Thursday, April 17, 2008

Happiness challenge??

I've been debating with myself for the last 48 hours about typing this post. I was worried that I would come off sounding like I'm just trying to be all profound and sh-t, or that I would come off sounding like I'm being condescending or patronizing, or that my friend would be angry with me, or that airing my dirty laundry would upset family. And most importantly I was worried about sounding like a blabbering idiot because my thoughts are very unorganized at this point. But I decided that I worry too much. I am who I am. At the very least writing this post will help me organize my brainstorm and help empty my brain of all this garbage so I can get a decent nights sleep tonight.

Hubby and I went through a very rough patch a couple years ago. VERY rough. We came about as close as you can come to a divorce without actually saying the "D" word as a couple can get. Through the help of our incredibly wonderful and supportive friends, a marriage counselor, and an endless stack of self help books we made it through. And we are in a much better place now than we have ever been. We've reclaimed our marriage and I can now say that I'm more in love with my husband today than I was 13 years ago when we got married. I'm truly blessed. The troubles we went through somehow made us stronger.

The reasons for our crumbling marriage were aplenty but one of the main sources of our problems was my unhappiness. My inability to find my own happiness. We had somehow become roommates instead of husband and wife. And I was looking for him to make me happy. I'm not saying this to dismiss my hubby from his own roll in our reads my blog....gotta make sure I make that point.....but MY unhappiness played a HUGE roll.

How did I become so unhappy? I had a wonderful and supportive husband, 3 beautiful and healthy children, a very spoiled, cushy, and financially stable life and yet I was miserable....unfulfilled.....bored.....and down right unhappy. I made the decision to be a SAHM who worked an occasional weekend day and was very happy in the beginning in that roll. I LOVED that I had that option. I LOVED being a full time mom. I can't pinpoint when that changed but sometime after my daughter was born I started feeling restless. My kids were growing up and starting school and becoming more independent every day and I found myself twiddling my thumbs in self pity.

Now what? Is this all there is to life....changing diapers, cleaning house, doing laundry, cooking dinner, playing chauffeur, and.....and what? That's it? Seriously? No payments for my sacrifice?....and don't give me the "your reward is your kids' awesome report cards or your kids' good-behavior in public or your happy husband" speech....I wanted more....I expected more. Maybe it would be different if I were one of these women who love to clean or find enjoyment in cooking but I'm just not one of those women. And I'm not saying that in a condescending voice.... I TRULY wish I were one of those women....I envy those women.

In my passionate search to finding happiness in my marriage I read more marriage self help books than I care to remember...... and consider myself a self proclaimed expert on the topic.

Kelly, stop laughing at me!

And in my readings I learned and identified with the fact that if you can't find happiness within your marriage (with the exception of extreme cases where mental and physical abuse are a factor) then you won't find happiness outside of your marriage. Separating and divorcing will not help the "happiness" factor. We need to find that happiness within ourselves and quit relying on our spouses to "make" us happy.

So why am I telling you all this? One of my dearest friends for almost 25 years is going through a horrible time. Her husband, also a dear friend since high school, is going through a horrible time. Their marriage is not in a good place. They are going through the exact same thing me and hubby went through 2 years ago and it's breaking my heart. These 2 people are like family to us and I'm losing sleep over this and shedding tears because I'm feeling their pain. I just want to fix it for them. Make this unhappiness go away.

Then I read blog posts like Classy Chaos' where a seemingly perfect and blessed mother of 3 expresses her own unhappiness, unfulfillment, and depression.

Then I think about my own immediate family and their struggles with severe depression.

And I think about that crazy lunatic who tried to run me off the road a couple weeks ago.

And then I think of that man that is dying of pancreatic cancer, has 2 beautiful children that he's about to leave behind and how unbelievably happy and content he is with his life. He's dying and he's happy.

There are people out there losing in debt....losing loved in a constant state of chaos.....and they still live in a blissful state of happiness. I've been on a passionate quest for the past couple years to find out what the difference is between those happy people and those who are unhappy with their flawless and blessed lives.

Which brings me to the point of this post....and there is a point....please bear with me as I always tend to take the scenic route to my point...I'm not the most articulate person in the world....thoughts tend to spew from my fingertips in a most unorganized manner.

I can't fix other people's unhappiness...I can't change other people's brain chemistry...and make them un-depressed. But while lying awake in bed last night wondering how I could help I decided to start a "Happiness Now" challenge....I was brainstorming ways I could turn this blog into a "finding happiness" resource. I want to somehow share some of the "ah-ha" moments that helped me get past my funk....or maybe start a challenge where other people could share their own "ah-ha" moments....or maybe the challenge could be "how did you find happiness this week" or "what did you do for yourself this week" or......I don't know...I'm still brainstorming....Please help me brainstorm. What are your thoughts and ideas? So this challenge will be a work in progress and evolve over time....I need a title...

Or maybe a blog challenge like that already which case, please point me in the direction because I would really like to participate. I just know that the Tackle it Tuesdays and the Works for me or Wordless Wednesdays and Flashback Fridays keep me focused and accountable to getting things done and getting events why not a happiness post to keep us women (and men) on track to the path of happiness and fulfillment. Let's make ourselves accountable for our OWN happiness.

Here are some of my own "ah-ha" moments.

1) While reading "Eat, Pray, Love" I was reminded that happiness is a choice. We can CHOOSE to be unhappy or we can CHOOSE to be happy.

My teenage years were spent carrying a HUGE chip on my shoulder (maybe that's why I have such a bad back these days...har-har). I had a huge attitude problem and walked around thinking that the world owed me something. Like I had been wronged. I spent most of my teenage years making myself miserable with self pity. "Why me" syndrome. "My life sucks" syndrome. I remember waking up one day....or maybe it was the middle of the day...I don't know....but the point is I remember having a very conscious discussion with myself. I said to myself ...

"This is ridiculous...I'm making myself miserable in my own self pity. Dwelling on the could've beens and should've beens in life instead of focusing on the what is. I spend every conscious waking moment feeling sorry for myself for the hand life dealt father's death....instead of being happy. My father's death is something that canNOT be changed no matter how sorry I feel for myself".

It was that moment that changed me and my way of thinking. I made a conscious decision at that point in my life to stop dwelling on it. To stop thinking about it. When negative thoughts started entering my brain I'd shake my head and dispose of it or try to redirect my thinking. That's not to say that I didn't still miss him or that I didn't still have bad days where the thoughts were stronger than the urge to shake it but I was certainly more conscious of the negativity and how it effected my entire demeanor and outlook on life.

How does my story relate? Again, happiness HAS to be a conscious decision! Instead of waking up feeling pity for ourselves for whatever we're going through....and instead of dwelling on the "what ifs" and challenges in life.... we have to consciously take a walk outside (of ourselves).... close our eyes.... point our faces up to the sun.... and smile.

I know this post is ridiculously long and I hope you'll forgive me for my rant. I thought about splitting this post up and dividing my thoughts into the next several days but I can't. I.need.sleep!

so....ah-ha moment #2....

The book "Happiness Now" by Robert Holden is a phenomenal book. I read this book "Oprah style" with my highlighter pen and post it notes and the book is now glowing in neon pink highlighter marks. It was just one "ah-ha" moment after another. And I HAVE to share some excerpts from this book.

OK, after looking through the book there's just no way I can put all the excerpts I want into this post. So I've changed my mind....I've decided to share one excerpt each day for the next several days or however many days it takes. But I do want to share one thing today...

The author held a clinic and gave the participants a "creative growth game for homework called "Happy Days"....

HEY! Maybe that could be the title of my weekly challenge..."Happy Days Monday"....


the challenge was to dedicate one day a month to one's own "personal nourishment, well-being, and happiness" (pg. 89 if you're wondering). He wanted the participants to use this time to be kind to themselves, to rest, to have an adventure, to try something new, or simply to practice gratitude. One month later when he asked them to share their experiences not one participant had participated. They "didn't have time".

So he said...OK, forget taking a whole day each month...lets try making it a "Happy Hour" each week..."nourish yourselves with love, treats, and kindness." The next week he found that, again, no one had participated. No one had time they said.

So he said....OK, forget that. Lets try to make it an "ecstatic 60 seconds" each day...."the challenge of this game is to give yourself one minute a day to stop everything and simply be happy."

"What can you do in just one minute?" someone asked.

"You can smell a flower, smile for no reason, say thank you for something, breathe in peace, recite a favorite prayer, say an affirmation like 'I accept happiness easily, effortlessly, and naturally,' massage your head, whatever you like" ....and one participated and the author then came to the conclusion that....

"Lack of time is never a real obstacle to happiness"

Which brings me back to my challenge....should it be a "happy day", a "happy hour" or a "happy minute" challenge....where everyone posts what they did for themselves in that time....or maybe just an "ah-ha" moment challenge where everyone posts their "ah-ha" moment of the week....or ....or both....I don't me out here.....I'm still brainstorming....and I still need some education on Mr linkys and link buttons for this...(edited to add ....I think I may have it figured out)...

I realize I probably lost half the audience about 5 pages ago but I just couldn't help myself today. My brain is on overload and I need to make room! Any and all comments are appreciated. I just want to know if there is an interest. If there's no comments I'll assume there's no interest and I'll just continue with my own rants and forget the community challenge part. I just figured out the Mr Linky share your own ah-ha moment....or share what you did for yourself this week...or ....I don't know....this challenge is a work in progress...and still doesn't have a name...any suggestions?

I think over time we, as parents, lose ourselves. And as busy parents we lose our ability (or simply forget over time) how to connect with our spouses and ourselves. We get so busy with the every day monotony of parenthood that we forget who we are....or who we were before being a parent. Our whole identity becomes "parent". And that's not healthy.


Kate said...

I will comment separately on this fabulous post, but I wanted to tell you that Domestic Chicky (the blog designer) was headed out for the weekend, I beleive. Also, what email did you use? Use if you didn't already.

Heather J. said...

Very nice post, Tammy.
I too have found myself unhappy, becuae I have choosen to be unhappy.
I am totally game for a happiness challenge.

Kate said...

Tammy, really great post. I wholeheartedly agree that we ourselves are responsible for our own happiness. And that if we can't be happy with ourselves, we won't be happy with anyone else. I also believe it is a choice. No one can control external events, but we CAN control how we react to them.

An "A-ha" moment for me was when my son was barely a month old and my husband wanted to go on a family campout with his extended family. I grumbled and complained about it, not wanting to drag a newborn out and deal with all the discomforts of not being at home. I was complaining to my mom in the days leading up to the trip and she said "Now you know how I felt everytime your father wanted to do something. He had all the fun and I did all the work." Now, from my perspective as the kid, that's also how I remember it. Dad was joyous and excited about our adventures, and mom was irritated and unhappy because she had to do all the "work". I don't think she ever found much enjoyment in what we did. Suddenly the light bulb went on and I decided right then and there that if I couldn't do something happily and with a joyous spirit, in spite of whatever work it required, then I wouldn't do it. I would not show my children that negative example that I had had my whole life. Yes, life requires some work but if I can't see past it to the rewards, then it's not worth doing. And 9 times out of 10, the reward is so great that the work is totally worth it. I made the decision to find the joy in whatever I do, or have to do, so that my kids will see that there is happiness in everything. You just have to train your mind to look for it.

One of my favorite quotes (which is on my blog) is "The art of being happy lies in the power of extracting happiness in common things."

Happiness really is a decision. It's not a destination, or a gift we receive. It's got to be something we choose and grab onto every day.

Sorry for the super long comment, but it really is something I am passionate about too.

Marni Tiani Self said...

Without going into my own novel. I was already making a list of books to order and now I even more want Eat, Pray, Love.... but WOW!!

You totally pinned my life at this point. The depression and unhappiness. I'm working on it, but I could have written that post to almost a T for the first half.

Thank you for being strong enough and willing to post this. It helps.

Jenny said...

Yay for happiness! And especially for living consciously and happily!

Thank you so much for inviting me over, this is exactly what I needed to read this week!

Being stuck in a house in the middle of nowhere with two very young kids can get really boring and lonesome. Without the decision to be happy and actively pursue it, I would go crazy. I have off days, as I expressed in my blog this week, but for the most part I'm good to go each day.

This is a fabulous post and I'll be back soon so leave my "Ah Ha" moment. I would do it now, but I'm taking a little 'me' (just as your post suggests!!) and taking lunch with a friend.

I hope you have a wonderful day today! Thanks again!

Happy2bme said...

I am intrigued by your willingness to put your emotions out on the table like this. I agree with everything you have posted. As I kept reading I was saying to myself "ohmigosh that's me too". I completely understand where you are coming from. I would love to participate in an "ah-ha moment" post or "happy something" post whichever it ends up being. I think that would help people to motivate themselves to change their mind sets when becoming depressed and knowing that they are not alone. I don't like playing the single mom card but sometimes I do sit and listen to myself and I'm just completely tired and whipped and don't think that some understand what a week is like for me playing the mommy, daddy, maid, chef, doctor..etc. all on my own. I taught myself to change my ways of thinking to be more positive and it was hard to do. It didn't happen over night either. I think that's when people get discouraged and become more depressed. I love to read self help books like you and the one I related to was called "Life is short-Wear your party pants" by Loretta LaRoche. Maybe you would like to check that one out if you haven't already. I will keep checking back to your blog to see where this goes. I really like the idea.

Take care,

Piecake said...

Good stuff.
I like the "happiness challenge" idea. Maybe a monthly thing? Weekly things seem a little stressful to me, but that could just be me.
I've read this( blog every now and then. It's not the type of thing you are talking about. It's more a "how to guide".

"ah - ha" - Recently I realized that my 2 year old daughter is her own person. She needs guidance and instruction, but what she does is her thing. If she flips out at the supermarket, it does not indicate that I am a bad mommy. I'm much more relaxed around her now and I can deal with her behavior issues in a much calmer manner. This, of course, leads to fewer behavior issues to deal with. It's a happy catch-22.

THopgood said...

Kate - Thanks for the info on the blog designer...I'll give it some more time.

Piecake - Thanks for sharing that website. I've added it to my favorites so I can take a closer look at it.

Everyone else - thanks for the stories I'm really stoked about this....omg....did I just type stoked outloud?

Colleen said...

Congrats on writing such a brave post! (I know *I* have troubles writing posts about my own deep thoughts...)

I would happily partipate in your "Happy Days Monday" or whatever you'd call it. I think that happiness is found in the small things...its so easy to get overwhelmed with the big things in life and miss out on the things that seem small, but in reality aren't.

My biggest "a-ha" moment came about 7 or 8 years ago. It was before my hubby & I were married, but we used to fight ALL THE TIME. About little stuff that just didn't matter. All of a sudden one day I realized that I'd rather be with him and happy than be right. Our whole relationship changed at that very moment. The fights just stopped. Now we're one of the happiest, most well-adjusted couples we know. And that's saying something - we've been together more than 11 years!

Bahama Mama said...

Tammy - this was not a 5 page rant as you imply. I read every word and enjoyed this post. I think sometimes things seem to simple to be true and "choosing happiness" is one of those things. It really is simple - well I think it is simple when you are as privileged as most of us are - to just choose. Make a conscious decision that you will be beyond miserable, negative, unhappy thoughts - and you can be. Although - I just finished "The Glass Castle" and I don't know if I could have chosen in that situation - but now I'm ranting too :-)

Kellan said...

What a great post. I am sorry to hear of people that experience depression and such! I think a happiness challenge is a great idea.

Have a good day, Tammy - see ya - Kellan

Domestic Accident said...

I'm stoked you wrote it, girl! I can totally identify. I completely agree that happiness is a choice. You can choose to focus on the positive and live with gratitude or you can dwell on the negative. I personally think raising children is extremely stressful. It is hard to focus on the positive when children are screaming or demanding or vomiting. I fall into the trap of when,then thinking. When the children are potty trained, then I'll be happy. When they sleep through the night, then I'll be happy. When they are all at school, then I can focus on myself and then be happy. When my husband isn't working such long hours, then I'll be happy. When someone else is scrubbing my floors, then I'll be happy. Real pleasure is in the little things, not the big things- houses, life changes, milestones, possessions. Maybe your challenge can include finding simple pleasures, focusing on the small moments that bring big happiness.

Truly inspiring post. Keep it up. I will totally link to you.

LittlePaintedPolkaDots said...

I'm proud to be your cousin. That was a great post. I cannot agree more about the book "Eat, Pray, Love." It was in my Christmas stocking and I looked at Jerry a little funny (cause it wasn't the book I asked for, and I did ask for a book) but it was SO GOOD. My ah-ha moment today was seeing a big black and yellow butterfly in the backyard. It was sunny in the midst of my doom and gloom moment. I found happiness, and retelling it now brings me back there.

Mandy said...

I think that you have written about a very important idea. When my husband and I struggled a little it was because I was unhappy, and he said to me, "I cannot be responsible for your own happiness." And he (and you) are right.

It takes a lot of effort to get out of a funk. And it is easy to slip back into old, negative habits.

Thanks for sharing so much of a private part of yourself in such a public manner!

Kristin H. said...

Well said.