My Elixir For Happiness: 10 Ways to Keep Smiling Despite Life's Heavy Moments
I remember how life was growing up. It was simple, fun and magical. There was nothing to worry about except where we were going to play or what we would do if it rained. The only electronic devices I had ran on AA batteries and there was no such thing as social media. Basic Ninendo was the popular gaming system and indoor play consisted of make believe, dress up and board games. The majority of my time was spent outside: drawing with chalk, riding bikes, playing sports with all the neighbors, running from house to house and getting dirty. I knew who I was and I was happy. I didn't yet worry about the outside world because I was shielded from it. I was free and I took that freedom for granted because I didn't know what was waiting in adulthood. I didn't know about political agendas, the media, the real face of Hollywood, Pharmaceuticals and Western medicine, American food production and the future evils of technology. I didn't yet realize how heavy the world could be or how difficult navigating it would be once I forgot who I was.
As a kid, I lived life in the moment and took each day as it came, but as I got older, I lost that childhood freedom and spent most of my days ruminating over things that weren't in my control. My childhood happiness faded as life became more about existing rather than living; it continued to dwindle as my eyes opened up to the world that was hidden from me for years. The world was a stranger to me and with each day that passed, I became a stranger to myself. I barely recognized the girl staring back at me in the mirror until it reached the point where I avoided the mirror altogether. I didn't know how to deal with it . . .
and I became angry. I was angry at: myself for forgetting who I was, the things I couldn't change, the people who didn't seem to care about the choices they made, and the world in general. The magic that I experienced as a child was long gone and I was angry for not knowing how to get it back. I allowed this anger to fuel my unhappiness for a long time . . .
until I decided to work through it and let it go.
"The key to being happy is knowing you have the power to choose what to accept and what to let go." - Dodinsky
As I released the anger, I rekindled the joy that I had lost while focusing on everything outside of myself. Slowly the magic returned as I cleared up the clouded vision that had ruled my perception and came back home to myself. I no longer looked to the world to provide me with answers; all the answers I needed were inside me and I finally took the time to listen. I still had some anger toward the world for the things that weren't in line with who I was, but I worked on releasing it because I didn't want to live my life as an angry person. I knew that my anger wasn't helping to make things better . . . it was only robbing me of my happiness and providing distraction from the work I need to do on myself.
Once I was aware of the role that anger was playing in my life, I strove to view the world from a place of love. I knew that the same evils existed, but they no longer affected my happiness personally; I didn't allow them. I changed the things that I could in my own life and accepted the things that I couldn't. I let go of my judgment toward the world and kept the focus on myself and my "truth." I re-connected with the person I had forgotten years earlier and began building the life I wanted to live. Rather than exert energy on anger, frustration and spending my time doing things that I didn't really want to do, I shifted my energy back to my passions and creativity. I re-discovered the things that brought me joy. With each day I spent honoring my true self, I was surrounded by endless happiness and freedom.
It took me a long time to get to this point. I spent most of my 20s in a fog, the majority of early 30s trying to survive and my mid-30s recognizing myself and my desires. The years of frustration, anger, confusion and pain culminated in victory these past few months as I finally created the life I had wanted to live for years. I don't have all the answers. I can only share my experience in hopes that it assists you on your own journey. The world is constantly flooding us with information for how we can achieve a desired result, but after years of trial and error, I learned that it's up to us to determine our own formula for happiness. I've changed a lot over the years, but my Elixir for Happiness has remained somewhat consistent even if I didn't realize it at the time. Take from it what you will but remember, you already know what you need to find your own happiness! You just might need to remember.
MY ELIXIR FOR HAPPINESS:
You know who you are! Even when you forget, deep down you still know, so allow yourself the opportunity to grow into who you are meant to be. Do what comes natural and make no apologies if the rest of the world doesn't understand. A lot of my unhappiness came from not knowing who I was or accepting myself as I was. I cared more about what the world thought of me rather than what I thought of myself and I was afraid to show what I had to offer. I decided to hide and protect myself from being rejected, but I hurt myself in the process by not being honest with who I was. I allowed my fear to take over and it kept me from expressing my true self. I was afraid of how others would perceive me because I didn't yet know that their opinions didn't matter. The only person who had to like me was me.
It took me a long time to like myself, but once I did, I realized the happiness I had been yearning for had nothing to do with external factors. Every day that I made the decision to be myself, I found that I was happy.
LISTEN TO YOUR HEART
Sometimes we forget who we are. Sometimes we don't know what decision we should make. Sometimes we get so flooded by inconsistent information that we don't know what to believe. I've been a victim of all of these and notorious for saying the phrase "I don't know" when asked a question. I never intended "I don't know" to always be my response, but it was the truth . . . and it was the truth because I didn't take the time to listen and allow my heart to answer.
Our hearts know we want. They know what is in our best interest, but we don't always allow them the chance to speak. We second guess them because they aren't always in line with our friends, family or society. Many of my life decisions were made by listening to the words of others rather than to myself. If I had listened to my heart, I would have followed the author path years ago, but I didn't yet trust myself . . . and I wasn't brave enough to forge my own path.
I was brave enough to go away to college (despite having no support from my high school counselors), but I chose a more "practical" career rather than focusing on writing. I continued on that career path until I realized that it wasn't what I wanted and decided to walk away. I then tried something else . . . and something else . . . and sometime else, hoping to find something that would leave me feeling happy and fulfilled. But, it didn't for years. . .
Then the pandemic hit. For 3 months, my heart was allowed to speak without interruption or distraction and I listened. I courageously decided to let go of everything I no longer wanted and embarked on the original path that felt destined to take as a child; the path of a writer.
For years, I allowed society to do my thinking for me and never questioned its information. I continued on paths I thought I wanted to be on for years until I reached breaking points. Then, I abandoned those paths for new ones and often found myself in new states as a result. I didn't really know what I was doing, but I knew that my heart was being pulled. It was tired of being ignored. The times I allowed my heart to navigate my course were the times I was flooded by happiness. Since making the decision to walk away from the last path that no longer served me, happiness has resonated every day without fail.
So I say this to you . . . allow your heart to lead the way!
SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PEOPLE WHO LOVE AND ACCEPT YOU FOR WHO YOU ARE
The more that you surround yourself with people who love and accept you, the less you have to pretend to be someone you aren't. We've all worn masks during our lives: sometimes as a way of experimenting with different personas, sometimes as a way to fool the world and sometimes to protect ourselves from being vulnerable. Regardless of the reason, I found it exhausting and draining. Even when I didn't know myself on the surface, my soul knew who I was and it allowed me to connect with people who "saw" me even when I couldn't see myself. These people helped me to feel safe by surrounding me with validation and acceptance. Instead of worrying about what I should say or if I was making a fool of myself, I simply enjoyed their company, created lasting memories and came to the realization that true "family" sometimes transcends blood relation.
RELEASE YOURSELF FROM TOXICITY
Many words have more than one definition. When I use the word "toxic," I attribute it to something or someone that has the ability to poison our soul and affect our quality of life. In my life, the toxic people I've encountered were: constantly negative about everything, depleting my energy, putting me down and making me feel bad about myself or unaccepting of who I was and wanted me to change. As someone who was already struggling with self-worth and identity, being surrounded by toxic people was devastating to my forward progress in life. I had bosses who never validated my work ethic and took advantage of my inability to say "no, " when they needed extra help because my well-being was not a priority to them. I had relationships (romantic and platonic) with people who: manipulated me into believing that I wasn't good enough, never cared about my needs, held grudges and constantly made me feel guilty for things in the past. They used me, "emotionally" abused me and victimized me until I got strong enough to fight back.
When I was younger, my need for acceptance overtook my ability to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy relationships. I allowed myself to be hurt on a regular basis which only depleted my energy and prevented my happiness. As I matured, I began my journey of self-discovery and started to walk down the path of self-love. The more I healed, the easier it became to recognize the difference between people who were toxic and healthy, and I learned to cut cords with those who I felt were toxic. I allowed my heart to guide me and began surrounding myself with people who really cared for me. They welcomed my vulnerability and encouraged me to be myself. Even when our thoughts and opinions were different, I never felt judged. They loved me for who I was and never asked for anything in return. Our relationship was easy, even when distance kept us apart. They energized my soul and were constant beams of support and joy. These were the people who helped me to let go of everything else that was toxic.
LET GO OF ATTACHMENT
Letting go of attachment is something I still struggle with to this day. When I was younger, I based my happiness on the things that I had and I held on to them tightly. They made me feel safe. I was comforted by my stuffed animals and toys because I knew they could never hurt me. They would never judge me, make fun of me or leave me. Knowing I had them somehow made the rest of the world seem less chaotic and scary. I refused to get rid of them as I got older because it made me feel like I was losing a part of myself. I was emotionally attached to "things" and it kept me weighed down . . . for years. I sympathized with the hoarders they showed on TV because I understood their inability to let go in my own way. Once I embarked on my journey of self-discovery, self-love and self-acceptance, I started to feel whole and I no longer depended on material things to fill the voids within me. It didn't happen overnight or all at once, but I started to let go and it helped me to feel lighter. Moving was a big catalyst for this cleansing because it helped me to recognize the amount of stuff I no longer needed. The more stuff I boxed, the more stuff I would have to unbox . . .
and I moved A LOT!!!
Moving wasn't easy in the beginning. I was devastated as a child the first time I was forced to move from New York to Massachusetts. Everything I knew was taken away during that transition and it caused me to root more tightly as a way of avoiding loss in the future. It taught me to hate change because I yearned for stability. As time went on, I began to wrap my identity in the places I lived and the more I began to lose myself, the more I looked for myself through my "homes." My homes were my mirrors and I believed they would somehow lead me back to myself . . . but they never did because it wasn't their job. They simply provided me with a safe space, hidden from the world, while I tried to find the self I had lost. They allowed me the opportunity to creatively express the parts of myself that I did know and they housed all my treasures. My home was the one place where I could take off my mask and exist without fear of judgment; I wore the clothes I wanted to wear, did the things I wanted to do and decorated the way I desired. It was the one place where I could be vulnerable; the place where I could write down my thoughts and feelings, openly express my anger and feel safe enough to shed my tears. It was the only place where I could safely admit that I was lost.
I despised moving because it further complicated my already complicated existence. I was afraid of the unknown, and I didn't know if I had the strength to persevere through it. I couldn't trust myself because I didn't know who I was. My home was what I knew and I was afraid of losing it and starting over. Over time, I found the strength within me to embrace the changes I had to make and each time it got easier. Each move was a learning experience and the more I did it, the easier it became to let go. Each move helped me on my quest for self-discovery until I no longer needed a physical home to make me feel secure. I eventually found my home within myself. I was finally free from my self-made prison . . .
but there was another prison that brought me suffering. I suffered from my inability to let go when someone I cared about left my life. I was very attached to people; I needed their validation, approval and acceptance. For a long time, my lack of self-worth and self-acceptance caused me to look for myself in others. I didn't have a lot of close friends; I truly treasured the ones I had and when the time came for our paths to part ways, I took it personally. I admit that I probably pushed a lot of people away by trying to hold on too tightly, but I didn't know how to let go. I suffered when people I loved passed away because I couldn't accept that they were gone. I had demons I hadn't yet conquered or identified, and I needed a support system to help keep them at bay.
As I got older, I became more accepting of people walking out of my life. It still bothered me, but I was no longer crushed. I learned to accept change as the only constant, and I no longer tried to hold on to something that didn't want to hold on to me. It wasn't always easy, especially when I had to let go of members of my own family or friends that I had for years, but I came to recognize the negative effects that came with holding on. I was tired of being sad and depressed; I was tired of feeling emotionally depleted, rejected and unwanted. I was tired of missing out on opportunities to allow others to enter my life because I was too focused on the ones I had lost.
Letting go taught me to appreciate what I had in my life while I had it, whether it be people, places or things. By not holding on, I began to enjoy a happiness I couldn't experience while looking to the outside world to fill what was missing on the inside.
TAKE TIME TO ENGAGE WITH NATURE
Nature has always been able to melt away the heaviness of the world. It has always been able to soothe my soul, calm my nerves and heal my wounds. Whether it be climbing a tree, going for a walk through a forest, lying on the beach listening to the sounds of the waves crashing on the shore, observing wildlife as they fulfill their purpose or experiencing a sunrise or sunset, I was able to forget about the thoughts rustling around in my mind and appreciate the moment at hand. For the times when I couldn't quiet the thoughts, being in nature helped me to work them through. Some of my best writing was created while communing with nature. It was where I could just be myself; I had nothing to prove, yet I knew that my existence meant something. Just being in the midst of something greater helped me to feel like I was a part of something greater. Every time I engage in nature, I am reminded of the carefree existence I experienced as a child. I remember the magic I used to believe in, and I somehow "know" that no matter what happens in the future, everything will be ok.
TRAVEL AND SEE THE WORLD FROM A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE
Traveling has been a part of my life ever since my first international trip to England at 17 years old. It was the first time I flew to a different country; the first time I experienced a new place without it being a family vacation; the first time I appreciated another culture in person and the first time I recognized just how magnificent the world was. I experienced a lot of firsts on that trip and a fire was ignited inside of me that still burns to this day.
I wanted to see more . . . I wanted to learn more. I wanted to meet new people and hear their stories. I wanted to try new foods, engage in new activities and come to know myself on a deeper level. Since that trip to England, the fire inside my soul has burned brighter with each new country or different place I've visited. I now have friends all over the world and look forward to the next opportunity to meet people in new places. My travel experiences have not only opened me up to the enormity of the world, but have given me a greater love for the human race.
DISCOVER YOUR CREATIVE TALENTS
We all have talents, whether or not we know it. Part of what makes life so special is figuring out what they are and watching as they take flight. As we get older, sometimes we don't have as much time to explore them as we would like. We are restricted by our jobs, spending enough time with the people we love and meeting our obligations. We sometimes forget about our natural talents because we are too busy with other things. I've always been energized by writing, painting, drawing and creating in general. They opened me up to parts of myself that were hidden and also refreshed my soul at the same time. For years, I ignored the call of my soul to create because I was focused on the wrong things, and my inspiration suffered. Creating on a daily basis has not only renewed my soul, but flooded my life with constant happiness.
DO THINGS OUT OF DESIRE RATHER THAN OBLIGATION
Speaking from personal experience, when I made the choice to do things because they resonated with who I was instead of being forced, I was more likely to get joy from them. Whether it be extracurricular activities, creative endeavors or life choices fueled by my moral compass, I didn't experience resistance. When I followed the call of my heart rather than the nagging of my head or other outside forces, I noticed a huge difference in whether or not I enjoyed an activity. I quit many activities over the years when they stopped being fun because they began taking my energy rather than renewing it. I didn't want all of my passions to become poisoned, so I walked away from the ones that became obligations until I could find a balance. By letting go of the life I no longer wanted to live, I'm finally able to pursue my heart's desires full-time, resulting in daily happiness.
SPEND TIME IN THE PRESENCE OF CHILDREN AND ANIMALS
Regardless of what I was struggling with on the inside, everything melted away when I was in the presence of children and animals. Even when I didn't know who I was, I never worried about trying to figure it out while with them. I just enjoyed giving and receiving love and watching as they grew up. I started babysitting when I was 11 and continued regularly until after college. Taking care of kids always came naturally to me. I understood them and they connected with me. Without realizing it, they helped me to remember who I was because I never had to put on a facade. Just like the animals I saved, all they wanted to do was play, which encouraged me to play too.
In the presence of kids and animals, I forgot about my worries and just enjoyed the moment. They both helped me to feel complete during the times when I felt empty and brought me joy just by being who they were. Even animals that weren't mine pulled at my heart-strings and made me smile. My life has been forever changed by the kids and animals I was fortunate enough to spend time with during my life, and I will always be grateful for the endless joy I experienced.
It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, and it is not possible to find it elsewhere. - Agnes Repplier
My life has definitely been an adventure- full of ups and downs, twists and turns and unexpected stops. Regardless of where I was on my journey, my Elixir for Happiness has helped me to experience joy along the way, and it just scratches the surface. I have been blessed with myriad moments of happiness, and I look forward to all the new things that will bring a smile to my face. I hope that your life is full of happiness and endless smiles.