What’s There to be Happy About in my Life?
“I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I took joy in the things that made me happy.” ― Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane
I’m Happy I’ve Got a Shovel?
There was an example that my mentor gave me early in my recovery. A psychiatrist was treating two young boys; one was happy about everything and the other morose. Their parents believed that they were raising the children the same. Both boys got encouragement and love. Still, they thought maybe there were issues they didn’t understand and that therapy could help.
The psychiatrist wanted to see the boy’s distinct reactions, so he devised an experiment to watch the boys. He told them that he had a surprise for them.
He placed all types of electronic toys in a room and brought the unhappy boy to the room and watched his responses.
The discontented boy lamented that he couldn’t play with them because he just knew they had sat too long to have battery life. Since he was only going to be there for an hour, that wasn’t enough time to finish a game on the console. He also wondered what would happened if he dropped a toy and broke it, so it was safer not to play with anything.
The psychiatrist took the happy boy to a room filled with shit. He turned to the psychiatrist and immediately asked if he had a shovel. When the psychiatrist asked him why he needed a shovel, the boy responded, “I just know that under all that shit are toys.”
Recovery gives us the shovel.
Learning from Others
I work with a young man who smiles most of the time. His childhood was miserable by any standard. Both parents addicted, removed and placed in multiple foster homes, molested by a family member, and he’s slightly built so kids picked on him, not just at school, but in foster care as well.
I asked him once if the smile was a true reflection of how he felt. I said that sometimes we put on masks because we’ve been told to seem happy, or we don’t want others to know we’re in emotional pain, or we think that’s what people want to see.
He thought for a minute and said, “No, I’m happy today because I’m not using. I’m happy today because I get to talk about a problem, and I know people will help me find a solution.
My supervisor told me what an awesome job I’m going and gave me a raise. Wouldn’t you be happy with that, Ms. Marilyn? I’m not in jail today, and I’m real happy about that. I’m glad I talked to one of my sisters and got a letter from another one.” That just said it all.
Unlike this young man, I am not by nature a happy person.I've often said in a judgmental way that Happy is just one of the Seven Dwarfs. But after he left our session, I decided to re-frame my perception of happy. Click To Tweet
Rather than stating that I’m content and satisfied, I inserted happy about the circumstances in my life, happy about what I do for a living, happy with my relationships, and happy about my living environment.
Now, before you think I’ve turned into Happy the Dwarf, I’ve not. But I’ve come to understand that it’s my attitude about my life experiences and opportunities that generate the feelings of either happiness or sadness.
Smiling or Frowning? Both Take Effort
Slowly, I noticed that my face relaxed and I could feel a smile forming.
Now we all know that it takes fewer muscles to smile than to frown.
Maybe there’s something to this happy shit.
Think I’ll continue with a smile today, and if someone shows me a room full of toys, I’m playing for however long I’ve got.
Writing, and recovery heals the heart