Choosing Happiness

I haven’t been blogging much lately. My life has been completely consumed by changing jobs and preparing to open my own business in November. We might be moving again in December. All these changes are positive changes, but they do shift my priorities a lot.

But today, I want to talk about the biggest shift in my experience with mental illness: choosing to be happy.

I never believed that happiness was a choice. In the first ten years after I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, “happiness” was an elusive, abstract idea. I didn’t really understand what it was, but I knew it was missing from my life. People would say to me, “Nobody is happy all the time,” and “I’m not sure what you’re looking for.”

I know now that they’re wrong, because I am happy. All the time.

The shift came a few years ago, after a long bout of depression. One day, I said to myself, “I’m not going to be unhappy anymore.” I wish it was as simple as that, but happiness wasn’t a choice for me. It was a change in perspective.

When I started viewing happiness as an overarching feeling in my life, instead of an immediate and tangible fix, and when I shifted my attitude from pessimism and cynicism to awe at and gratitude for the world around me, I became happy. It took a long time, and sometimes I still fall back on feelings of unhappiness, so I regroup, reevaluate how I’m looking at life, and try again.

It doesn’t mean that nothing bad happens to me. It doesn’t mean that I’m chipper and cheerful all the time; my personality still lends itself to worrying and sarcasm. A lot of becoming happy meant accepting imperfection, and even seeing imperfection as a beautiful, natural part of experiencing life.

I am happy about big things: I’m getting married, I’m pursuing my dreams, I’m shifting my career in the direction I want it to go instead of letting my success rest on other people’s shoulders. But I’m also happy because it rains. I’m happy that I have a box of green tea on the shelf. I’m happy when I cook up a big pan of sautéed Portobello mushrooms and when blankets warm my toes in this chilly fall weather, when my fiancé kisses the back of my hand and when we binge-watch Doctor Who on Netflix. It sounds corny, but the shift from letting little things slip past me to stopping and appreciating them, to filling my life with gratitude for all the tiny, lovely things that happen every day, exponentially increased the amount of happiness and satisfaction I feel in my life.

Of course I’m not thrilled about everything in my life. I’m not fond of the apartment we’re living in, but I’m glad we have a place to live that is spacious and accommodates our animals. I don’t have the time for housework I’d like, but I have the mindset to cut myself some slack because I’m getting a heck of a lot done in other areas of my life.

I have good days and bad days like everyone else, and with a mental illness, sometimes I have long strings of bad days. I’ve taught myself to view happiness as a bigger concept, not based whether or not individual days are good or bad, but whether or not I am satisfied with my life’s direction in general.

Perspective has changed everything.

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