Thursday, January 20, 2011

Happiness is Something You Work For

In the past month, I have lived (maybe I should put that in quotes) in not 1, 2 or 3... but 6 different places. From my old place in Massy to two pretty pathetic flats in Paris for vacation, which resulted in one hotel room in Paris, then a temporary room at the home of a teacher I work with, and finally a room at the home of, so far, the kindest French person I have met (save perhaps the old man who led me and Francisca through the snowstorm), it's been a whirlwind month. I am, however, incredibly grateful that I haven't been actually homeless, and that I've generally scraped by to live in these places with the meager money I do have.

These past weeks I have cycled through so many clashing emotions - Michael was here and it was, quite literally, so many dreams come true. The universe, though, did its best (and in fact, continues to conspire against us) to turn our lives into a terrible nightmare. Never before have I felt such genuine empathy for people without a stable place to live. Florence, the teacher I stayed with after I was kicked out of the Massy place, transposed a very French sentiment into English when she responded to my desire to get the heck out of this place because it's made me so unhappy: "Well... that's life."

She told me a little about her own experiences, saying that she had a rough time when she was a teaching assistant in England, but that she stuck it out and that it made her stronger. She went through a really difficult breakup after four years of a great relationship, which caused her two years of lows. And now she's back on the up-and-up with a new boyfriend; things are generally great. This made me realize that, although I have felt very strongly about leaving France and ending my contract early, I do think it's possible to go on.

All this has made me very curious about the nature of happiness. I experienced some of the best times in my life just within the past two years, with only brief periods of despondence. About five years ago, though, the bad seemed totally overwhelming. When I'm happy, I feel like I can do anything, and I have a sense of power, that I know happiness is something you work for, and that I worked for it. When I'm happy, I can visualize all the things I'm doing that are keeping me up there. But when things go wrong, it's so easy to completely forget about that state of mind, and how you got there. It's kind of a mystery, really, and maybe the secret to happiness is that you have to reinvent your path to it constantly in life, in order to renew the brightness in your soul.

Another thing I'm becoming more sensitive to, but maybe I have a ways to go before I understand better, is the reality of other people's problems. It's so easy to dismiss anyone else's concerns in life because I feel mine are bigger, or maybe theirs just aren't worth worrying over, and they're not seeing things clearly. I mean surely, we all have that problem of not seeing clearly and realizing that our problems really aren't that bad. Knowing we have the problem doesn't make it any easier to surmount.

I, like you maybe, should start replacing my burdensome problems and fears with curiosity. It's way easier said than done, as I know because I first tried this about a month ago and I still don't feel as completely, 100% alive as I did before I came to France. But maybe that particular feeling is just the past, one that whisked in and showed me how to love life, but moved on when it was time for me to learn a new way. Maybe I'm letting my fear of not finding that same feeling again, hold me back from a new brand of happiness. We often mistake happiness for complacency, and so we maintain complacency, thinking we're happy. This is to be avoided, but I can't say I don't enjoy having constants in my life that comfort me. I know what habits make me feel alive; I know that living comfortably first, with an income and a warm home, and then exploring outside that comfort second, work wonders for me. In taking small steps outside my comfortable lifestyle, by learning something new like guitar or trying something new, even just a new route on my daily walks, those things are key for me to feel fulfilled and, in my own words, "so GREAT, Mom." By surrounding myself with positive people, which may in the end mean "not French people," I can partake in good energy and supply some too.

It's all well and good to say that if something is making you unhappy, you should change it. But words are just words, and sometimes you may not be fully prepared to change things immediately. When we promise to change things, we often give the idea that change occurs instantaneously. And when I promise change, even to myself or to a blog, it sounds too much like promising progress measurable by the outside world. But only I can measure my progress, only I can measure my happiness. Others would say I'm overanalyzing, which I agree I do sometimes. But if it eventually leads to happiness, who's to say it's not worth something?

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