On Finding Contentedness, Otherwise Known as Happiness

Many people I’ve met have at some point said something along the lines of, “you always have a smile on your face. Are you always happy?” No. Far from it. As someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, it can be extremely difficult, but almost as vital as breathing itself, to put on a good face. I’m not always happy. That’s okay. No one should ever be completely happy, because without some form of stagnation or discomfort we can never truly hope to grow.

Self improvement is difficult for a reason. It isn’t sitting in your bed all day, eating chips and sleeping through Netflix binges. Rather it begins where you notice an issue deep within the well of your being, and you draw it out using the bucket of introspection. If it’s worth examining, you retrieve it; otherwise, back into the well it goes so that it can ferment, and you can re-examine the idea or issue later. Put it this way – if self improvement were truly easy, there would be far less broken individuals in the world. Sadly this is not the case, for reasons that they can, and cannot, control.

But this post is not about self improvement. To circle back, I’ve been told that I always seem happy and full of energy. And I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty true. Even when I seem deflated my eyes are ablaze with wonder and thoughts about the in’s and out’s of the self, nature, society, and what the hell I’m going to eat for dinner that night. Steak or tuna fish and tomato soup? Whichever fills my daily calorie quota best, I suppose. I’m getting off track, but really, this is my general thought process.

I always find try to happiness, or really contentedness, wherever I go. To be content is to not be truly happy, but not to be sad. To feel the up’s in life strongly, and to ride through the annals of the dark times when you’re certain you’re going to explode from the anxiety in your heart. In simpler terms, to be content means that you’re okay; balanced, baseline. I try to be at “zero” as much as I can, but sometimes even I need to talk to someone. Maybe my parents, or my best friends, or a sibling, or, something that is rare today, myself. I talk to myself to understand why I feel scared, or lonely. To understand why I want to escape from my flesh and tear myself away from my bones.

When I was a kid, I had a pine tree in my yard (one of many, for the sake of argument). It was planted adjacent to the first house my family owned in Maine. Some days, when I sneaked away from my siblings and when the neighborhood kids were busy, I used to crawl underneath the tree and hide underneath its canopy. I could stare up through the branches for hours, and sometimes, I did. I was often met with a gray sky, as we had very little sun in the northeast compared to southern California where the sun is constant, and familiar. Back then, cold air and slate skies were familiar. And I would breathe in deeply, ingesting the crisp taste of pine needles.

I would use a branch of lively green needles to sweep up the orange, dead needles on the forest floor, and crawl up into a ball for an afternoon snooze in the pre-snowfall chill. For some odd reason there was enough a blue Wal-Mart bag, usually reserved for small items, tied off and containing a rotting banana peel. To be frank, I thought it was disgusting but even the stench of rotting fruit became familiar. I buried it one day and checked in on it from time to time afterward, noting how it decomposed into soil over many months.

While some would consider it odd, I found happiness underneath that tree, and still think back to it sometimes. But what was it that gave me that feeling of happiness? Perhaps it was a dark, safe place in the world that no one knew about, a hidden relic that only I could ever divulge (and until this post, I never have). It most definitely was, and in my first collection of stories (which will we be published…god knows when) I attempt to unpack this concept. But I think it was something very simple: I’m like a pig in shit, and no matter where I go, there is shit, and I can somehow make do with what I have then.

Morbid, no? But its useful. I’ve lived in many different environments, and all of them included some high degree of conflict. Whereas some may lose their minds, I find the silver lining and hold onto it, remembering that I should be grateful for where I am and what I’m doing in the present moment. I can find contentedness almost anywhere. Because you can travel all over the world, fall in love, and achieve success in various aspects of your life – but in the end, you’ll always be in your own company. And without making peace with yourself, you’ll never truly find happiness.

Or maybe I’m just laid back. Take it as you will.

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