Pause in the pursuit of happiness


“Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.”

~ Apollinaire

This morning I didn’t feel like smiling. I woke up to a million and one things to do and no way to take care of them all. I felt annoyed and outright fed up with a whole list of problems…oops, I meant opportunities. I was tired and in no mood to update my coaching site or write anything on the theme of happy. I didn’t want to save the world, clean up the kitchen, pay bills, or fold laundry. And if anyone was going to tell me to stay positive because everything is as it should be, I swear I would have smacked them with a large hammer. Not that I knew where the darn hammer was, considering the mess in the garage.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about happy words and happy pictures, moments of inspiration with fairies, kittens and sunsets on the beach. I too feel blessed, free, strong and beautiful. I too am a fountain of love and optimism. Except when I’m not.

Alas, it’s my job to stay inspired and positive, because that’s what life coaches do. But some days are just difficult and crappy, and not because we’re imagining it all. There’s just no energy to be had, problems wear no make-up so they look tired, old and creepy. I live smack in the middle of the desert, so I have no beach to host the sunset or walk on anywhere in sight. Pink fairies are in short supply. Instead of kittens posing with daisies and ribbons, my immediate world is filled with adult animals that shed, bark, scratch furniture and throw up fur balls. These creatures eat their weight in gold and poop a lot more than that.

So no, I couldn’t re-direct my thoughts and sing ode to joy (metaphorically speaking). I felt irritated and defeated by my to-do-list and everything else.

And then I thought about all the positive stuff I say and write, along with the rest that is out there. Sometimes it feels outright oppressive, doesn’t it? Must every single miserable, exasperating moment of our lives be deliberately transformed into some wisdom producing experience infused with gratitude and a sense of well being? Frankly, the last thing I needed this morning was to feel like even more of a loser because I didn’t allow all the positive messages to work. If only I would have recited the positive affirmations properly! If only I would have chosen a better interpretation of reality, all would be just peachy!

I mean look at Tony Robbins…he’s always looking happy, right? And look at the words of Osho, the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, Gibran, Zen masters, monks, all the inspired gurus and philosophers…even Oprah for heaven’s sakes. Everyone and everything is just gilded in positivity and wisdom!

To make matters worse, I felt myself sliding into the ‘total failure bin’ and didn’t even put up a fight.  I thought about my life and the fact that I didn’t invent Facebook or a billion dollar app, I don’t make the world’s best cupcake, I can’t perform life-saving surgeries and I’m not out there saving rainforests either. I can’t even finish my book and it’s been what, two years now? On top of that, I don’t have a story of success or redemption to make it to the New York Times best seller list, although I could make you weep just a little with musings about my life as an immigrant teen. Truth is, I come from your average privileged background, and I have the average first world problems. So when I’m having a crappy day, I usually feel ashamed of myself for not smiling, for not seeing rainbows and butterflies, for not actively projecting positive energy out there so as to make the world a better place.

Self-flagellation complete. “What now” I wondered as I deleted another huge chunk of pointless words from the book chapter I’m working on…

“You’re a life coach, you can do better than this!” my conscience shouted.

“Do YOU want to clean the litter boxes and vacuum?” I shouted back angrily. “I didn’t think so. Now shut up and leave me alone.”

I took a deep breath and calculated the odds of my winning the lottery so as to hire a butler, cook, maid, dog trainer, dog walker, gardener, and sitter. Not good. The chocolate I had consumed at breakfast didn’t help either. And then I thought ok, instead of writing about positive stuff, how about I write about this. How about I quote Apollinaire and give myself a break from trying to be positive and happy for one day?

So here it is. I suppose one could argue this strives to be a positive and inspiring piece on non-positive-ness. Regardless…we really have to remember what I did today, namely that happiness is not the absence of unhappiness, frustration or discomfort, and that we don’t always have to work so hard at being positive or happy. It’s ok to be crabby, distraught, overwhelmed or angry. It’s ok to have a lazy day, to say the hell with the dishes and the bills and the must-do-s without feeling guilty. In our journey through life, we don’t have to beat ourselves up for not being the poster-children for success against all odds or champion optimists 24/7. It’s ok to be selfish sometimes, self-indulgent, cranky, and anti-social. It’s ok not to spread cheer and just sulk in the corner with a box of chocolates.

The challenge of course is to stop taking ourselves and everything so seriously. Which isn’t very easy to do because in our individualistic culture, we are constantly pressured to be the best and do our best…or else. If we’re not happy and positive all the time, it means we’re dysfunctional and not making the right choices. For what well-adjusted, spiritually enlightened individual with a balanced dopamine thing going would NOT be smiling and loving every minute of life?

But, there is hope. Next time your day starts out on a sour note and you’ve had it with feeling like you must turn it around, how about taking a break from happiness central and simply asking: “What do I want to do right now?” And not in the sense of what would make you all cheery. For me it turned out to be stepping out to Starbucks for an ice mocha and a pastry. For someone else it might be a nap while the laundry remains unfolded, carpets not vacuumed and floor tiles unwashed (unless you purchased the self-cleaning option, in which case this wouldn’t apply to you). For yet another it might mean a cocktail and a movie. Whatever it is, the occasional voyage from the land of positive expectations into the land of just being, will, I promise, work wonders.

I felt so much better about being miserable as soon as I declared it was ok to have a crappy day. Suddenly I was free, and grumpy, and very happy. And sure enough, the writing got done, with a spontaneous and unexpected positive message to boot! Life is good.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Sometimes we have those days where life just gets us down. We don’t feel like doing anything we’re supposed to, we feel like nothing is going right, we feel crappy and cranky…and this is all okay. So, does this apply to only one day, or can we feel like this several days in a row? 🙂


    1. Joanna L. says:

      Ummm…I think it all depends on how much chocolate one can handle! 🙂


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