Can I just talk for a second?
I see a lot of headlines (mostly ad headlines) telling me to stop what I’m doing, drop everything, and start doing what I love! Because if I would just stop for a minute and think about it, I would realize that there’s absolutely nothing between me and my dreams! Just do it! Forget your fears, and leap!
Here’s the thing. I am 100% in favor of following your passions and pursuing your dreams. And I think everybody should be happy. I also think a lot of us (myself included) need to do some spring cleaning in our lives, and get rid of the stuff, ideas, and obligations that are holding us back from becoming who we want to become.
But you can’t be thrilled all the time. It’s not an option. We’re human beings—we need a wide range of emotions in order to maintain stability, and that includes some negative ones. It even includes the boring ones. You can go pursue your dreams all day if you want, but eventually you’re going to have to find a place to take a dump. Eventually, you’re going to have to wash the dishes. Whether or not you love them, it is illegal to just ignore your taxes.
And those are just the “taking care of me” ones. Now plug in the “relationships” part of the equation. My marriage brings me a lot of happiness. But that means that sometimes I have to take care of a sick husband. It means putting up with him when he’s hungry. It means admitting when I’m wrong (which might be more difficult than putting up with him when he’s hungry.) My son brings me a lot of happiness, too—but he’s in diapers. And they don’t change themselves.
I would love to just drop everything and go pursue my crazy dream… except I don’t really have a set-out “crazy dream.” When I envision happiness, it’s usually a motorcycle, a long highway, and a really hot sun overhead. But somehow, I would have to pay for the gas—and the motorcycle—and even motorcycle riding gets boring after 16 waking hours. Most people don’t have one specific passion that surpasses everything else. That’s the advertisers talking. (Hint: the “one passion” they want you to have is the thing they’re selling.)
And here’s the thing: even once you find something that makes you happy—even if you’re the sort who can do the same thing for years, and it will still make you happy, and it will never get boring—eventually, somebody’s going to die. Someone you know will die. And it will be sad. And it isn’t healthy to expect to be happy while you’re sad.
Society screams at us that we’re supposed to be happy. I agree (but without the screaming.) There’s a scripture in the Book of Mormon that specifically states, “Men are that they might have joy.” It doesn’t get much more explicit than that: God wants us to be happy. We usually want that for ourselves. But there’s a difference between being a happy person and feeling happy all the time. That’s where the advertisers are lying; no product will make you happy all the time. No job change will solve all your problems. No relationship will make all the bad days disappear.
We aren’t supposed to be manically happy. We’re supposed to find a way to become happy people. That means doing some things that you don’t like (like the dishes I’m avoiding at this very moment.) And a lot of the time, it means working through the hard stuff to get to the good stuff (like the clean kitchen.)
This doesn’t mean that being miserable is a good thing. If something makes you miserable, you need to do something about it. It’s probably not necessary. You can get a new job. You can communicate better with your spouse. You can get a nanny for one or two days a week. Even the most unavoidable of problems can still be addressed; I have Seasonal Affective Disorder (which basically means I find winter really, really depressing.) So every year around February, Ethan takes me down to the Arizona border for a couple days to get some sun. If you’re an unhappy person generally, change something. Start looking for the positive things you have. Start eliminating or changing the negative things.
I was lugging my infant son around shortly after he was born, trying to get into the bookstore to talk to my husband. I walked around the mini-van and pulled out the baby carrier, then the diaper bag, then my purse, then realized I didn’t have enough arms, so I put down a few bags to adjust…
And then it hit me. I was that mom. The mom I had always made fun of. And I nearly cried. But then I realized something else: I’m only going twenty feet into a bookstore. I don’t need the diaper bag. Or my whole purse. Or the infant carrier. In fact, all I really needed was my wallet and the baby. So I got the kid out of the car seat, got my wallet out, and carried him on my hip while I wandered through a bookstore. Then I took him through the Asian market, just for kicks and giggles.
And then he blew out a diaper and peed the floor at the Asian market.
But you know what? The diaper bag was still just around the corner. We survived. And more than that, I started parenting differently, because I had realized I didn’t need all that baggage.
I’ve been out of shape for years, and I finally just started working out. Lo and behold, my depression, anxiety, and PMS have become easier to manage. Oh, and also, I’m in better shape. I’m not thrilled with my body yet. I’m still not a joy to behold during my period. But it’s better, and I’m happier. You can’t expect instant solutions, but you can expect improvements. That’s what I think we should all be working toward.
You shouldn’t be miserable. But you’re going to experience some serious discomfort in life, and you need to be okay with that. Learn from it. Grow from it. And use it to learn about yourself. Don’t drop everything and do something that makes you happy. Do things that shape yourself into a happier person. ♦