Are you happy right now?
When I was younger, I always thought I would be “rescued” from my life by a knight in shining armour. I was forever disappointed that the boyfriends I ended up with were just human like me, and couldn’t fix me. I thought I would finally be happy when my Prince Charming came along and solved all my problems.
As I grew older and realised a man wasn’t coming to save me, I unconsciously moved my focus and began to believe that if I could just lose a bit of weight, I would be happy. I had always been the “fat” one in my family, but looking back I realise I was actually a perfectly normal size. Still, that belief I was fat followed me into adulthood and saw me attaching all my woes to my belly. I truly believed that if I could just get a flat belly, I would be happy.
Then I had a massive breakdown and stopped eating. I lost weight; my belly was flat. One day, in an attempt to cheer myself up, I went to treat myself to some underwear. I remember trying on a bra in the cubicle, and the lady came in to check the fit. I realised this was the first time I’d ever had a bra fitting, and not felt the need to hold my belly in. It was flat. I was miserable. The most miserable I had ever been in my life.
At that moment, my misery became even worse because I realised that for years I had clung to this idea that if I could just get rid of that fat on my middle I would be happy. And now here I was, unable to function in any meaningful way, with a flat belly. My clothes were all baggy, but I was so sad I just wanted to die. I’d been wrong all along; having a flat belly would not make me happy. And neither was some knight in shining armour coming to save me. I was on my own, and out of ideas as to what might come along in the future to make me happy.
One messy abusive relationship, a traumatic pregnancy, premature labour, lots of self development books, four years as a single parent and two as a self employed mum later, and I finally get it.
Now I am happy.
I have a fat belly, separated abs and a hernia so I’m not likely to flatten it any time soon. There is no knight in shining armour on the horizon and I have no desire to be in a relationship. So what’s changed? I have. I finally realised that when we tether our happiness to something – anything – in the future, it never arrives. Whenever we think “I’ll be happy when…” we put so much expectation on that thing that even if it does get here, it’s bound to be a bit of an anti-climax, and we’re bound not to be as deliriously happy as we had been anticipating.
You’ll never be happy if you think your happiness lies in the future.
Happiness is now.
More specifically, it’s something you do, now. It’s not some abstract idea for how you’ll feel at some point in the future, depending on a series of things over which you have no control. It has taken me a long time to realise that happiness is something you decide on, for right here and right now.
Nothing in your future can make you happy, if you’re not happy right now. No external force can make you happy, if you’re not already happy.
A few weeks ago I reviewed Ruth Whippman’s book about happiness, where she said that there seemed to be a degree of victim blaming, whereby people are told “if you’re not happy it’s your own fault for not thinking enough positive thoughts” or thereabouts. The thing is, it’s not that it’s your own stupid fault you’re not happy; we’re sold this idea through the media that products and money and status and being a Kardashian are what we need in order to be happy. It’s not that it’s your own stupid fault, but once you wake up to it, it is your responsibility. Nobody is going to rock up in your life and make it their mission to make you happy. You have to make yourself happy.
That can sound incredibly daunting and scary, especially if you’re at rock bottom, as I was. But it’s also incredibly empowering. You can make yourself happy; you don’t need to wait for some thing to happen in the future; you don’t need to wait for someone else to come along and do it for you. You can just decide to take action right now, and make yourself happy.
Gretchen Rubin wrote a fantastic book about being happy, with lots of little ideas for things that would help her to feel more happy. There are hundreds of things you can do right now to help you to find the joy in your present situation. When I was depressed, I thought the whole idea of this was a joke. I thought I was incapable of being happy. And I was, until I realised that responsibility for my happiness lay at my own door. You don’t just wake up one morning and find that – BAM – you’re happy now. It’s something I began working on when I realised I’d better either shit or get off the pot, as the saying goes. I was, frankly, bored of being depressed and realised I’d either better get on and kill myself, or find a reason to live and get better. So I did. It took a long time; there were a lot of setbacks. Even now, I have bad days. But they don’t last long because now I know that it’s up to me to “turn that frown upside down.” So I do.