Five steps to be happy
I wear many hats so I like to plan my day.
Some days I wear my corporate cap. That’s when I hibernate in the south of Manila. Other days, I wear my show-biz hat when I review films and TV shows for MTRCB.
Every day, I am a mother, a writer, a daughter, a friend. One day each week, I am both educator and counselor.
Well, you get the drift.
However, there are times I just let certain days (or at the very least, part of it) unfold. Those are the days that bring surprises and joys unfold.
Last week, I had a light afternoon off after a morning of reviewing films and TV shows, so I drove a few blocks from the MTRCB offices in Quezon City and stumbled upon a restaurant. It is now a happy space for me.
Interestingly, what drew me to the place was the sign—“Hello happiness.” The sign alone made me smile.
Relish is a lovely and quiet restaurant in the Scout area of Quezon City that serves wonderful and healthy comfort food, with interiors by the dynamic sister duo of Ivy and Cynthia Almario. It just makes you want to stay a while.
While sitting there, I thought about the steps one often takes in the pursuit of happiness. Then again, is it really something we must pursue, or would it be more correct to say that there are steps each day that we must take to attain happiness?
To begin with, I much prefer the word joy to happiness. Joy, to me, is more lasting and intrinsic. However, for the purpose of discussion, let’s use the word happy.
The first step to happiness, which I had to learn the hard way, is that you must take responsibility for your own happiness or joy. No one else can give that to you. No relationship, no person, no job, amount of money or accumulation of power will ever contribute (well, maybe for a while) to happiness that lasts. I saw a poster —“Happiness, it’s an inside job.” It really is. Once you set your mind to it, it happens.
I suppose this is the reason men and women go off on solo treks, and why widows and widowers are advised not to date until after two years of their spouse’s death. It makes good sense that, in a vulnerable state, you are prone to make mistakes, to see things you did not see while in grief.
Next, allow yourself to be happy. Nothing is as life- or energy-sapping as drama. You can fill your days with only so much of it. After a while, no one will want to be around you anymore.
Grieve or mourn, then let go. Be angry in a constructive way. If you need to yell, lock yourself up in the bathroom or go climb a hill and shout. Release it and let it go.
Retaining ill feelings is negative psychic energy that binds you to whoever you feel has wronged you.
Third, and this is a hard one—forgive. You will need to ask God to help you out because, really, this can be tough. Forgiveness is really an act you do more for yourself than for the other person.
What benefits do you gain anyway from holding a grudge? It’s just a waste of energy.
I once interviewed a woman whose son was killed by the military during martial law and I asked her how she was able to forgive her son’s killers. “They were taking orders and didn’t know any better. I think of my son up in heaven, in the best place where anyone could ever be. I miss him every day but I have forgiven the people who took his life. I refuse to hold on to anger.”
Now, I’m not saying don’t be angry. What I mean is, don’t stew because it will be like stewing in your own poison. Unforgiveness, it’s been said, is like the cat wanting the rat dead but instead he ends up drinking the rat’s poison. That’s what unforgiveness does to you, and eventually, to the body. So release it.
Aung San Suu Kyi said, “If you are feeling helpless, help someone.”
This brings me to the fourth step toward happiness—practice compassion. A well-meaning friend once asked me, “Isn’t helping the bereaved parents like reliving your own nightmare?”
I was struck by this because not once did I ever think of it that way. Admittedly, there are periods in my life when I am tired, and those are the days when I need to go off by myself for a while.
I have always taken comfort in the passage from Isaiah 43: 1-2: “Fear not for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. And through the rivers they shall not overwhelm you.”
No matter how stormy, I know the captain of my boat will see me through. It’s His unfailing comfort that replenishes the compassion tank. How then can I not share that with others?
Lastly, learn to give thanks, every day. Best-selling Christian author and speaker Ann Voskamp wrote, “When you feel all the endings coming… begin looking for all the beginnings.”
In every day, there is always something to look forward to and be grateful for. Gratitude is a good practice to get into—at the beginning and closing of each day. Try it. I guarantee it will change your life.
One last thing, don’t think that when you take these steps, happiness 24/7 shall be guaranteed. There is no such thing, but what I can tell you is, when you make these steps a part of your life, bouncing back from whatever sadness there is becomes easier.
Buddhist writer Chogyam Trungpa teaches that joy comes from the gentle heart of sadness. To give thanks under all circumstances is difficult but just keep practicing it; peace and happiness is often just a prayer away. All you need to do is ask.
Follow the author on Twitter @cathybabao.