Four years ago, my husband and I sold our country farm home. Our intention was to kick start our early retirement with a year-long travel adventure across America in an RV. We planned to submit our adoption paperwork before leaving so we'd keep busy during the long wait for a referral. During our road trip adventure, we planned to keep our eyes peeled for the perfect place to call our next home. We were ecstatic about the prospect of living as vagabonds for a whole year, then welcoming a child into our lives.
Two months after selling our home and placing our pet goats, chickens and horses with new owners, my mom was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer. Whoa. Not only did our trip preparation come to a screeching halt, but so did my carefree and positive outlook. My mom wasn't just family-- she was one of my dearest friends. She was only 59. She'd always been extremely active and healthy. She was going to be such an incredibly fun “Gramz” for our future daughter. I was completely thrown for a loop.
My mom lived with my husband and me for much of her two-and-a-half-year-long battle with cancer. I watched helplessly as her once strong body weakened, withered and starved. I've never before felt such intense and prolonged pain.
I realized I had to do something to avoid going completely out of my mind with fear, grief and overwhelm. I tried all the usual things: support groups, therapy, sleep. While these things certainly helped, I discovered something even better. And it was so ridiculously simple.
During this intensely difficult time, I realized that I could be happy anyway.
How? I made it my mission to look for at least five things each day that make my heart melt, my soul sing and my smile grow. I wrote a list of five happy moments everyday. I actively searched for things to add to my list. My focus changed and in turn, so did my mood. I learned that happiness takes practice. With practice, I developed a habit of feeling happy.
At first I felt like a traitor. How could I think about happy things while my mom suffered? Was I being unfair, insensitive? Fortunately, I realized that I couldn't be a good caregiver for my mom when I felt bad. Fortunately, I chose happiness over guilt.
I learned an invaluable and powerful life lesson: It isn't circumstance that dictates whether I live a happy life -- rather, it is a matter of choice. I can succumb to sadness and overwhelm or I can choose to feel gratitude, love and happiness.
I know it sounds hokie, but give it a try anyway. Right this minute, grab a notebook and write down five things that make you happy. If a negative thought pops up, wave it away and look for something positive. Just in case you're having a really “bad day”, I'll offer a few ideas to get you started:
crisp autumn air
the smell of puppy breath
reading the Sunday newspaper
vine-ripened garden tomatoes
a good book
surfing the internet
setting a goal
enjoying a massage
watching birds congregate at my birdfeeder
playing hide and seek with my child
my favorite wine
buckets of sunflowers at the farmers market
The power of focus is amazing. Recounting painful memories in the beginning of this post was making me feel a bit blue. But after compiling the list of “happy things”, I'm once again feeling, umm... happy!
I continue to develop and practice my happiness habit. I choose to feel happy. What about you?
Relevant and Recommended Reading:
View my favorite books on happiness (and other topics) at the Millionaire Mommy Next Door Store. Profits are offered as micro-loans (via kiva.org) to sponsor small businesses operated by the world's working poor-- empowering them to lift themselves out of poverty.