How I chose happiness and stopped living a life of yearning.
“Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” – Abraham Lincoln
If you’re anything like me, whenever you’ve heard or read this quotation, you’ve done some sort of eye roll, “yeah, whatevs Abe,” followed by some deeper pondering of the veracity of such a bold statement. Can I really choose to be happy? I thought I was choosing to be happy, it’s just that…well, I’m not, so what gives?
I’ve taken happy pills, I’ve danced happy dances and the truth is that at the end of most days, I’m just not all that happy. The truth is that at the end of most days, I’m lonely, unfulfilled and kinda bummed.
And then I went to the desert.
No, I didn’t go on some spiritual quest, searching for happiness in a silent retreat and becoming one with nature. I went on a three-day camping trip with my son, his entire third grade class, their parents and teachers, and oddly, it is there, in a moment of exhaustion (and sickness) that I found – and chose - happiness.
Just before leaving on this chaotic, exhausting, death-defying (and exhilarating) trip, my boyfriend of almost two years and I broke up. We’ve broken up before and it’s been excruciatingly painful. Like, can’t-get-out-of-bed kind of painful. Like, can-barely-get-through-a-day kind of painful.
But this time I was on the camping trip of a lifetime with my 8-year old and didn’t quite have the luxury for that kind of pain. So, as I sat in the desert, sick as a dog with a cold that came on strong the first day of our trip, in the hot sun surrounded by friends while our children were off on one last rock scramble before we departed, as I stared at the one small shadow being cast from a crack on a large boulder next to me, it occurred to me that this time it could be different. This time I could actually choose not to be destroyed by our breakup. This time I could actually choose to be OK. More than OK, I could choose to be happy. Because, for the prior two days, I had actually already been doing so.
An old Landmark Education exercise asks you to choose whether you like chocolate or vanilla. I like vanilla. Why? Because I do. Chocolate or vanilla, choose. Vanilla. Why? Because. Happiness or misery, choose. Happiness. Why? Because.
After about a minute or two sitting with this realization and staring at the rock, I noticed something beginning to happen. Habit started creeping back in. I’ve never chosen happiness; I’ve always chosen something else – not sadness, but yearning to be precise. So about a minute after choosing happiness and fulfillment, I noticed a slight leaning toward yearning. But this time I had consciousness in the whole affair, so I asked myself again – what do you choose? How do you really feel in this moment? And the answer surprised me. I actually felt fine. Not sad, not yearning, not desperate or any of the things I generally feel. I felt fine; happy, even.
In the desert, surrounded by friends and my beautiful child on an adventure of a lifetime, I found that I was perfectly content while being alone.
It’s been a long story in my mind that when I have a man, when I am fully partnered, when I have the kind of relationship I’ve been yearning for all my life…then and only then will I be truly happy. My happiness has always been at the mercy of “the other.”
There is something so romantic in that state of yearning…we see it in movies, read it in books. The tragedy of unrequited love and the yearning for someone, for something… I’ve bought it hook line and sinker, and my past dictates it in so many ways.
The state of yearning is James Dean with his collar up, dangling cigarette, walking the black and white streets of New York City. It is Heathcliff on the moors screaming for Catherine. It’s every Nicholas Sparks book ever written. It’s every fairy tale we ever read as a child and in each one the story ends when the prince rescues the princess. “Happily Ever After” never comes because the story ends at the exact moment the yearning does.
And so, here I am, standing at the edge of singlehood once again…can it be that I can now choose happiness, despite not having the one thing I have always attached my happiness to? Can it be that I can choose not to enter the state of yearning I’m so adept at, so used to? I have chosen happiness and fulfillment and at this point I can’t un-choose it. I am now attached to it. I am its life-source. I can choose to garden alone, play with friends, go to the beach, ride a bike, camp, hike and rock-climb and all of these things can fulfill me without the yearning that has been the soundtrack of my life. I can stand on the top of the highest rock and proclaim my happiness without the underlying sense that, “if only I had someone here to share it with me, it would all be better.”
Today, I choose to stand on that rock and own my own happiness, fulfillment, contentment and yes, exuberant joy.
All by myself.
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Kate Anthony owns and operates Kate Anthony's Guide to Rockin' Single Motherhood and is a coach, speaker and international best-selling author who has had articles published in The Huffington Post, MSN Living and YourTango.com. She is a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach (CPCC), trained and certified by the world-renowned Coaches Training Institute (CTI). She is also trained in Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching by The Center for Right Relationship. She is an accredited member of the International Coach Federation (ICF) and a member of the ICF’s Los Angeles Chapter.