Being happy takes effort

It seems that no matter how many good things happen to me, I still end up dwelling on the bad.

Example 1: This past weekend, my boyfriend and my friend collaborated to throw me a surprise party. They took me out ice skating, invited out my friends, treated me to dinner, and played games with me after. I truly felt special and loved that night. I couldn’t believe that they would do this for me.

The next day, however, I was sad. My thoughts somehow took a negative turn. When my boyfriend showed me all the pictures he took of me during the party, I kept thinking to myself that I looked ugly. For a while I ruminated on how fat my face was and how I hated my small eyes. Then when I was done with that, I thought about how I appreciated the girl friend who helped plan the party, how she went out of her way despite her busy schedule to celebrate with me. Yet I doubted that we would be able to remain very close because we rarely had opportunities to meet up. I felt sad. And I felt even sadder because I thought my sadness indicated I was being ungrateful when just the night before, I had been treated to a good time. I was ashamed that I wasn’t naturally happy in my happy circumstance.

Example 2: Last week, I emailed my short story to my Creative Writing professor, who responded by saying he liked my story and wanted me to read a section of it for a reading event held at my school. When we workshopped the story in class, I received more encouragement from my classmates and for the first time in a long time, I felt proud of my writing.

When I approached my professor about the reading event, however, he told me that other students had already signed up and I could not do the reading anymore. This is what I chose to focus on for the rest of the day. I knew that this wasn’t the end of the world, that I still had ways to get my story out there, and the fact that I received good feedback meant I was making progress. Still, I felt really bummed. I felt too sad to do anything productive for the rest of the day. I couldn’t believe myself. How could I feel defeated so easily? Why was it so hard to focus on the good?

I know that sometimes you can’t help the way you feel. And I also know that it doesn’t help to berate yourself for feeling a certain way, it only makes things worse. Still, these two recent events made me realize that sometimes happiness is not the product of some neat equation. Just because certain things in my life are going right, doesn’t mean I’ll suddenly feel great.

In the end, I had to work to get back to a neutral mood again. I asked my mom if I was ugly. I told the girl friend my fears about our friendship. I ranted to my boyfriend about how I was disappointed in myself for not signing up for the reading sooner. I wrote out my feelings in a journal entry. And then I watched some “Law and Order.” Each outlet helped me battle a negative thought. “Of course you’re not ugly, you’re just being too critical of yourself.” “We will work hard and do our best to stay friends.” “It’s understandable that you’re disappointed, but now you’ll know for next time to grab opportunities when you can.” These are all probably things I already knew deep down. But I needed to hear it, I needed to tell it to myself again and again, and then I needed to just relax and not think about what was depressing me. Only then was I able to calm down.

Happiness doesn’t come easily. No matter the circumstance, it can still take a lot of effort.

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