The two most important things I’ve learned in the last five years.

Evan M. Cohen again. Follow this guy, he’s great! @evanmcohen on Instagram.

I realized something important about myself about three years ago, and it has become a kind of talisman that I touch when I need a reminder to trust myself. It guides me when I’m lost in the woods about a decision. It nudges me on when I’m afraid to take a risk. And it calms me down when I’m in an anxiety spiral, which happens a lot more often than you might think.

The realization is this — I can always be miserable, and I can always be happy.

Let me explain.

I pulled up to my house last night after work. My house. The thing I didn’t plan for, save for, or strategize how to get. This house truly fell into our laps. It is more beautiful than I ever could have imagined, and it contains three super precious people inside of it.

I am so happy in this house.

But I could have been happy in another house, too. Or in an apartment, or in the condo we shared for the last five years.

I am happy because I am there. And joy is a companion I choose to keep in my shotgun position — my ride or die.

That being said, likewise, I can always be miserable.

I could pull up to the house and think about the gophers, or that the grass is currently dying in the backyard, or that there’s a weird smell in one of the bathrooms, or the brown widow egg sacs I just found all over the garage, or that the cat has literally been peeing on V’s bed. I can miss the miracle of the house, and just see what’s wrong. (In fact, oftentimes, I’m really good at that.)

I can always be miserable.

But more and more, the older I get, my compass points toward happy. It’s my default. Even if I get out of line, even if I complain for two weeks straight, and yes, even if my brother dies, eventually, somehow, that compass makes it back on track. It may take a long time. Some sadnesses may occur from which I may never recover.

But I will find joy again, because that’s who I am, and that’s what I choose to look for.

I want to be excited about things. I want to geek out on a new show, on a book I love, on plans a few weeks from now, hell — I’m down to be stoked on a new lululemon color.

I like to be excited best of all.

Things to be excited about: a new Animal Crossing sweatshirt for V. ❤

And so even if I misstep, even if tragedy strikes, even if I have a bad day (or week…or year), even if I am faced with two choices and I choose the “wrong” one, I will make it back to joy. Because it’s what I look for. It’s my favorite.

I can always be happy.

What about you?

(If your compass isn’t pointed toward joy [and if it isn’t, you’ll know it], start finding a way to place it there. For me, a real game changer has been a gratitude text group I have with my three best friends. Every night, the last thing we do before bed is text each other the three [or more] things we were grateful for that day. I used to be allergic to the word “gratitude” so I just called it “the magic of the day.” So if you’re like me and get weird about words like “gratitude,” just call it whatever the hell you want. We started this almost three years ago and meant to do it for just a few months, but we’ve never given it up because it keeps us connected and it also measurably affects our outlook on life. My friend E even sent her gratitude text on the day her mother died, and I sent mine the day Tim died. Because even on those days, we still had something, and we had each other. Try it — could be a good quarantine activity with the friends you don’t get to see so often, and it’ll definitely shift your compass to point toward joy, despite whatever else may be going wrong in your life.)

5 thoughts on “The two most important things I’ve learned in the last five years.

  1. Every time I read your post, it makes me reflect on a lot of things in life. It seems like I’m facing a perfect storm : recently being broken up with, currently being unemployed ( it’s my own choice to quit the job that no longer served me right) but I pick myself up each day regardless how I cried myself to sleep the night before. Perhaps i didn’t tell you I’ve been here in Switzerland for 18 years all by my own ( I came here at the age of 17 for education and have remained here ever since) Looking back I sometimes wonder myself, how have I managed and survived from being more than ten thousand miles afrom my family, how I went through every hardship in the last 18 years without ithout losing all the good values I was brought up with . I guess gratitude has been an answer. Each time I look back at what I have been through, good or bad, I’m grateful for what happened.
    Keep writing, keep being here on this blog to feed all the souls that needed emotional supports just like me.
    I promise one day I will come back here to write something happy when it happens, I promise…

  2. This is something I have been struggling with A LOT lately. My life has been really stressful. Don’t get me wrong – mostly my life is full of really, really good things. Still, the constant busyness and lack of rest is leaving me exhausted and irritable. I feel like my needle has been default pointed at stressed, anxious, irritable.

    I definitely think I need to work harder to practice gratitude to increase my joy. Do you have other suggestions? I live in a major city – the noise, crowdedness, and lack of nature is starting to wear me down, but I’m not sure that’s something that will be changing for at least another year.

    • Can you plan short day trips or weekend trips to rejuvenate in nature until moving is possible?
      If work, noisiness, and being too busy taxes you, can you say no to most social obligations and only choose to see people when you really feel like it?
      Can you take on less at work? I’ve been practicing not being such a people pleaser and actually telling my boss when I’m at capacity.
      Can you do what you can to make your current home a sanctuary? Look up methods of blocking exterior noise, put up some beautiful art, change out the pillows on your couch? I always try to make my home somewhere I really want to be.

  3. This kind of crazyness makes me nostalgic for the way time moved and my own sensitivity during my brokenheartedness. How can I slow time down without grieving or having my heart broken?

    • I totally get this and feel it. Grief forces us to slow down; it can’t be helped, which is why it’s so effective. To slow down during the periods of our lives where we’re NOT mourning takes effort and discipline. Naturally, much harder.

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