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If You Want to Be Happy, Do This First

Happy woman smiling

“When I had nothing to lose, I had everything. When I stopped being who I am, I found myself.” ~Paulo Coelho

Someone once asked me if I was happy.

The question confused me because it didn’t really seem like something I had a choice in.

I had two parents and wonderful siblings who loved me deeply. I was smart, a good friend, and had opportunities many people throughout the world didn’t have. I never worried about being hungry or safe. What else was there?

Unfortunately, growing up semi-privileged doesn’t prevent us from developing fears and insecurities.

Though there was laughter and creativity in my early life, I was too busy deflecting judgments and attacks to feel okay in my own skin.

People would tell me to smile, so I learned that something was wrong with me if I wasn’t smiling.

Someone told me I had a big nose and hairy arms, so I discovered my body was not up to my peers’ high standards.

I often felt misunderstood or unseen for who I really was.

As I got older, I dated men who made me feel good about myself. They loved me, with my big nose and hairy arms. They also had just enough problems to keep me busy avoiding myself.

Somewhere in midst of trying to show them they could be anything, I lost myself entirely.

I didn’t actually feel comfortable in my own skin. I judged my words, my actions, and my thoughts constantly. I did the same with others. I was always trying to figure “it” out. I don’t think I even knew what “it” was back then. I do now.

“It” was happiness. I wanted to figure out how I could stop running in place. The present moment was never enough for me.

I was always going to be happy when I had a new roommate, my boyfriend changed, I signed up at a yoga studio, my Mom saw things my way, or I was making more money. The now, for me, was completely inadequate, and I was always reaching for some future event to make it better.

Throughout my twenties, my life began to transform, but it was just two years ago when I hit the climax. Three things happened all at once:

One, I fell in love with a man who showed me unconditional love; two, I became conscious of the fact that I was in relationships with people who were no longer serving me, and I left; and three, I discovered breathwork, the most powerful tool in my life.

The first thing, unconditional love, gave me the safety to see the truth about myself.

Because I was always in relationships with men who needed me to be there for them, I had developed a habit of hiding from my own needs. This relationship allowed me to feel safe so I could finally focus on myself with the support of someone who loved me deeply.

The second thing, leaving unhealthy relationships, showed me I had the strength to choose what is best for me.

There were clear signs that I was engaged with people who were manipulative and felt they knew what was better for me than I did. Walking away from relationships that I had put so much energy, trust, and love into was challenging, but ultimately liberating.

And the third thing, finding breathwork, transformed my life in the deepest way possible. Breathwork was my tool to accept myself.

At the time I couldn’t fathom how breathing could make any sort of significant change in my life, but this particular type of breathing was powerful. It helped me get out of my head and into my heart. It helped me see the truth about myself and life.

Through a two-step deep breathing process in a safe and guided environment, I was able to release limiting beliefs and past traumas. Breathing deep into my belly and then into my chest, I was able to bring my awareness into my body.

It’s a healing practice that has a life of its own and didn’t require me to do anything but breathe.

Each time I practiced I felt myself let go a little more until I was grounded into a healthier relationship with myself and the people around me. On many occasions breathwork has helped me feel the emotions I was hiding from, see the truth about my life, and know that everything is perfect as it is.

Because I was always in my head, I was a very analytical person, always seeing what was wrong and how I needed to fix it. When I learned to accept myself, I was finally able to relax and enjoy simply being.

And through accepting myself I learned to love myself. Not all at once, but it happened gradually. It’s probably still happening. But the eyes I see myself through now are full of funky daisies and hand drawn roses. Way better than red pen edits and negative graffiti, let me tell you.

I am happy.

If you’re unsure if you’re happy I have to tell you, you’re not. Happiness, to me, is not a state. Sometimes I’m down. Sometimes I’m up. Happiness is my relationship to life.

I am happy in my life. I am happy in my skin. I am happy with the body I have. I adore the people in my life. I am blessed. I am grateful.

The hunt for happiness is exhausting. I was always trying—trying to be knowledgeable about one more thing, trying to do this better, trying to make my business more successful. Everything revolved around reaching.

Now, I sit back. I smile. I can let life unfold without needing to control it. I can enjoy each moment for what it is.

There is naivety around happiness and healing. There’s this idea that we shouldn’t get sad, that we should be able to cope with every situation perfectly, and that we are only going to go up from here. That hasn’t been my experience.

I have days when I’m depressed. But I know my feelings are fleeting, so I can embrace them and let them be what they are.

I have grown and learned tremendously about myself.

I have been willing to answer the tough questions honestly.

I have been willing to show up and see the truth of myself. That means times get hard. Sometimes I get a little lost. That’s why I have my practice. That’s why I have support.

This is what life is. It’s up and it’s down. It’s high and it’s low. It’s happy and it’s sad. And I love it all.

I can’t reject the bad because it’s part of life. I embrace it and accept it. I break through the stories and limiting beliefs and show myself love and compassion. And that is how I am happy.

So, if you want to be happy do this first:
 be willing to see the truth of who you are right now.
 Release judgment and accept everything about who you are right now.
 Show compassion for the parts of yourself that are difficult to bear. Begin to show yourself love.

Rinse and repeat.

This life is far too precious to wait another moment to be happy.

Happy woman smiling image via Shutterstock

About Michelle D'Avella

Michelle D’Avella is a Breathwork teacher and mentor, giving people lifelong tools to free themselves of limitations and create lives with more peace and purpose. Download her FREE guide to heal your heart and follow her on Instagram for daily doses of inspiration.

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  • Very powerful. Thank you for sharing. 🙂 XO

  • Ross Galan

    My Heart-felt Thankyou for the article on Happiness.

    Ross Galan, Ph. D
    NLP Spiritual Life Coach

  • My pleasure. 🙂

  • Thank you for reading!

  • Don Drumm

    It all sounds so easy. I truly wish to be happy but I’ve made such a mess of things. Maybe one day

  • Beautifully put Michelle! You couldn’t have said it better. I love how you defined happiness, as how it is not a state, but a relationship to life. Since life is constantly changing, it’s a brilliant way to see happiness as a continuum. As we navigate through life’s ebbs and flow, the more we choose to align our actions as best as we can with who we are and what lights us up, our happiness level will continue to grow in direct proportion to our life.

  • Hi Don. It’s certainly not easy which is the reason why many people spend their lives significantly unhappy. I hope you choose now instead of later.

  • Exactly, Theresa. We often think of happiness as an end point, but there is no such thing in life. We are always in motion, and our relationship to the present is our life. That doesn’t mean we always feel happy, but it’s an overall relationship to our lives as a whole. Thanks for your comment!

  • rt

    Michelle very inspirational story. I’m leaving my marriage of nearly 30 years because it was based on conditional love and walked away from so called friends/family who I thought cared about me as much as I cared about them because I finally decided to put my life and happiness first. I think when we finally know what we want and go out and get it, life opens up for us and “there” is happiness staring us in the face. I’m so happy you are on your path of happiness because you know who you are.

  • laura

    Thank you for your story. As a person who understands getting “out of my head and into my heart” as one of the biggest challenges in my life, I struggle with creating this body relationship. The breathing program you mentioned sounds so transformative. Where does someone begin? As a failed meditation beginner, it feels like trying to get to a foreign land without a map. What’s a good starting point?

  • kathee

    I remember lying in my room when I was in high school and writing in a journal to my future husband. I’d write all sorts of notes and questions and things I’d wonder or ask this man when I eventually met him. I would wonder where he was cand what he was doing and if he was thinking about me too. It has always been such a strong desire in my heart to find a wonderful man to marry, someone who would love me and cherish me and appreciate me for the person I am. I always thought I would get married right out of college, just like my parents, so when that plan didn’t work out, I started to get discouraged. A school mate snatched my future husband away from my arms just because she had spiritual powers, all hope was lost to me before i came across the help doctor (prayerstosaverelationship@gmail.com
    ) who i confided in, i told him my long story and he helped me regain back my lover with his prayers which is now my husband today. if you have any problem email the help doctor (prayerstosaverelationship@gmail.com
    ).

  • kathee

    I remember lying in my room when I was in high school and writing in a journal to my future husband. I’d write all sorts of notes and questions and things I’d wonder or ask this man when I eventually met him. I would wonder where he was andd what he was doing and if he was thinking about me too. It has always been such a strong desire in my heart to find a wonderful man to marry, someone who would love me and cherish me and appreciate me for the person I am. I always thought I would get married right out of college, just like my parents, so when that plan didn’t work out, I started to get discouraged. A school mate snatched my future husband away from my arms just because she had spiritual powers, all hope was lost to me before i came across the help doctor (prayerstosaverelationship@gmail.com
    ) who i confided in, i told him my long story and he helped me regain back my lover with his prayers which is now my husband today. if you have any problem email the help doctor (prayerstosaverelationship@gmail.com
    ).

  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    Thank you for being vulnerable & sharing your story…:-). “There is naivety around happiness and healing. There’s this idea that we shouldn’t get sad, that we should be able to cope with every situation perfectly, and that we are only going to go up from here. That hasn’t been my experience.” I like this line in particular..a piece of WISDOM that I need to remind myself more often in my life as well.

    “I have days when I’m depressed. But I know my feelings are fleeting, so I can embrace them and let them be what they are.” Sometimes, people throw around the word DEPRESSED for the usual highs & lows of life; not realizing the seriousness of what it really is like to go through DEPRESSION as a day-to-day struggle for those who actually are… I know you meant it from a good intention & probably didn’t even think twice about it… But as you know, sometimes even one word can form a whole different meaning.

  • Don Drumm

    Thank you for your kind response Michelle. I am my worst enemy for sure. I need to learn to get past that.

  • jen

    wow this is amazing thank you so much! This correlates so much with this book I’m reading called the ‘present’ online at the truthcontest website.

  • Thanks for your comments, Jeevan. Yes, I am using the word depression to refer to the actual definition of the word, feeling despondent or low, and not clinical depression. As I am not a doctor I am not intending to speak to people who struggle with clinical depression or any mental illness. I’m not going to pretend to know what that is like or that I know how to help people out of it. If my words resonate with people who are in that position that is wonderful. But I am simply speaking from my own experiences which I do define as depression. We experience varying degrees of emotions and depths of struggle, and of course its not always possible to clarify these things without getting off track in an article. 🙂

  • Great! So glad to hear, Jen.

  • Thank you so much for your kind words and sharing some of your own journey. It takes a lot of courage to see the truth and even more so to act on it. Sending you lots of love on your path.

  • Sure thing. If you need support you can find my tools here: http://www.pushingbeauty.com/mentoring/

  • bigdo

    Guess I’m not really happy then…. Kind of knew it though

  • Yeah I had the same experience when I realized for myself. Now you get to do something about it. 🙂

  • bigdo

    You said what you did was to in essence do nothing… Let life unfold… I suppose that’s what I’ve been doing… To no avail.

  • “The hunt for happiness is exhausting” – so true! And in the next sentence you talked about what you found instead – Joy – joy is momentary – we “enjoy each moment for what it is”, but those are the moments we live for, isn’t it? As opposed to the expectation of a constant state of happiness, which is impossible anyway 🙂

  • Hi Salisha! Yes, joy is the point. 🙂 But it’s important to recognize that being a human being means we experience a range of emotions, a range of moments, and we aren’t always going to feel joy. So my overall relationship to life is one of acceptance- allowing each moment to be what it needs to be, allowing the lessons to unfold.

  • Allowing life to unfold isn’t a passivity. It requires presence, perception, and acceptance. It sounds like you might be going through the motions rather than seeing the miraculous in each moment. A shift in perspective is everything.

  • bigdo

    But I don’t think there’s anything miraculous about just mundane moments in life…. If I shift my perspective, I’m worried I’ll just be lying to myself all the time…in order to convince myself that life right now is bad… and I’ve no answers for how to correct it…

    I dunno… maybe I just don’t buy this article as much as I did after first reading it… Everyone is different… your big issues seemed, on the surface trivial… How can I relate to someone whose grand worries in life is their nose and arm hair? I’m out here trying to survive racism, xenophobia, poverty and housing insecurity… You teach yoga in L.A. for a living… I break my fucking back for peanuts for a living, or I used to anyhow….

    I think maybe I just need a different source of wisdom…ur fountain of knowledge is probably better for white, female, 19-42 yr old’s who are just in a rut in life and have body image insecurities…

  • PZ

    This is very inspirational, you just explained how i currently feel, I guess i have to do something about it… thank you 🙂

  • You’re welcome!

  • LaTrice Dowe

    Being happy makes me feel good, and it’s the best feeling in the world. Everyday, I’m counting my blessings. I can’t spend the rest of my life with my head held down. Otherwise, life will pass me by.

    Your story is an inspiration. Thank you for sharing your experience, Michelle.