It’s snowing. It’s January, and in West Virginia, that means it’s supposed to snow or it wouldn’t be January in West Virginia. It would be July in the Bahamas! (Or January in the Bahamas, for that matter.) For some reason, I’m finding this winter more difficult than previous winters.
Or I have just forgotten how I felt in previous winters, thus magnifying in my mind the hardship of this winter.
It’s cold, and cold is so tiresome. The skies are drab and clouded. The woods stand barren, branches draped in white. Snow smothers the ground. I have trouble driving in snow. I hardly go anywhere. Buckets of feed feel heavier when they have to be carried through the snow in gloved hands. Ice has to be broken for the animals’ water. (We do have a de-icer for BP’s new bath tub water now, and the chickens have a heated water bowl now, too! Just need to get some heated buckets for the goats and donkeys…..) I could go on and on. Winter and hardship shiver hand in hand.
I have to remind myself, almost daily, that winter’s hardships are no reason to be down. There’s no reason to be bleak just because the weather is bleak. There are hardships in any season, and there are even hardships in the Bahamas. To be happy only when everything is perfect is a circumstantial sort of happiness.
And not very well-earned.
There’s always something, and in fact, life is never perfect. There are always annoying people and annoying situations. There are jobs we don’t like, or no job at all. There’s not enough money. There’s illness, or even death.
Sometimes there’s poop everywhere you look.
One of the happiest people I know is a woman who has the most miserable husband on the planet. He puts her down, tells her what to do, picks on her ceaselessly. Until recently, she had a job she didn’t entirely enjoy, yet when she left, people cried. She was the happiest person in the store. In her life, she’s experienced divorce in a previous marriage, death, miscarriage, childhood abuse, and an assortment of other everyday difficult experiences. She doesn’t wait for life to be perfect in order to be happy. She chooses to be happy every day.
One of the surest paths to unhappiness is waiting for life to be perfect. Another sure path is to think other people should make you happy. If my friend waited for her husband to make her happy, she’d never be happy. Other people can’t make you happy, make you comfortable, or make you much of anything.
My mother was one of the happiest persons I’ve ever known, and she also had many difficulties in her life, including the loss of a child, which is surely one of the deepest pains known to humankind. She had a happy attitude every day.
Maintaining a happy attitude is a challenge. There are all those difficult everyday circumstances to overcome, and even sometimes those difficult people who are unhappy themselves and want to bring you down. Don’t try to make them happy–it won’t work. Trying to make other people happy is about as doable as waving a magic wand and transforming winter into spring. Most often, the trouble with unhappy people is that they want you to make them happy in some way. The only way this works is if you are in customer service and can give them a refund. Some people will never figure out that they are responsible for their own happiness. They choose to spend their lives blaming other people for not “making” them happy, comfortable, satisfied, etc. The only thing you can do about that is choose differently for yourself.
Several years ago, for a period of time, I went to see a counselor. She was a cognitive therapist. While this is in no way an exhaustive description, in short, cognitive therapy is a method of developing skills in identifying and changing negative thinking patterns. In other words, training your mind to think positively so you can have that happy attitude. People who are constantly miserable are people who are focused non-stop on everything they don’t like about their lives. Training your mind to focus on the positive is all about giving you the strength to deal with those downsides in your life without dwelling on them till they eat you alive.
Just to repeat–focusing on the positive won’t make hardships or problems go away, but the happiness gained from a positive attitude will make you a stronger person so you can deal with hardships and problems constructively without sinking into misery.
And while this little tip I’m about to give is incredibly simplistic, it’s also one of the most helpful things I came away with from the therapy experience, and is helpful no matter the circumstances surrounding a (non-clinical) depression–whether it’s winter’s hardships or a negative person in your life, a job you hate or trouble with money, or just about anything else. (If you think you are seriously, or possibly clinically, depressed, you should see a doctor or therapist.)
Make a happy card.
Take a 3 x 5 card and write down at least 10 things that make you feel joyful. If you have a hard time coming up with 10 things, then make yourself write 20 because you need extra homework. Whenever you find yourself focusing too much on life’s troubles, whip out your happy card and reread every word. Keep it in your pocket, wallet, or purse so that it’s always available.
I still have the first happy card I ever made, creased from folding and well-worn from being carried around in my pocket. It has things on it like baking bread, canning with Georgia, watching the kids play ball in the meadow bottom, and so on. Whatever you put on the card should be things that bring warm, happy feelings and images for you. The point of the card is to train your thoughts away from dysfunctional over-dwelling on negatives that fix your mind in misery. It’s like a reset button to remind yourself that life is beautiful. (Many happy people do this automatically, subconsciously, but sometimes we need a happy card to jump start the mind in the right direction. Unhappiness is a habit–break it.)
A happy card for me today includes things like this brand new baby:
These crazy kids:
This bad calf:
Cookies at the gate:
Costumes on Clover:
Ducks in the rain:
Sheep who think they’re dogs:
Chickens, just chickens:
And writing this website.
Don’t wait for spring, money, a job, or other people to bring you happiness. Take responsibility for your own happiness. Trust me, nobody else will. (Nor should they.)
What’s on your happy card today?