Not Happy, But Joyful

The holly tree at Dawes Arboretum seemed seasonally appropriate, and holly is traditionally associated with happiness. How neat is that?

Before starting this post, I checked my stats and was pleasantly surprised to see that as of 7 p.m. on December 3rd, I have 113 views on here. This has doubled from my total monthly views from November, which was 63. So those of you who are reading or re-reading the stuff I put out – thank you. I write because I love it first and foremost, and having readers is the wonderful icing on the cake. I appreciate you all.

And now, on to today’s blog.

Even before 2020 blew up in everyone’s face, I was struggling with being happy. Generally speaking I wasn’t unhappy per se, but I never really felt happy either. Most days seemed to have high and low points, and once the day was over, my emotions about it settled onto neutrality.

I feel kinda dumb admitting this, but the neutrality bugged me. I know I’m not a miserable person by nature. I don’t have a natural scowl or resting mean face (author’s note: I’m cleaning the actual phrase up in case anyone is reading this out loud in front of small children) and I wouldn’t know where to start with developing one of those. But then again, my goal in life isn’t to have strangers think I’m a misanthrope. Those folks are easily some of the most self-loathing, unpleasant individuals I’ve ever had to deal with, so I try to avoid those kinds as much as possible.

Heaven knows there’s enough sourpusses stomping around.

At the same time, I never felt like I was a naturally happy person either. I’ve had coworkers and acquaintances describe me as chipper or upbeat, and they’re right – for better or for worse I have pretty high energy levels and I inherited my mom’s resting happy face. RHF is a blessing when you’re needing to solicit help to get something from the top shelf at Wal-Mart. RHF can also lead to long, drawn out conversations with strangers who think you’re just so nice to listen to them when you’d really rather take your Reese’s, Rice-A-Roni and feminine products through the self-checkout line and get going.

I feel like I revealed something with that last line. Anyways …

Aside from smiley faces and bouncing around like Tigger, I rarely if ever feel happy. Or at least not the way I see many people describe it. There are a few women I knew briefly in high school and college that I follow on Instagram, and they’re lovely ladies. Like me they’re content creators, and happiness is a common subject. There’s posting about happiness, finding happiness, finding happiness while single, finding happiness in a relationship or marriage, being happy with postpartum bodies, being happy with the colicky baby, being happy no matter what. Prior to scrolling their feeds, there were topics and parts of my appearance I didn’t even know I was supposed to notice, much less feel insecure over and then decide to fall in love with to achieve such an amazing happiness.

I’m not accusing the ladies I’m thinking about or anyone else of being fake, but at the same time, I can’t help but feel like a lot of the declarations of happiness on the internet or in real life are performative. Maybe it’s toxic positivity seeping through from a childhood of hearing that “everything will work out if you look on the bright side,” or maybe the lady doth protest too much (I’ve got a couple people in mind with that latter part.) Maybe someone told them that admitting to feeling stressed in their job or marriage or with the baby meant they were ingrates, so the always-happy schtick is a coping mechanism with life’s challenges.

It seems like happiness for my generation has been reduced to being on an infinite loop of giddiness, of just feeling good and always being positive about any and everything going on in life. Which feels inauthentic, like a mask that’s doomed to slip at the worst time.

Just as I was about to try and define happiness, the little voice in my head that sounds a lot like my mom chimed in. “Who cares? You’re comparing yourself to others and you don’t even believe they’re as happy as they say,” the little voice said.

And the little voice is right. Maybe I can’t define if I’m happy.

But I can and do feel joyful at least once every single day. I feel alive, and I feel like – in spite of the hand we’ve all been dealt in 2020 and me losing a job a few months ago – my life is full of meaning and purpose.

I write a blog. I’ve written blogs before this one. In a previous lifetime I worked at my community newspaper and wrote about the people I got to meet. Writing helps me feel productive and connect with strangers, which is incredible for someone who’s naturally introverted. In a broader sense, writing gives me clarity about my place in the world.

I read. I read books about serious, philosophical topics such as Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life, which I’m a little more than halfway through. As a child I could lose myself in reading when I went through periods of sadness at home or loneliness at school, and through the fictional characters I could pull the strength to get through the challenging times and not feel like it was me against the world. Reading helps me gather courage to do what’s right for myself and others.

And I run. I started running to quiet the demons of the fourth grade mean girl group who used to mock me over my lack of athletic abilities during gym. Then I committed to running because I wanted to see what my body could do, aside from looking good or desirable to the opposite sex (I don’t miss the gross messages, by the way.) Now I run because I’m not a natural athlete – it’s a challenge, and typically I’m wondering why the hell I thought running was a good idea when I’m doing it. But I always finish what I start and that gives me satisfaction, knowing that I was brave enough to start and strong enough to hang in there to the end.

Running is also a means for me to give of myself to the larger community. In 2018 I ran the Columbus Half Marathon as a Children’s Champion, which is a fundraising campaign to raise money for the marathon’s beneficiary, Nationwide Children’s Hospital. At that point in my life I figured marriage wouldn’t likely happen and motherhood was off the table. If I wouldn’t likely have my own children, then I wanted to do something to help the kids already here who need it.

I loved fundraising. Knowing that I was helping the patients at the hospital gave the miles of the race so much more meaning. I signed up for the 2019 full marathon and selected the Children’s Champion option again, and I’m proud to say that I doubled my fundraising amount.

Overall, I’ve spent the last ten years as a legal adult carving my own way and finding my own connections to meaningful causes and people. I still struggle and will probably always struggle with comparing myself to others, and I know the “am I really happy?” question is going to rear back up during a high-stress time. But I have hobbies, commitments and relationships that provide me joy. I know in my highs and lows there’s a purpose and meaning, and I can go forward feeling alive even when I’m also feeling at my worst.

So my friends, in the year 2020 – with all its weirdness and sadness and worry – I hope you all can find joy somewhere or in something you do. Obviously I have no idea what the future is going to hold, but in the end – we will have and feel joy sooner than later.

Yours in reading,

Allison

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