terrifying emotions that stripped me of the identity I had always had. It left me completely lost. It made me question who I was, and whether or not this is who I would be for the rest of my life.

Now, I am no expert, nor do I think I can offer you, lovely reader, much wisdom when it comes to how to ride the waves of life, but let me leave you with this.

Just as I chased happiness as if it were my only life force, it is that very chase that drowned me. In my times of anxiety and depression, the faster I ran towards happiness, the further it ran from me and the deeper I fell into my own dark place of uncertainty. The Big Unknown. But when I slowed the chase, when I examined not only why I was chasing happiness, but really asked myself if that’s who I was actually chasing, or instead was I actually running from something? When I paused, sometimes for a minute, sometimes for weeks, and let my anxiety be known, or allowed depression to speak, or urged my uncertainty to teach and tell me more, that I realized my happiness was much more likely to eventually come back- she too was exhausted from the chase. She was giving me a break, a gift, that at the time felt like a gun being pressed to my head, but in time allowed me to untangle the emotions that I was running from, that I once abhorred.

She knew that in order for me to feel joy again, I had to heal the parts that hurt. In order to heal that parts that hurt, I had to listen to them.

This is the lesson I continue to learn. Life is a cycle of hurting, and healing, and hoping.

And this is what my next book hopes to examine- the “H” cycle and how we can best navigate it, especially when we are exhausted from the very chase we once adored so deeply. This work requires constant redefinition of what joy is to us and how to feel it. We cannot grab or chase or find happiness, but we can learn patience in knowing she will always come back.

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