I saw a girl in a T-shirt that read "never be normal". Why wouldn't we want to be normal? I thought. Convention can be comforting and secure. It has it's place.
That person who is always late, never pays their way or gives thanks for gifts? They're not quirky, they're rude. It's all too easy to swing the pendulum of kookiness until it suits our needs at any given moment. But some things hold strong.
Today, certainly in the developed world, there is much talk of positive thinking and living our dreams. I too, believe that ultimately, we may strive for happiness and live better lives for it. Some of today’s self help principles and ideas are important and valuable, many are not.
What is it to be happy, and how do we best go about enjoying our very short time here?
And there's the kicker: we aren’t here for more than a flash, and that is what makes us passionate, driven and hopeful, it is what makes us individual and unique; if we were all immortal than these qualities simply wouldn’t exist.
We put our efforts into avoidance of pain and the seeking of pleasure, rightly so. But often we have created stories for ourselves that mean our efforts are misguided. Take the extremist of examples, people who have killed, injured and abused others – these people, just like you and I, have created a story whereby this seems like the right thing to do in order to avoid pain/gain pleasure – whilst that may be hard to empathise with, we can all relate to an overtired mum shouting at her child in the supermarket, or a couples’ highly inflamed argument about something completely petty, like leaving the toilet seat up...we create stories whereby things become ‘intolerable’ in our minds, and we react in a deeply pained and upsetting way.
The most liberating and joy giving principle I can give you is to focus your thoughts, and actions, upon that which is within your control. Your experience of the world has nothing to do with what happens TO you, but everything to do with how you respond to it. Your partner is rude to you, or someone pushes in front of you, you can choose to become an angry victim, allowing another’s actions to ruin your day, week, and life even.
Or you can recognise that you have no control, and indeed no business, in another’s pain. Know that it is not personal – they are not you, they are living their own lives, and you can meet them with kindness, or you can simply distance yourself from them at this point, both are perfectly fine and will ultimately save you from unnecessary dissatisfaction.
Happiness, is regaining control of who we really are, know what is good for us that nurtures and makes us feel content, limiting that which doesn’t, recognising addiction and false stories that we have created, and accepting with grace that which really isn’t our business or under our control. If this feels difficult or insurmountable, talking to dear friends and asking for feedback is a really good idea, if you balk at the idea of constructive criticism, it’s probably more necessary than ever.
If things feel truly difficult, a therapist may be required to help you pick apart and untangle the stories you may be holding on to. Gently steering ourselves away from other people’s business, false stories and judgement is an on-going process; true self-help starts here.