For the past few months, I’ve been living a little experiment in joy. As part of the changing my life process, I made a decision to try to live in joy every day, no matter what the circumstances of my life brought me. Some days, it was blissfully easy. Some days, I woke up in a ray of sun with a gorgeous woman next to me and a smile on my face. Some days, it was a little harder. Some days, I woke up alone with a sore back, a stuffy nose, and a shitty attitude.
People tend to think that I am just a naturally happy person and for the most part, that is true. I have always been a positive person and I generally think it is better to look on the bright side of things than the dark. The biggest part of me believes that happiness is a choice and I have spent so long choosing happiness that is has become my default.
Still, that doesn’t mean I’m a billboard for perkiness every moment of every day. Bad things happen. Pets die. Relationships end. Dogs throw up on pillows in the middle of the night. Cars break down. Bills pop up. Friends argue. Life happens. And let’s be honest – when you’re in the middle of a terrible breakup or your cat has just died or you’re broken down on the side of the freeway in negative ten degree weather, you probably aren’t going to grin like an idiot and say, “Look at me! I’m living in joy!”
That said, there are some tools I’ve learned along the way that have helped me regroup and recover my equanimity when I’m struggling with sorrow.
1. Remember that nothing is permanent. Nothing is ours. Nothing belongs to us. Houses burn down, spouses die, cars crash, people get sick, lovers leave. We own nothing on this planet, not even our lovers or our children. We only have ourselves and it is up to us to make the most of the time we are given with a certain person or in a certain situation. Conversely, understanding impermanence means understanding that pain is also temporary and the heartache that feels like a gaping wound today will feel less so tomorrow.
2. Change perspective. Recently, I was whining to a friend that I was not only having to work a day job instead of writing full-time, it was a crappy job. Here I am in corporate America again, dressed in business casual, taking phone calls from low income people who want to finance ridiculously over-priced merchandise with ridiculously high interest loans while someone tells me what time I can eat lunch. She challenged me to find the good in the job. Well, it is allowing me to go to Northern California in July, The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival in August, and The Left Coast Lesbian Conference in Palm Springs in October. Beyond that, in my effort to reframe my space in this new order, I looked at what I could offer to the people working there. In fact I had a conversation with a co-worker about compassionate communication. She was complaining about an interaction with her boyfriend, and I suggested the next time the issue came up, she could respond in a different way and see if it helped. Yesterday she came in and told me that she used the words I had suggested and for a few moments, felt like they were actually communicating. So maybe I do have a bigger purpose at this place than just answering phones. And again, impermanence. It won’t last forever.
3. Be grateful. If I am in a slump that I can’t seem to get out of, I start listing the things for which I am grateful. Some days, the list is short, some days it is long. Every day, I can at least be grateful that I am alive, that I am with my loving dog, that I have soulmate friends who would be there for me in any way they can. Today, I am also grateful that the sun is shining and that my nose isn’t running. I’m grateful that I get to have lunch with my mom tomorrow. I’m grateful that because of my new job, I can afford to buy new glasses, something I have not done since I broke them on Liz McMullen’s breasts back in July of 2013. (And I was grateful for that experience, too.) Something happens when you start making a gratitude list…. you remind yourself of all of the great things about your life and yourself. It’s a beautiful circle.
4. Practice self-care. Practice it in whatever form this takes. For me, it has recently been about trying to exercise more, eating healthy, and meditating. I am happier on days when I have exercised in some way and eaten a healthy breakfast.
5. Stop being mean to you. This may fall under self-care, but it deserves its own number. Don’t criticize yourself. Don’t mock your appearance, don’t judge yourself because of your weight. Don’t call yourself stupid or ugly or gross or unable to do something. Don’t do it. Just stop. If you find yourself looking in the mirror and making a negative self-comment, stop. Just keep stopping until you don’t do it anymore. And along these lines, stop judging others. Stop looking at celebrities and saying, “Wow, she looks fat in that dress.” Imagine what it is doing to your subconscious when you are saying a size zero actress looks fat. Just stop. Don’t criticize people on the street, not even to yourself. It will not only help you becoming more loving of your own self, but happier because you are not being judgmental of others. This doesn’t just go for your appearance, but for anything. Don’t come down on yourself. Remember you are amazing! You are awesome! You are beautiful! You are a work of art! You are uniquely you and you have the power to recognize your worth.
6. If all else fails, remember that everything in life is an AFGE. (Pronounced aff-gee with a hard ‘g’) Another f**king growth experience.
7. :Last but not least, the best advice I have ever been given. Be nice. Really. It’s that easy. Be a nice person. Hold doors open for people. Smile at clerks at store. Pick up things for people who have dropped them. Ask if someone needs help. Always wave at children who wave at you. Be friendly when you are in a store, especially if you have had to stand in line. The benefits of this are incredible. When you’re nice to people, most of them are nice to you. And that positive energy spreads and infests your mood and helps to pick you up.
The point is that while it is not possible to be bouncy and happy every single moment of every single day, it is possible to do the self-work that it takes to put yourself in the frame of mind that makes day to day living in joy a reality.