I rode the trendy wave of sugar-coated optimism and gratitude, and I’ve come to see that it’s both effective and a load of baloney. Yes, it shifts my mindset into something far more productive, but sticking flowers in a turd doesn’t make it a vase. Crap is crap! Sometimes life hurts and it drives us absolutely crazy. And you know what? That’s okay! People everywhere would tell us that we should cover up these “negative” feelings with more “positive” ones, but that’s actually one of the worse things we can do. Our emotions are messages that cue us into the reality of our situations. We need to be able to listen to them so we can understand exactly what the problem is and how we can address it. Taking ownership of our feelings, especially the “bad” ones, allows us to be true to ourselves and everyone around us. That leads to some seriously empowering changes, and there’s nothing bad about that.
Death to Optimism
I know firsthand that an optimistic outlook is the secret to success in anything and everything, but there’s a lot more to it than looking for the positive. Desperately looking for something to appreciate in a crappy situation is like a celebrity selling out with a deodorant commercial: yes, it’s understandable, but it’s kind of pathetic. Developing true optimism requires us to be real about our feelings and why we have them. Overlooking painful truths and stuffing down frustrations don’t lead to a truly optimistic way of life. Optimism and faith aren’t emergency survival tools to be triggered by inconvenience, trendy beliefs, or Facebook quotes. True optimism is a state of being. It’s not what we do, but what we are. If we can see where everything we’ve experienced has benefits and a purpose, then “bad” suddenly has a whole new feel and meaning.
True optimism is a state of being.
Happiness in Roles
First, I believed that I was supposed to be happy as a mother. Then, I believed I needed to be happy as an individual. Now? Well…now I’m seeing a serious need for a balance between both. Thanks to my African husband, I’ve come to see the beauty of happiness, generosity, and relationships. His culture revolves around everyone being happy and having fun, and every event becomes a social affair of celebration (even funerals serve as community parties!) Relationships are everything, and women serve as the backbone keeping everyone together through food, support, and smiles. It’s a pretty drastic contrast to my experience with family and relationships. I grew up with a dependent mother that hoarded herself up in her room with the latest boyfriend, alcohol and treats, or (on the worst days) her sad and desperate self. Our only “social events” happened on Christmas—a day marked by a brief gathering on the living room floor where we were handed out gifts wrapped in plastic shopping bags. To put it simply, my view on family and relationships was the complete opposite of my husband’s.
In the beginning, I couldn’t understand all of his expectations and ideas on things. I spent a lot of time pulling out my hair in frustrated confusion, and even more time sobbing into pillows and laundry piles for not being a better woman. I knew my past had me falling short on things, but I didn’t know what connection was off. Then it finally hit me. I had grown up seeing my mother always and only doing the things that made her happy (happy, as in brief moments of satisfaction). I too came to equate happiness and contentment with sneaking away to “escape” with shopping, drinking, or simply being alone.
I saw “happiness” as living for myself. Yet, no matter what I did, there was still that dull and hollow empty space within me.
It became clear to me that while I still had reservations about the cause and effect of certain African beliefs and values, I had to try another way. So, I studied their methods and how they went about them (mostly with smiles, laughter, and genuine care), and put them to work. That was when I discovered the incredible pleasure in cooking a meal with excitement rather than out of obligation; the fun in getting up off of my butt to play with my son rather than laying on the couch in exhaustion. Any and every task could be transformed into a cherished duty that served my family and friends. And by enriching their lives, I gave myself the deepest sense of satisfaction and fulfillment that I could have ever imagined. As a feminist, I had been closed off to this idea for a long time. Now I have no choice to admit that my roles as a woman make me happy. Ridiculously and blissfully!
Happiness isn’t something I can fake. It has to be real and it has to be felt. There are times where I have to fake it to make it, but that’s because I get my head up my butt and still have a few things I need to learn. I’ll constantly be challenged by life though, and that’s what makes happiness so beautiful. My happiness depends not on what I get from life, but what I’m willing to give to it. While hard times are always waiting ahead, I’ll forever have control over how my hardships define me. No matter what happens, I can be happy. And I can be happy no matter what happens.
The late and great Wayne W. Dyer said it best.
There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.
Ash Stevens is a mother, writer, and aspiring “hippie” that believes in sarcasm, wit, simplicity, chocolate, and the outdoors. If she isn’t writing or asking herself for advice, she’s surely playing badminton or swimming in the river with the kids.