“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude.” ~Denis Waitley
I just spent the past 17 months of my life trying to find, travel to, or somehow earn happiness.
I had just given birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy. I had a loving husband, a home, good friends, and a supportive family. I was supposed to be happy. But I wasn’t. I couldn’t explain why, even to myself.
This led to more anxiety and major guilt. I felt like I had tripped into a deep, dark, cavernous hole. My family and friends threw me many ropes in various attempts to pull me out. Four months after my son’s birth, I sought help.
The diagnosis was post-partum depression and anxiety. For the next year, I tried both therapy and medication, though I was hesitant to ingest anything more than the lowest dosage available. Neither of them seemed to be consistently effective for me.
Then last April I had a falling out with my boss and a co-worker on the same day. As a perfectionist and people-pleaser, this devastated me. I hit my rock-bottom of sadness. It finally dawned on me that I had spent the past year and a half isolating myself from all that I used to love. Even my husband and closest family members felt disconnected from me.
My head was so crowded with feelings of how the hell am I going to get through this day thatthere was no room to enjoy my life. The next morning I awoke with an epiphany—an “aha!” moment, if you will.
I was reading a magazine article about a frazzled new mother, trying to balance a coffee, a stroller, a grumpy toddler, and a cell phone—all with a glazed-over, vacant look in her eyes.
“Oh my God, that’s me,” I thought.
My one-and-only messy, beautiful life was happening, and I was missing it. I needed to wake up.
And I did. I had a spiritual awakening and realized that happiness is a choice, a frame of mind, a perspective one chooses to hold. If you’d also like to choose happiness, I recommend:
1. Make a list of behaviors and habits of mind that you know create happiness for you.
These are the things that are within your control. My list included:
- Being in the moment
- Appreciating the natural world
- Communicating with others
- Showing appreciation and gratitude
- Taking deep breaths
- Dancing more often
- Looking for the good
- Taking small steps to solve the problems I have
Obviously, everyone’s list will be different. It needs to fit you. What would be on your list?
2. Choose a few positive mantras to keep running through your head.
My mantras have a way of calming me down, and helping me appreciate what is right in front of me. The three I use most often are:
- Though some days feel long, the years are short. (Thank you to Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project.)
- I cannot control others’ actions, only my reactions to them. (This one has been hugely empowering for me.)
- You, Martha, were chosen to be Lucas’ mom.
Repeating these simple phrases in times of stress has been immensely helpful in keeping my mind where it needs to be.
What principles of life would your mantras cover?
3. Post your happiness habits and mantras in visible places both at home and at work, so that they are never far from sight.
I am constantly reminded of the work I need to do to be a happier person.
Now I awaken most mornings with a feeling of gratitude for the new day that lies ahead. I try to handle my struggles with more grace and positivity. Most importantly, I do my best to give love to all the human being and animals that are part of my circle. And it’s working—most of the time.
I still have days that are much more of a struggle than others, days when the old familiar feelings of sadness and panic start to creep in. For these days when my happiness habits and mantras are not quite cutting it, I have a few other tricks up my sleeve.
My husband has been a wonderfully helpful source of perspective now that I can find the words to communicate how I am feeling to him. A good yoga class or a walk on the beach with my two old dogs also helps me heal my soul.
All in all, I feel much happier, lighter, and more alive now that I have chosen happiness. People in both my personal and professional lives have commented on the change in my demeanor. I have truly accepted that it’s not our lives that change; it’s us. I have changed for the better. And that makes me happy.
Are you ready to make a change?
Author’s Note: If you feel you may be experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety, please talk to your doctor. Postpartum Support International is a great resource for support. Photo by charles chan.
About Martha Dunham
Martha Dunham is a mother, wife, teacher, postpartum depression-survivor and happiness-seeker. She lives in Maine with her family of people and dogs. You can visit her on her blog at Raising Hope, Happiness, and Lucas.