>… And they lived happily ever after?
Much as I like fairytales, there is a reason we tell them to children and not adults. By the time we are grown, we know that happiness doesn’t last.
I recently went to a performance of Fidgety Fairy Tales. This group (which I highly recommend) takes fairytales, gives the main character a mental health disorder and uses theater to educate and raise awareness. I noticed their tales do not end happily ever after, but rather with everyone—hero, family and friends—improving their abilities to cope.
See, in usual fairytales, the main character gets what he or she wants and then lives happily ever after. Those of us who live with chronic conditions often can’t get what we want.
Happily ever after just isn’t real life.
When I was in grad school, I discovered Barry Neil Kaufman’s book, Happiness is a Choice, and his work with The Option Institute. I had been living with chronic illness for a dozen years and living with the idea that my happiness depended on external circumstances (or possibly on doing good things for others) since I was born. The idea that I could choose to be happy was revolutionary to me.
When you think about it, whenever we are happy we are making an unconscious choice. This blog post is a day early because tomorrow we are heading off for my niece’s wedding. We will probably be around a lot of happy people. On the other hand, the opportunity to be unhappy will be there. The wedding is in a park. Perhaps it will rain. Perhaps it will hail. There is a building across the street reserved for the reception and the wedding can take place there if need be. If the weather is inclement, there will probably be people who choose to be unhappy about it.
My view is that while the internal gut-shift from happy to unhappy is instinctive, the decision to stay there and wallow in it can be conscious. The moment I realize that I am unhappy is the moment my mood becomes a choice.
My physical symptoms and disabilities are constantly inviting me to frustration. I get angry, fearful and sad about what I can’t do or how hard it is for me to do the things I can do. Sometimes I entertain those feelings for a while. (I’ll pause for a moment here to enjoy that phrase: to picture me finding sadness a comfy chair, a blankie, a warm drink. Make it comfortable and invite it to stay for a while.)
Then there is a shift and I realize what’s going on and I have two choices to make: what am I going to do about it and how am I going to feel about it?
The answer to the “do” question is a combination of action (change position, take medication, get some help, etc.) and the reconciliation I wrote about last week: identifying what’s different and making peace with it.
The answer to the “feel” question is to return to joy.
Outward and Inward
I checked with the dictionary. It uses joy to define happiness and vice versa. I was reaching for some kind of subtle distinction between the two when I realized that I wanted to make a point about exterior versus interior.
I can be happy/joyful without it being obvious. I don’t have to be grinning and laughing. I do need to be honest with myself, though. “Fake it till you make it” works for happiness to an extent. If I make my face into a smile and follow it with happy thoughts that lead to a joyful mood, that works. If I make my face into a smile and continue to think sad or angry thoughts, that’s fakery.
Sad and angry thoughts have their time and place. I find it best to feel what I’m feeling.
Part of my journey, though, is to recognize and return to the things that bring me happiness.
Lifting the little weights I use did not go well last night. Today the sky is beautiful with streaky, heavy gray clouds. I don’t want to let my disappointment about my weakness yesterday keep me from noticing beauty today.
Rededicating myself to joyful living is one of the practices I choose to help me live with chronic illness.