Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Happy Challenge

How happy are you...really?

There is some truth to, "fake it till you make it". I won't deny the effects of a positive attitude. But just for a moment, I want you to dig deep and ask yourself the question: how happy am I?

So you have post it notes around your house with tons of quotes about inspiration and enthusiasm and excellence and you grab your Starbucks and head to work feelin jazzy. Every single one of your Facebook updates reminds the world of your perfect life, with your perfect husband/wife, and your perfect kittens (or children). You're smiling in every one of your pictures. You are the life of the party at social gatherings. Your family and friends come to you about their struggles...because you've, "got it together"  and they need your advice.

Maybe this is really you.

But it probably isn't.

Happiness goes SO much deeper than any outward appearance. It even goes deeper than just trying to be happy.  Consider this: there is no path to happiness. Happiness is the path.

You can force a smile on those extra grumpy days, or bury your stresses with coping mechanisms such as food, drink, shopping, sports, or vacations. Sometimes this is a necessary~ but temporary~ fix. Everyone needs a break. A little pick me up. However, the truth is nothing will ever make you happy if you don't solve the underlying issue. And nine times out of ten, the harder you try to cover up any pain or insecurity you are facing, the more you will exploit it. Those people that are superlative in their happiness for all the world to see, ALL OF THE TIME, are usually the most miserable.

Now, it is good and absolutely acceptable to have things, possessions, that make you feel happy. But they are just things. They should be an additional BOOST to your residing joy in life, not what determines it. Travelling and going on vacation should be a huge stress relief, providing you with a brief mental escape from the hustle and bustle of the rat race, but if you can't handle day to day anxieties without having a panic attack, isn't something out of balance? We are all hamsters in the wheel. We all face predicaments and obstacles and hardships. No one is exempt, whether you think they are or not. This is part of the facade. The people you think live flawless lives do not. And if someone has never faced the torture of heartbreak, trust me, they will. Maybe you faced it first, but no one escapes life unscathed. They will fall, hard, and it will be crippling, whether they try to hide it or not.

*'Never compare your worst inside to someone else's best outside.*'

Why do people feel the need to put on a fake front? This is an interesting aspect of society we will never really know. Everything is a competition, a success or a failure, based on what those around you do. Weight, physical appearance, finances, these are all major issues where humans feel constantly unqualified, less than equal, insecure, hopeless, and dejected. It is within these issues we see the largest fraud. People have a hard time letting the world see them as weak or vulnerable, which is ironic because everyone is. Even your hero. Great leaders don't become great leaders by inexperience. Part of a confident bearing is accepting all flaw and errors made, while trying to work towards a better you. And that better you should NEVER EVER be measured against someone else's. I mean, that is just ludicrous.

Hate to break it to you, but anxiety and depression are two of the most commonly misdiagnosed disorders. (Feel free to get as angry about that as you please) I can genuinely back that up with medical proof from a medical professional that I know and trust and think is smarter than anyone else in the healthcare industry if you want, but this isn't a medical post. The truth is we as a human race have become so adapted to a victim society, and there is so much we do to cover up and smash and hide and dope our personal problems, we are kind of forgetting how we are actually supposed to handle them. This makes us perpetually unhappy. You can make your own judgements, as you have the freedom to do, but I believe and most psychological reports will confirm that no amount of pill, beverage, purchase, or surgical procedure will mask a private pain. Basically, it will not make you happy. Ever. And you will be pumping prescription pills into your body, damaging your liver, going under the knife for plastic surgery time and time again, or shelling out cash and damaging your bank account, all without ever finding a lasting solution. Its a crutch. A cop out.

Real depression and real anxiety are TOTALLY different than getting flashes of saddness, feelings of overwhelming stress, fluctuating heart rhythms, and the desire to always sleep. News flash: EVERYONE feels that way all the time.

I don't think anyone looks in the mirror and thinks they are the prettiest person on the planet. But there is no one mold for beauty, despite what Hollywood may say. Surgery may make you look like someone else's version of pretty, but it won't heal your heart. Take a good long hard look at your self, what you want to fix, and why, before making irreversible decisions.  (think about the medieval time period, where none of these, "solutions" were available....and ask yourself how they managed. Obviously, there was still love, and so much passion. Those people valued life, truly. What changed?)

It is the easy route to turn to shopping, or vacationing, or medication. Because reevaluating your life and exposing your hurts is excruciating, sometimes embarrassing, and it means you have to be a big grown up and deal with issues without codependency.

Now, if you have the financial means to buy luxury things, and this means without depriving your family of essentials or going into debt, by all means rent that yacht in Ibiza for a week and drink Don Perigon. More power to you.

Going back to my question. How happy are you? You don't have to admit to me your darkest fears, or your self esteem trials, although admitting them to yourself is always the first step in recovery. A good indicator of harboring ill feelings would be to ask yourself a series of questions like, Am I irritable often? Do I target these irritable notions towards other people? Do I bring people down, either verbally or with thoughts?  Am I jealous by nature? Do I envy others' successes? Do I talk about other people's failures, more than my own? Do I spread untrue remarks? Do I make more complaints than compliments a day? If others got to pick what my grave stone would say, would I want to read it? How often do I blame others for my feelings? Do you often feel an overpowering sense of panic or that your life is out of control?

I want to pose a challenge that may help you discover your true level of contentment. It will pertain to male and female, any age, and any race. You can take it or leave it.

1. If you had to pack a small carry on bag of belongings and leave, abandoning everything you ever owned, what would you take? I want you to try using only these items for a week and log your feelings. How happy did you feel? What did you miss and why? Or what did you discover you could live without?

2. How insecure are you with your physical looks?
A.I want you to go a week without any make up or hair tools or product. Go about your daily routine, work, grocery, gym. Find natural ways to present yourself, especially if you have a professional job. If you must accentuate your appearance for work, then try to at least go minimal. No adornments, like jewelry, acrylic nails, fake eyelashes. Wear only mascara and a simple pony tail. Men, drop your grooming regimen. Log your feelings. How happy were you? What did you miss and why? Or what did you realize you enjoy about being more bare?
B.If you're trying to lose weight, I challenge you to eat a health conscious, 2000 calories a day, exercise 30 min a day, for a week straight. Don't look at pictures of women with different height, structure, age, and bone density. See a nutritionist about what a realistic BMI is for YOU as an individual. Go to a meeting with other people who want to lose weight. Make short term and long term goals to reach this realistic image, and log your feelings at the end of the week.
Hint. We can't all be Cindy Crawford. The diet industry is one of the most crooked. There is no cure all fitness plan. Every body is a different organism and will function that way. Comparing yourself to other body types will only damage your self esteem. In addition, if you don't need to lose weight and are trying, attend meetings about eating disorders. You may suffer from body dysmorphia.
C. If you're trying to gain weight, repeat step B.
D. If image is everything to you, I challenge you to wear a simple neutral color t shirt and jeans for a week, paired with one pair of shoes. If your work requires you to wear business attire, try the same color pants, shirt, (and tie). Document how people receive you, if it's different, better, worse.  Log your feelings at the end of the week.

3. How relevant is the vehicle you drive to your social status? I challenge you to substitute your car for biking or walking whenever possible. If you have a so called junk car, drive that instead. If you have a grocery within a couple blocks, try going more frequently for less, and walk to and from. If you have to drive to work, try not exceeding the speed limit, make an effort to let people pass you, or lane change in front of you, etc. Monitor your road rage (ha ha)  log your feelings at the end of the week and remember, the majority of the world's population can't afford a car.

4. Do you lack a sense of purpose in life? I challenge you to read the book A Purpose Driven Life, if you're of a Christian based faith. If you're agnostic or atheist, go on a little journey. A physical journey to a place where you feel peaceful and calm, and then take a mental journey into a state of meditation. For both parties: Ask yourself what you really want to get out of life. What do you want to accomplish and achieve? What can you realistically do to succeed in this? Make short term and long term goals. Realize you are the only person who can take you there. You cannot rely on others to make it happen. Log your feelings at the end of the week.

5. Is there something causing you residual pain? If this pain is a person, or an act caused by a person, first make an effort to forgive them as we all make mistakes~ and there's a high chance you're on someone's Shit list too~ Then find means for restitution. If they didn't mean to hurt you, it is up to you to get over it. Holding onto resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to get sick. This is the most difficult. If they did try to hurt you, you must still follow these steps, but you have the right to mistrust and avoid the person until you feel safe. In either case, this week I challenge you to do something nice for the person that hurt you. Buy them a slurpee or leave them treats. Do it! Regardless of how pissed you are. Try to accomplish as much of this as possible within a week. Log your progress.

6. For any other hardship or disappointment or dissatisfaction, I challenge you to do some research on a third world country. I want you to read about their government, their freedoms, their society. Then I want you to pick an organization within this country, whether it be a charity, a school, or a hospital, and donate to it. You can donate clothing, food, money. Log all of this in a journal, and write down your feelings at the end of the week.

7. If you suffer from an addiction, you probably don't know it. If you do, I challenge you to Google an Addiction Recovery program in your city. They are everywhere and everyday at almost every hour. And they're free usually. Attend one. Participate. And interact with the other addicts there. Go home and log your feelings.

It is so hard to acknowledge the fact that we are in charge of our own happiness. Our demeanor is not solidly based on those around us. While they can influence our mood, it is our choice to let it permanently affect us. It is easy to blame others, or look for quick fixes, then it is to uncover the sting and ache of our unhappiness. We would rather compare ourselves to others and hate people for having what we do not, and lusting after what appears to be their joy. Don't be fooled by appearances. It is textbook denial to overtly express exuberance, and paint a picture of a perfect world.

Remember, there is nothing wrong with a positive attitude. It has to start somewhere. But happiness is more than faking it. Take the challenges above and discover more about yourself then you ever knew possible. You may be surprised how many times you are complimented when you go out without makeup, and stylish hair and clothing. You may find inner peace with your body, or even get in better shape with all the biking and walking instead of driving a few blocks to a neighbor's house. You may be surprised at how blessed you are, and find a renewed sense of gratitude when studying countries that have so much less than we do. You may be surprised how unhappy you've been living, and look forward to a fuller life in the days to come!

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