I was momentarily at a loss for words after choir practice last week. I had just introduced myself to a new choir member who smiled and said, “Oh, yeah, you’re the happiness lady, right?”
I was briefly taken aback because I didn’t feel that happy. In truth, I was sad. Of course, cultivating happiness is not about dismissing or ignoring negative emotions. They are valuable contributors to the palette of life. So I quickly recovered my equilibrium enough to smile back and say, sure, yeah, I guess I am the happiness lady.
My sadness is still with me today, and I’m okay with that. I just had two major losses in my life: 1) I closed my Happiness Paradigm store and 2) my baby granddaughter, who had lived with us for almost all her first 17 months of life, moved with her mother to a distant state.
Though both events are positive developments, there is nonetheless grief. My daughter landed an excellent job, which is critical to the long term well being of her and her daughter. Still, I deeply miss having a beloved baby under my roof. How could I not?
As for the store … one reason I closed it was to open a new space in a more populated area where I can do workshops, mediations, coaching, and writing. But my new office is still being built from two old closets and isn’t ready yet. I’m feeling un-moored.
Plus, it’s fall and the darkness is closing in.
So, what is a sad “happiness lady” to do? Or you, for that matter? It’s a fundamentally important question, not only for my current minor distress but also for the much more daunting pain and struggles we will all be forced to grapple with sometime (s).
Indeed, small challenges are also opportunities for us to practice the coping skills that we will need to endure the really tough suffering.
What might those skills look like? For starters, they might look like the previous paragraph: shifting one’s perspective to find the positive aspects in a negative situation (ie, challenges are also opportunities). In my mediation training, we called this “reframing;” you could just say it’s looking for the cloud’s silver lining.
Being aware of, and present to, our sadness is vital — as is humor. Comedian Louis C.K. combines both in this timely video my daughter alerted me to (a video that will be especially entertaining to Bruce Springsteen fans). Louis C.K. also highlights ways not to deal with sadness — another valuable lesson.
I’ve cried on and off these past few weeks, and that’s good, too. In another timely internet offering, neuroscientist Mark Brady’s new blog on “Crying In Restaurants” observes that “tears of grief are filled with neuro-toxins and crying is one way the body is built to move them out of our system.” Tears are a great gift — if we give ourselves the time and space to cry them. I’ve found the time to do that, choosing to stay home alone or with my husband and just be with the sadness.
There are so many other ways to cope, and your choices will be different from mine. My coping strategies include singing in the church choir (which combines community, spirituality, service, learning, and the transformative power of music); hard work (a huge home improvement project, designed to simplify our lives and substantially curtail our personal contribution to climate change); service to others (through another church committee, “Lay Pastoral Care”); and exercise (yoga, bone builders, and kayaking).
And then there are my two favorite happiness strategies: gratitude and savoring. It is, after all, autumn in Vermont. When Bob and I kayaked on one of our favorite local lakes, the sweetly named “Peacham Pond,” it was a brilliantly sunny, cool, and windy Saturday. Perhaps because the water was choppy, we had the lake to ourselves — except for a half dozen loons. I was in love that day with Vermont, with Peacham Pond, with the tantalizing beauty of the foliage just starting to change, with my husband, with life. So much to be grateful for, so much to savor. My current bout of sadness isn’t through with me yet, but it sure did leave me alone for that glorious afternoon.