“Happiness is not ready-made. It comes from your own actions.” — the Dalai Lama
I’m not a naturally happy person.
Maybe I was at one point in my life. I look back on days before marriage and children as seemingly carefree– there was lots of dancing, partying, and revelry. But I don’t think I was really free. Or happy.
If I am honest, I don’t ever remember feeling pure, uninhibited happiness for more than a few moments or days at a time. Even on my honeymoon in Hawaii (on which I reflect as perfection) I was anxious, impatient, and had trouble being there.
Over the past week, as I planned my son’s sixth birthday party, I reflected on my dys-happiness (yup I just coined another word). I felt like a crappy person and mom because I didn’t really want to have a birthday party for him. I was anxious about spending the money, being around all those people for an afternoon, and measuring up to the other moms’ ideas of what a party should be.
I was working so freaking hard on trying to be freaking happy about it all that it made me really anxious and depressed.
When I get anxious and depressed it isn’t cute. I get prickly, grumpy, and short-tempered, even with the people I love the most. I want to go climb into a hole and hide. It is almost physically painful to make eye contact with other humans.
I don’t necessarily see myself as an unhappy, anxious, or depressed person. I guess that is why I am using the term dys-happiness. Dys-happiness seems more like “sadness-light” to me.
The birthday party went off without a hitch (with a ton of support from my family), and all the kids had fun. With some minor blips of anxiety and irritation, I enjoyed myself. Alls well, yadda yadda.
My mind churned this over and over as I nursed the baby tonight. I looked into her eyes and thought, I’m happy when I am snuggling and nursing the baby. That thought was quickly followed by the thought that every moment of happiness is merely an illusion. Emily will grow and no longer need my breast, and that connectivity will not be available to comfort or soothe either of us.
I had picked up an issue of Shambala Sun from 2007 which my husband had cleaned off his desk. There was an article featured on the cover entitled, “What makes you a Buddhist?” It was an article by a Buddhist monk and teacher named Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse.
I flipped to it.
I used to be an avid and fast reader, but these days it is hard for me to make sense of two sentences strung together. I chalk it up to a moderate brain loss incurred by a few years’ sleep debt. But I followed along with most of this article, tuning in especially to a passage where he spoke about dualities.
“. . . fixation usually stems from a habit of buying into dualistic views, such as bad and good, ugly and beautiful, moral and immoral. One’s inflexible self-righteousness takes up all the space that would allow empathy for others. Sanity is lost. . . ”
Maybe the discomfort of anxiety and depression comes not so much from my actual feelings, as it does from my judgement that those feelings are wrong and flawed.
The goal is not to be happy, but to accept myself for who and where I am at this moment.
It sounds so simple, why didn’t I get it before?
There is a set of skills I use with my clients for emotional regulation called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). One of the first things we learn in DBT is to not judge our feelings as right/wrong or good/bad, but to accept our feelings, and to accept how intense they are.
While I have been using the skills both professionally and personally for a decade, it only truly clicked what that acceptance actually means, as I reflected on my emotions over the past week.
Being a mom is one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever experienced. My children are my life. But being a mom is also impossibly hard, at times. I find myself getting caught in this web of duality on a regular basis. And the spider of self doubt eats away at my confidence, and further impedes my ability to feel well.
It also makes it difficult to relate with others, to find the energy for compassion and consideration. My hope is that through practicing more mindfulness and acceptance I will be more comfortable in my own skin, thus more tolerant and compassionate with others.
So, I can be, just be, dys-happy. It doesn’t make me a better person, nor am I worse for it.