On Allowing Ourselves To Be Happy
This post first appeared in my newsletter, The Weekly Pep Talk. It's a place where I share a personal essay, some things I've loved reading and a little injection of positivity for the week ahead - if you'd like it in your inbox, you can sign up here.
In July 2016, I wrote this post, all about feeling content and blissed out about how life was turning out. Just over 6 weeks later my world was flipped completely on it's head when tragedy struck our family, and suddenly that happiness and contentment I had experienced felt so shallow and fleeting. In it's place appeared grief and anxiety and trauma, and for a very long time, I couldn't experience anything like happiness without feeling a wild pang of guilt, so intense it would leave me winded.
And I won't lie, at times my anxious and worried brain convinced me that I had somehow jinxed myself, that my smugness and contentment had in some way contributed to everything that happened during that awful summer. I felt as though I had brought it on myself - that by daring to be happier than I had ever been, I had somehow attracted the most difficult period of my life.
I can see now how wrong I was. I can see how a cruel and wicked anxiety goblin had well and truly taken over my brain, trying his best to make me feel like this truly tragic accident was somehow my fault. Because that's how anxiety works - it fills your head with worries and thoughts that confirm that you really are a bad person, and it makes sure they keep swirling around until you start to believe them.
I can accept now (after some professional help and lots of hard work) that those thoughts were nothing more than the anxiety talking. That they were stupid and silly and most of all, untrue. And yet for almost two years, I have struggled to say those three little words: "I am happy".
That's not to say that I haven't felt happy. There has been a lot of joy amongst the sadness of the past two years, and I have felt endless gratitude for every single moment. But still, I've had some sort of mental block that has stopped me from ever accepting that happiness and contentment. A mixture of superstition and guilt stirring inside me whenever I started to feel content.
But something switched for me while we were on holiday. I realised that not only do I deserve to be happy (because we all deserve that, more than anything else), but by not letting myself experience it in the moment, I am living half a life. None of us know what's around the corner, and those moments of pure happiness and contentment are rare, so we must appreciate them while we can.
I am grateful now that I appreciated and celebrated that season of pure joy back in July 2016. Sure, it probably made the lows of the rest of the year feel even deeper and more isolating in comparison, but I know now that that is just how life works. Dizzying highs, heartbreaking lows, and if we're lucky, plenty of moments of contentment in between.
And so, for now, I am working on allowing myself to be happy. I am appreciating this season of my life and feeling so much gratitude for the things that make me excited to get out of bed every morning: a wonderful husband, a beautiful home, a job that leaves me feeling inspired rather than exhausted at the end of the week. And I am letting go of the guilt and superstition that makes me feel that by admitting that life is pretty damn good at the moment, something bad is going to happen.
I wanted to share this with you all because I think it's something we all suffer with, no matter our circumstances. We scale back our emotions because we don't want to "jinx" things, we minimise our happiness so that we don't appear smug. We live life at surface level in the hopes that it will be less heartbreaking if something goes wrong. But that's not how it works - no matter how hard you have tried to protect yourself, shit happens, and all we can do is try to deal with the fallout on the other side. We have to just live life while we can.
So I want you to know - as I sit writing this on the sofa in my living room, staring at the pretty bunch of peonies propped up on my fireplace and listening to my husband snore upstairs, I am happy. I am deeply, wildly happy and content with how this life of mine looks and feels at the moment. It might all change tomorrow, or it might last forever. Either way, I will always have this moment, where I allowed myself to be happy. We all deserve that.