The other day, I had the most amazing discussion with an older woman, in her early 80s, named Joyce M. I met her at an alteration shop, and she watched as I tried on my bridesmaid dress, waiting to be pinned. She told me how beautiful it was, and we chatted about her wedding, and the colors she made her bridesmaids wear. I joked and told her that I already knew what colors I’d have for mine, and that I couldn’t wait to get married again (this is actually true, even though I currently don’t have a boyfriend nor actual prospects). After I was all changed and ready to go, we stepped outside, and continued to converse by our cars in the sweltering July sun. I told her that, although marriage would be great, I was currently focusing on myself, and how to become more like myself everyday. She indicated that my focus was coincidental, as she had attended a family reunion the previous weekend, and her nephew had given a presentation on the pursuit of happiness.
He discussed a study, the Harvard Study of Adult Development, which is considered the longest study ever (75 years and counting). The study follows 724 adult men throughout their life, examining their experiences and quality of life, but the crux of the study essentially investigates what happiness is and was for each of those men. What was coincidental on my end is that just a couple of hours prior, I had a great discussion with a friend on this very topic, about what happiness is and what it looked like for us. Many times, people comment on the way you live your life, and interject their feelings of disapproval, because they aren’t in your specific situation. They find it mind-boggling that your version of happiness isn’t reflective of THEIR version of happiness. The thing is…your happiness is your responsibility, and no one else’s. You aren’t responsible for their happiness, their relationships, their careers – that is something they ultimately have control over. What we make of our lives is a direct result of our own decisions, and in those decisions, practicing mindfulness and self-guidance.
The discussion was so timely, because although I consider myself fairly content, I’m not sure if I’ve yet attained that goal of ultimate happiness. It was as if the Universe was speaking to me, and causing me to be mindful of my present, instead of focusing too heavily on my past or future. Joyce mentioned that her nephew presented a book during his presentation, by Dr. Seuss, entitled, “Oh The Places You’ll Go!”. How many of us have not even bothered to glance at that book, because it appears to be a children’s book? But oh, it’s definitely not, and it’s filled with a variety of advice on how life’s ups and downs will halt us, spin us around, even bring us to extreme moments of despair, but we have to keep moving. We can’t let past failures cloud our futures and our pursuits.I’m learning to be open to new situations and people, and to be careful to not close myself off because I think I already know better. Sometimes we have to start giving new and different experiences a chance, because we won’t know unless we actually try.
I would often talk about finding love, and wanting to be in love, but at the first sign of viable interest, I would close my heart’s windows and shut the blinds. After a failed marriage, there was nothing in me that could even consider trusting another human again. If once upon a time I had a love so deep and intense, but one we both could ultimately dispose of so callously, what hope was there for something equal or better? There were days and nights that I could do nothing but cry in emotional and spiritual pain, unable to verbalize the exact cause of my hurt. As a result, I made sure that my walls were reinforced with iron and industrial grade concrete, and every once in a while I would make sure there was a steel gate to slide across that wall too!
In the past couple of years of self-reflection and self-actualization, I’ve learned that while it’s quite alright to be cautious, sometimes you have to make space in that wall for a door too. I realized I was only going to receive the joy I longed for, the spiritual and mental peace I craved, if I took the risk of being open to change. Of course, the catch-22 is that no one else can determine what those risks will entail, because they can’t define what my happiness looks like. I’ve had to make the conscious decision to search for and create my own contentment. It has been difficult, because it has taken a lot of effort, and extreme soul-searching, but it is possible. I’m now living by the words of the famous Seuss, every day I wake up: “Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away!”