I took out a pair of jeans from my duffel bag, but I was torn between a blue plaid button up and a thin white t-shirt. It was 90° outside. Well, I could always fold the sleeves up, I told myself. I took down my bath towel from the hanger and was about to get into the shower room when I heard Julia Roberts speak from the television. Eat, Pray, Love. I saw that movie about 2 years ago. Maybe I should watch it again. So I went back to the couch and sat down.
Our lives undergo changes, big and small, and the most dramatic and remarkable ones are usually those that we least expect— as cliché as that may sound, it cannot get any truer. Last year, I set out to an unfamiliar place hoping I could firmly grasp my hands around two things: work experience and money. And for the first few months, that was how it went, but a couple more later, I found something that completely caught me by surprise.
Assuming that you have actually read my previous entries, you know how contemptible I was 8 months ago. For days, I was in an awful state. I guess ruined would be the perfect word for it, as how Robert’s character (in Eat, Pray, Love) aptly put it. It was a period of despair, sadness, guilt, remorse, loneliness, hate, and every other negativity imaginable. Waking up in the morning, curled up in my airbed, staring at a ceiling so white (you would think it would drown you in its blankness)— all I wanted to do then was feel sorry for myself, dwell in my misery, and find someone else to blame for my inability to be happy. But for some reason, I decided to fight. I threw away every memento that heightened my sorrow and decided to start anew with only one thing: my decision to be happy. So I started smiling at the world, and despite not expecting it to smile back, it did. And it did so with such sincerity that I started seeing happiness everywhere I went.
Putting yourself in a different environment will not guarantee life-changing experiences. In fact, being foreign could be the worst thing that could happen to you if you let it. When things change our lives (for better or for worse), it is only when we allow it. Because, whether we admit it or not, we almost always have the choice to take full control and responsibility of how places, events, and people will shape us. Every day, we make decisions that navigate us through a mindboggling maze to survival. Though, sometimes, we pass by a time in our lives when we stop choosing and we settle down for something good enough. But when we become complacent, this is when we start to betray ourselves. When you let despondence blanket your ability to make decisions, you let go of the decision to be happy. You stop deciding. And you stop taking control.
Fear is a strong and confusing emotion. We should not fail to recognize its strength because, after all, knowing our set of fears is key to understanding ourselves. What am I afraid of? Why am I afraid? But then recognition and acknowledgement can be two entirely different things. Too much acknowledgement can become submission, and submission to fear is as desirable as slipping on a banana peel and landing face down on a little mound of dog poop. Fear, if you let it, will drive you down into abysmal despair. You could let it feed you with unhappy thoughts, caress you with uncertainties, and tuck you in for a night of bad dreams. But you could also fight it— flail your arms against it, kick it, scratch it, and chase it away like a mad child. But I guess it is not always as easy as it sounds. After all, it is a lot more convenient to be friends than be in a brawl with fear. But, you see, if you truly intend to be happy, you must make a commitment.
Fear keeps us from making decisions because we are afraid to see what is in store for us. Our knees go weak when we envision the possibility of something worse. Our alarm goes off when we encounter something unpleasant and unfamiliar, then we lose control, letting fear encapsulate our being and giving it the authority to send us into a whirlwind of tribulations. And that is exactly how you become unhappy. By losing control.
Two things influence how we perceive the world: our thoughts and emotions. For most people, these two are as fragile as paper, it can be easily torn and you can end up with only bits and pieces of what was once whole; as delicate as a snowflake, the faintest sigh can melt it into nothingness. Depending on how we process our thoughts and emotions, we can be the happiest or unhappiest person alive. And if you are serious about seeing the world in a new light…well, that is exactly what you should do: see the world in a new light.
Accepting the responsibility of being in control changes everything. You have to allow yourself to bask in the sunny side of life. I will let you in on a little secret, these two trite remarks have helped me more than a whole shelf of self-help books ever will: shit happens and look at the bright side. Negative thoughts constantly flow in the mind and drowning in it is fairly easy, one depressing image can lead to another— the best way to not get caught up in this unnerving stream is to get distracted with thoughts of a more positive nature. You were in an accident, and your car was totaled. Cheer up, at least you can still worry about your car, that means you’re still alive. Do not ever cover up the truth that anything— everything— has a brighter side. How you deal with your thoughts manifests in your emotions and behavior. Therefore, your thoughts define who you are. Thinking happy is feeling happy, and if you think and feel happy, then you are happy.
I tricked myself into thinking that my room was not as lonely as I thought it was. I started going out, something I never allowed myself to enjoy in the months prior to that period of my newly found awareness. You need to learn how to make yourself believe that you are happy— over and over again, as the saying goes, practice makes perfect. Eventually, I found this bottomless stash of hugs for everyone and gave away smiles like a mad woman. At one point, I began to feel like I was overdoing it but I did not stop. I thought to myself, I might as well be thought of as crazy while trying to “not” be crazy than be “really” crazy. What did I end up with? A bunch of people and memories I never thought I would find and need in my life. I found people who allowed me to hug them everyday, and who hugged me back with the same sincerity, not caring what kind of a person I was before, where I have been, and whom I have cared for and hated in the past. The fact is… they were just people, who had no extraordinary ability to magically cure a broken and hateful heart. I realized then that, yes, they were indeed a special bunch and I needed to be taught how to have fun again, but I also needed to find it in me the willingness to have fun again, and I had to make that decision fast.
So I let go of the fear of the uncertain and what-ifs and started living then and there with the reality that shit happens and that all I can do now is look at the brighter side of things. I am far from being the Yoda of happiness. In fact, sometimes, I still find it easier to give into hate and anger. But I have had a taste of what happiness is like if I let go of all that hostility, and it is a feeling I want to constantly surround my heart with— immerse my whole body in— for the rest of my life, it is warm and cool, it is interesting, it keeps me grounded, it is that refreshing cold water after an hour under the scorching hot sun, it is that flavor you want to relish when you sink your teeth into the softness of a freshly baked pretzel roll smeared with salted butter, it is that relief you get when you sit in an upholstered velvet recliner after a hard day’s work, and it is that fuzzy feeling you want to savor when you climb into the soft coolness of a freshly made bed.
Today’s lesson: Decide.