I have a motley group of loud, energetic, friends. Like a jigsaw puzzle, we have a variety of similarities; we fit together in a scene of celebration.
Maybe, if I had to pick, the picture on the cover of the puzzle box is a New Year’s Eve dreamscape. Champagne and balloons and laughing people, all dressed up and ready to play. Beautifully, our individual pieces mold around each other and take up space when other pieces retreat. In a motley group of loud, energetic, friends, I am quieter. More serious a majority of the time, I am often thankful that my space doesn’t have to take up quite as much as theirs.
One night, my jigsaw bunch was all together. Wrapped around an outside table on a cold night, we were shivering and sipping (sometimes chugging) various boozy drinks and looking for a party game to play. While the voices were overlapping, I searched the App store on my phone and found a drinking game that seemed somewhat suitable. Explaining it to my crowd, I told them the essence of the game: I’ll read a “most likely to” statement, and everyone will point to the person in the group most likely to do that deed. The person with the most “points” drinks that round. And then we would go again, with a different question.
“Most likely to… skip school”. Fingers quickly pointed to Carrissa.
“Most likely to… get in a fight.” We laughed and shot our indexes towards Jana. We won’t ever let her live down that time, years ago, she punched a girl outside of a country concert.
“Most likely to… be happy all the time”. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw every finger in the room go to me.
Embarrassed, I kept my eyes fixed on my phone’s screen. My pieces of people around me nodded and laughed; some side notes about yoga and my meditations were filling the air around me. And, there was a logical truth to the side comments I could understand. In the last year, I’ve changed. I invested in a life coach. Started daily morning meditations. Each day, I would move my body in some way. I began ingesting Brenee Brown, Glennon Doyle, Elizabeth Gilbert (all three matriarchs of my evolution). But, I questioned myself… was I really happy?
Breaking out of my internal spirling, I laughed and, in penance to the game, took a sip of red wine. Moving to the next question, the night went on and I loved my friends while trying to shake off the question of happiness that was looming over me.
Was I really happy?
I pondered that question for about a month. For a while, I didn’t mention it. Then I did. To Carrissa and Steven. “What makes you think I’m happy?” I’d laugh, hoping to have created an air of a joke while sipping my Cabernet Sauvignon.
“I see your Snapchats. You know those morning ones where you’re writing in your journal. Drinking coffee. Talking to cows on the side of the road early as hell on Saturdays.” Steven responded.
He wasn’t wrong. My mornings are my favorite parts of the day. And I’m very fortunate to live surrounded by the most regal cows known to man (remind me to tell you later about Bessie, the cow I befriended the summer before eleventh grade. I was forced to cut grass and made a pal in the process).
“You’ve been changing. More optimistic about stuff. Sometimes I feel like I’m pulling you down when I complain because you don’t really complain as much anymore.” Carrissa would provide when I questioned her.
Although Steven’s response made me laugh, Carrissa’s stung a bit. Anger was my quick reaction and, in judgment, I questioned myself: did my friends feel like they had to filter themselves? Just because of this perceived newfound happiness that I was, in all actuality, about 99% sure I did not possess?
So those days and weeks passed. I knew something was there, in this experience I shared with them that cold night together. In a way, the pondering was indicative of my own personality. Often, I fixate on things, obsess about experiences in my mind. I will know that something is important, this or that experience meant something, but sometimes there is a block there when I try to figure out why. What I found over this new year is sometimes my brain doesn’t want me to know why it’s important because it’s scary or big or might cause me undue distress or a break in what my “normal” is. This was all happening because of this thirty-second scene at a party.
What was it about the word happy that bothered me so much?
If not happy, hell, what did I want to feel?
Dropping into my body with my life coach one day, it hit. I wanted to feel peace, wisdom, unaffectedness. Setting the scene to these emotions, I instantly saw this Pocahontas Weeping Willow Tree image of a solid, grounded woman. The kind of lady that could be walking down the road in this all-black, sleek, faux leather legging, camel trench coat kind of get-up, and she doesn’t blink behind her oversized aviators when confronted with some monster in her path. She just looks at said Mean Green Monster Man, dripping and oozing toxic-swamp-liquid from its mouth, with a curt nod and walks on by, confidently, maybe even still while sipping her caramel macchiato. She would absolutely never, ever trip over the disastrous path that Mean Green Monster Man had left in his wake. In fact, there was an unspoken agreement between this lady and her monster. She wasn’t scared of it and it wasn’t going to mess with her. She wouldn’t cheer at the thought of how she didn’t succumb to the scariness of the monster after she passed it by; she wouldn’t even register the fact that it was bumbling through her path at all. Because she was peaceful. She was wise. She was unaffected.
With an image like that, does this lady even want happiness?
I turned her over and over in my mind and, let me tell you, this lady is a badass. And I want to be her. But, I’m also really, really confident that my idolization of her is rooted in fear. And not fear of the monster, but fear of the lady herself. One word tipped me off in the anti-climactic showdown of the lady against the Mean Green Monster. One word exposed that this hero’s journey wasn’t, for me, heroic at all. It was this (can you guess it, friend?) word: unaffected. Unaffected, to me, was a spawn of fear.
Unaffected meant middle of the road. Neither exuberant nor devastated, unaffected correlated to independence and solitude. As if I knew more than the world itself, the world’s problems could not coerce me into emotion: unaffected was the absence of caring. Digging into this emotion, I realized I employed it often in the face of unceratinity. If I could be unaffected when meeting with my boss, for example, I did not have to fear the inevitable distraught if I did not receive a salary raise after months of hard work. The risk was no longer a problem, and I could “tap out” of the reward, with its sharp sting of failure that allows followed suit.
On the other hand, when I heard the word “happy”… I held my breath. As I’m writing this, I am even now having to consciously breathe because my first instinct is to freeze all human functions- even taking the air of my world into my lungs. Because “happy,” to me, used to mean having a childlike innocence of permanence in my peace, and then watching it all go away. That happiness was going from what I thought I used to be to less than I care to write about.
Do you see the allure of unaffectedness, with a story like that of what “happy” meant?
Ultimately, I was petrified of happiness. In the story of my life, up until that point, “happy” meant that I was about to lose it all. The other shoe was going to drop, right there and then. Unaffectedness was the “shield” that could defend me from the unavoidable “drop.”
I’m not sure about the badass lady, friends, but after some work, I realized I did want happiness. I was tired. Holding my breath and bracing for the hit was getting exhausting. And aiming for my entire being to reach the state of unaffectedness was hovering dangerously close to apathy and keeping me stuck.
Maya Angelou once said, “Ask for what you want. And be prepared to get it.” So here’s me Getting it. I want to be happy. I want to walk around with a big, wide, affected smile on my face. I want to sing in the shower to Beyonce and fill every sense up with the smell of orange citrus body wash. I want to notice how beautifully my little cursive letters fill up an entire page of affirmations in the morning and then hold in my heart my womb soul’s words: my body is a home and I am a soft place to land for those that live there. I’m prepared to get that.
Here’s the thing. The idea of me deserving the world used to fester in my stomach like acid- like I literally couldn’t even digest this foreign concept. I’m breaking the pattern. I’m prepared to receive being the happiest person you know. And I know, for damn sure, that I deserve it. My acid will transform into butterflies and my whole soul will light up.
What I ask of you, friend, is to go forth and do the same. Do me a favor; feel into what you want. Scream this “want” for me. Scream it to the rooftops or straight to your Mean Green Monster Man’s face: “I want…” and fill in your blank. Write it in your journal. Comment it below, to me. Open your heart like you were stretching your chest open for Heaven itself to enter. And, be prepared. Be prepared to get it, friends.