I like making lists; I have for many years. If I get it out of my head and down on paper, it frees my mind to think about something else. Less anxiety; not so much worrying about What did I forget?
I like crossing items off the list once something is done. It creates a sense of satisfaction although I’m constantly adding new items, new tasks to get done.
That’s what life is made of – errands, people to call, the little (and sometimes big) things we need to do. We may not think these errands are that important, but they’re the stuff that make up our lives.
Recently I was talking to a guy, a nice man. (There’s my Minnesota showing: nice. But he was and is.) He was repairing and painting my wall from problems that arose while his crew was doing foundational work on my home.
“I decided some time ago not to expect too much from life,” he said. “I have this place I’ve landed on where I’m not too happy and— “
“You never feel that sad or down,” I said. “Comfortable misery?”
He thought about it and then said, “Yes.”
I’ve heard many people espouse that philosophy recently. Sometimes I’m guilty of adapting it, too. The thinking goes: if we don’t get too excited or feel too happy, then nothing will ever be able to make us feel that sad. That down. That blue. That disappointed in or betrayed by life again.
We’ll beat life to the punch by never letting ourselves get so happy that a problem will bring us down. The lower we are, the shorter the distance to fall.
While this line of thinking may appear to protect us, it’s another survival behavior — like denial, repressing emotions or trying to control what we can’t. Making ourselves at home in a rut of comfortable misery can be added to a list of behaviors that at first glance may appear to protect us but on looking closer don’t help at all – at least not how we think they will.
Staying comfortably miserable may keep us safe from disappointments but it can also rob us from enjoying a rich life.
When I look back, it’s those moments I took a risk that I remember.
When I climbed a mountain (metaphorically or literally) because I wanted to – wanted to so much – then almost failed before trying again, one more time. When I worried, wondered, cared deeply or when I gave up for a while in defeat before taking a deep breath and starting over again, one more time – whether I wanted to or not.
Those are the emotions and moments I remember and cherish the most. The times I lived in a rut? I barely remember them at all.
The high points and the dark valleys are what I remember most. They’re the times that brought me the most joy and taught me the most about life. I’m not talking about drama addiction; moderation is good.
Walking around trouble – avoiding it when we see it coming – is a good idea, the same way we respect “Detour Signs” on the road.
If we’ve learned the lesson, we don’t need to repeat it — unless we want to. And we do have that choice because we all have Free Will. We can choose.
Over the past years, I’ve started adding one more item to my to-do lists: Remember to be happy.
There are times life sends us tragic, painful events that leave us feeling overwhelmed and bereft. We’re grieving. Joy is out of our reach – for now.
But I’ve been exhilarated too from the times I had that magnificent glimpse of victory that comes from making it to the mountain top.
Some pain can’t be avoided; there’s no way around legitimate grief. But we can change some of the misery we feel by reminding ourselves to be happy.
More often than not, it’s within our reach especially if we’ve decided to call a slightly miserable rut “our home.”
Misery can become a learned behavior; for many, it’s come into vogue.
But the great thing about Free Will is, we get to choose. And if we’ve decided to settle for misery, we can choose to change our mind.
Sometimes happiness is as simple as a decision we make.
If misfortune strikes, there’ll be plenty of time to react to it after it becomes real. We don’t have to protect ourselves from whatever disappointments are in our future by staying miserable before the problem occurs.
We can extract the most from every moment of life by allowing ourselves to feel good whenever we can.
Go ahead. Take a risk. Remind yourself to be happy as often and as much as you can.
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