Happier if...
February 4, 2013

Dear Theo,

Lately I have been feeling stuck playing the "happier if...." game.  It goes something like this:

I'd be happier if my house wasn't as cluttered.
I'd be happier if we had more space in our home and weren't on top of one another.
I'd be happier if I had a higher paying job so I could buy a house with more space so we aren't on top of one another.
I'd be happier if my jeans fit again.
I'd be happier if my spouse would just put away the dishes where they are supposed to go, keep the car clean, do XY or Z.
I'd be happier if my kids would stop fighting and get along.
I'd be happier if the news on TV wasn't always so bleak and filled with so much anger and conflict.

I know this is a terrible game to play and I know that while some of the things are in my control, many of the things I would be "happier" about are completely out of my control.  And it is entirely possible that even if these things were to happen, they wouldn't necessarily make me happy.

I know that I do have the power to control my thoughts, and actions and words, but yet, I still get stuck in this game where I find it easier to think about all the things that would make me happier rather than taking control of my own happiness. 

Anne Lamott says "Being enough is going to have to be an inside job."  But I don't know how to be enough when I feel like I am stuck in this constant desire to improve, to be better than I am, to put that "--er" on everything.... faster, better, stronger, healthier, happier.

Sure, being happy is an inside job, but I could use some on-the-job training.  Can you help?

Sincerely,
Trying to be happy


Dear Trying to Be Happy:

Remove the blinders. The desire to improve or to be "better" is not a bad thing. Each day we may strive to be our better selves and to live a life that is purpose driven. In our efforts to build on our happiness, we should truly discern if we are happy in the first place. Perhaps your stagnancy in placing "er" on everything is because you are still in search of your initial place of joy. You are stuck trying to build on a foundation of happiness that may not be there. You can't add "er" if the origin of that adjective does not first exist.

I concur with Anne Lamott - "Being happy is an inside job." So begin by looking within and be authentically true to self. Pretending to be happy is as superficial and void as an empty drum or a pageantry smile. Adding "er" is insufficient and null if your aim is to improve on a façade.  Do an inside-job inventory of what truly makes you happy (and I really mean you). Your examples shared were all interdependent on someone or something else, i.e. "my house, our home, my job, my jeans, my spouse, my kids, the news, etc…" Perhaps you are stuck because you are waiting on other people and things to signal go—you are now declared happy. You already know you can't change the behaviors of others, so take them out of the equation. In fact change the formula.

Adding "er" suggests you won't achieve this today. It is held off until tomorrow. Change your "er" to "ness" which calls upon you to be fully present in a right-now moment. Happiness beacons a celebration of the living moment you are inhaling and exhaling right now!

I find happiness in laughing.
I find happiness in singing off key and pretending to know the words.
I find happiness when I watch the sunrise.
I find happiness in leaving coupons on grocery store aisles for the next shopper.
I find happiness in riding my bike downhill with arms outstretched.
I find happiness running barefoot in the rain while stomping in mud puddles.
I find happiness catching dragonflies and butterflies.
I find happiness when I wear the color orange.
I find happiness napping in a huge pile of warm laundry, fresh out of the dryer.

Once healthy and existent happiness is discovered from within, add "er" to the mix, generously.

Theologian and philosopher, Howard Thurman wrote in Meditations of the Heart, "As long as one has a dream in her heart, she cannot lose the significance of living…" He says the dream does not have to be this big outward thing. It could be a simple and quiet persistence in the heart. That quiet persistence offers us the courage, strength and fortitude to move forward, even in states of unhappiness. Hold on to your hunger to discover with quiet persistence what dwells within. You are worthy of happiness even in this very moment. You don't have to wait for it.

Bless you, and may you be a blessing,
Theo

Who is Theo?


"Dear Theo" is written anonymously by three UCC ministers of different ages and backgrounds--one main writer and two respite writers. We're hoping the questions will span all kinds of topics: from sexuality and relationships to church culture and conflict to mental health, family drama, ethical and moral dilemmas, and everything in between.

Every week will feature a new letter and a new answer. Please write Dear Theo with your questions and problems by sending to deartheo@ucc.org. Letter writers identities will also ALWAYS remain anonymous.

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