I've been thinking a lot about my middle school experience recently and remembering what a weirdo I was at age 13. SEE FOR YOURSELF. Besides my weird bangs and John Lennon glasses, my friends and I had a variety of weird obsessions. Namely, "perkiness." We all owned and carried around copies of a tiny book called 14,000 Things To Be Happy About and drew smiley faces on everything. We all wore these weird plastic rings that we called our "prozac rings" (I DON'T KNOW EITHER GUYS SO DON'T ASK) and constantly worked to portray how happy and cheerful we all felt.
In all reality, I rarely felt happy in middle school. I felt lost and confused, unpopular and uncomfortable in my own skin and pretty sad much of the time. And yet, I consistently tried to convince everyone around me that I was "perky" and full of happiness.
For a long time, I believed that happiness was the image I tried to portray in middle school: big cheesy grins and everything being all smiles and high-pitched "Everything is soooooo awesome!", even if that was not what I was feeling inside.
I still think about happiness and joy a lot. Maybe because if I'm being honest, the above definition of happiness doesn't come naturally to me. I'm not a negative person by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm also not one I would consider relentlessly positive. I'm no cheerleader. I consider myself a slightly cynical optimist.
Several years ago, when I was emerging from a particularly rough time, I told my therapist that I was better, but not waking up feeling "perky" everyday. I thought that at some point, I'd just start waking up feeling full of sunshine, and only then would I really be okay.
At that point, she broke the news: few people wake up feeling perky and joyful every single day.
For me, most days are good. There are some that are so amazing I can hardly stand it and some that are so awful it's almost comical, but for the most part, my days are fine. The older I get, the more I realize that is kind of a miracle. Happiness need not be a 24/7 sunshine and rainbow explosion: it's more of a quiet assurance that overall, life is good, and there's much to be grateful for.
I recently came across this quote from Elizabeth Gilbert that says just about everything I think about happiness:
"Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it, you must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.”
One of the most important things I've figured out about happiness is that it takes work. Living a joy-filled life doesn't fall into your lap. It takes effort to find the good in the mundane. And it takes even more hard work to turn the mundane into joy.
I don't have a list of 10 tips to find joy or anything crazy, but I do know what works for me. Joy really isn't that glamorous -- I find it in weird, small things: making coffee in my classroom while making a to-do list. I find it in my yoga practice. I find it in the last moments of my day when I'm laying in bed with Andrew and Harry cat and everything is quiet. I find it in a lesson well-taught, a good book, and at the farmer's market. I find it in text messages with friends or nights out or a really good song.
It all sounds kind of boring. I know. But isn't that just it? Life is kinda boring sometimes. Joy is what takes things from being boring to fantastic.
I really love that bit about participating relentlessly in your own blessings. I'm sure there are people who wake up feeling happy naturally, but I believe that for most of us, finding joy requires our participation. It means looking for the good and doing the things we know will make us happy, over and over and over again.
I don't think I'll ever be a person that others think of as overly exuberant about every last thing. I mean, I can't even keep a gratitude journal for more than a day, so OUTLOOK NOT GOOD for becoming some sort of sunshine and rainbows person. But what I can commit to is at least looking for the good in the day-to-day.
My middle school self might have been totally weird, maybe she was on to something with the heavy pursuit of happiness, because even though it might not be as simple as a plastic "Prozac ring," it's definitely worth chasing.