Hellbent on Happiness
By now, you’ve probably figured out that Mike and I both are pretty passionate about happiness. Of course everyone wants to be happy, because happiness is much better than most other states of being. This is not some enlightened revelation. We do, however, have our reasons for being so hellbent on happiness. Here’s a little piece of why this passion has developed for me.
Becoming hellbent on happiness
Why am I so hellbent on happiness? Well – it really starts with my parents. Both of them had very difficult childhoods. My dad lost his mom to cancer at age 9. After that, his father became completely emotionally unavailable. He also remarried to a woman who was verbally and emotionally abusive to my dad and his siblings. Essentially orphaned before double-digits, my dad learned how to be independent – expecting no help from anyone.
My mom suffered childhood turmoil as well. Her mother (my grandma), although a genuinely kind-hearted person, was emotionally broken. This resulted in her being very manipulative and hostile. She was also physically abusive to her children – my mother included. Complications between my mom and grandmother continued until my grandmother’s death when I was 12.
I didn’t have the easiest childhood either. In addition to the scars that both of my parents bore, my mom suffered a very long, difficult battle with mental illness, which also consequently caused drug addiction. Mom’s illness provided the backdrop for my childhood.
My mom was first hospitalized for her illness when I was three, so I don’t have any memories of her before mental illness shook our lives completely. She was hospitalized again when I was 8. In between hospitalizations, mom grappled with accepting her new reality, which was incredibly painful for her. She felt she lost her identity and complete control of her life. Complications and relapses of her illness have peppered my life, even up until recently.
I can understand now how monumental this shift was for her, because she was now grappling with being labeled as a “crazy person” (in the early 90’s, no less) while trying to take care of 4 small kids at home. But as a child, and possibly more so in my teenage years, I felt abandoned. I felt I didn’t have a mom. In a lot of ways I was right. My siblings and I didn’t have much of a chance to experience a “normal” childhood. Mom’s illness became the focus for our family, which eventually caused other complications.
We’re all lucky that things turned out as well as they did. I’ve said many times that a major reason we’re all mostly ok is because we’ve been lucky enough to be fairly financially well-to-do, with adequate access to mental health care. Many families without that same access tend not to fare as well.
I appreciate the perspective that these painful experiences have provided me – and yet I am motivated to reach for something more. Watching the plight of my parents, and experiencing some of my own, I have been determined to make the outcomes of my adulthood different. I am focused on happiness.
What does it mean to be hellbent on happiness?
For me, being hellbent on happiness means actively and intentionally making choices that make my heart feel peaceful. The irony is that, most times I’ve made these decisions, they’ve not been easy. Our most recent venture leading to our happiness was to drop everything and move across the country (again) to be near family.
It means caring for my health – like for real. I have had jobs where I worked 90 hours a week, didn’t have access to healthy food, or a chance to drink water. In these conditions, there was no other possible result except becoming perpetually ill and stressed. Add in the complication of extreme food sensitivities, and I had myself a real cocktail of exhaustion, sickness, and lack of fulfillment.
Society has built constructs that require us to sacrifice our health and sanity to survive. I decided no more of that. I will first prioritize my health – physically, mentally, and emotionally. Those things that don’t fit into this new framework don’t have any place in my life.
Being hellbent on happiness means having the courage to admit to yourself that something that once made you happy no longer does.Choosing to leave a career in music was a very difficult decision for me. It was something I was genuinely good at, something I’d worked tirelessly for for 15 years, and something that brought me joy. But when you get to that point, continuing to choose the things that once made you happy is continuing to choose a life of emptiness.
You have to build happiness into your life and your relationships. Unfortunately, life does not just hand out happiness freely – you have to do a little work for it. It took me longer than I would’ve liked, but once I figured out that you have to define what happiness looks like for you, and then go get it, the easier it’s been to stay happy. Happiness comes as a result of small changes that work toward the fulfillment of your soul. Making these changes can be difficult, but know this: You have the power to change your story.
You should be hellbent on happiness too
We live in a very unhappy nation (for those of you that live in the US). People are worried about the economy, unhappy in their jobs, fearful of being alone, and much more. Cultural pressures push us toward more work, and less time for ourselves, families, and the things that bring us joy.
I have a response to this, and you’ve heard it before: life is too short.
The biggest problem with the “life is too short” motto is that not enough people take it seriously. Perhaps it’s because that phrase is so overplayed. Whatever your spiritual beliefs may be, all we know for sure is that we are only guaranteed one life. We make choices to live life a certain way, and those choices have great impact on your one, sure chance of living.
Not long ago I read an article about the top 5 regrets of the dying. It stopped me in my tracks, because I identified with all five of those things. It changed the way I thought about everything.
“Life is too short” didn’t really work for me, but here’s what did. Taking advantage of the wisdom of those who’ve come before me, I started asking myself, “When my life is almost done, will I be pleased with how I lived it? Will I have regrets?”
Any time I am feeling overwhelmed by life, this little self assessment puts things in perspective.
But here’s the another thing: happiness is easier to come by when we’re surrounded by it. This means that, if you’re happier, then I’m happier. If I’m happier, you’re happier. When we all take the time to discover the things that make us happy, it becomes easier to let go of the things that hold us back.
Courage to choose happiness is contagious. Couldn’t we all use a little more of that?