There are a lot of miserable people in the world, and though they claim to want to be happy, some seem to cultivate misery as if it were a spectacular hot house plant and others seem to cling to it as if it were a warm cloak that protects them from the winds of change.
There is something very compelling about misery — it makes you feel as if you are more than you are, because only someone very special can suffer so deeply. I felt that peculiar pull when I was going through grief. Grief seemed to give my life meaning, made it seem as if I were experiencing something profound, made it seem as if eternity were just around the next bend. Grief wasn’t my choice of course. It found me, and I followed where led, but still, beneath all the pain, I felt . . . significant.
As much as I hated feeling so miserable, when grief began to wane, I found myself grieving the loss of grief. I no longer felt connected to something outside myself, something immense and immensely important. I was just me, and it didn’t seem enough.
Grief is not my constant companion any more, and when I feel its touch, sometimes I let myself cry for a moment or two, and then I get tired of it. I don’t want to be miserable. Don’t want to find importance in despondency. Don’t want to see gloom as a goal. Even if joy isn’t as compelling as misery for me and my readers, it’s still where I want to go. (My “joy” articles get a fraction of the views my grief articles do, which makes sense. When we are grieving, we look for help; when we are happy, we don’t need help.)
I recently read an article by Cloe Madanes — “The 14 Habits of Highly Miserable People,” which made me realize that one can choose to be miserable or one can choose to live a life of peace and joy. For the most part, I’m doing well at not being miserable. For example, I try not to cultivate boredom, worry about money, or give myself a negative identity. (I’m a dancer now, don’t you know!)
Occasionally I mistakenly attribute bad intentions to other people’s innocent (and not so innocent) remarks or actions, which sometimes leads to clashes. I don’t try to pick fights, though I do sometimes end up in conflicts with others when I express my disappointments or try to keep from being taken for granted. This has always been a hard line for me to walk. When does sticking up for yourself fall over the edge into negative behavior? I mean, we need to protect ourselves and keep others from demanding more than we can give, and yet those “others” often think the worst of us when we do, hence the conflicts. On the other hand, giving in to avoid conflict seems just as bad. Either way, misery results. Since the goal is to avoid such misery, I hope someday I’ll be able to figure this out.
I don’t do things simply for personal gain, though being paid for work is good. I’m certainly not glorifying or vilifying the past, since as far as I’m concerned, the past can stay in the past. And I try not to be critical of myself or others. (Apparently being critical is a great way to make yourself miserable.) I do ruminate, of course, and tend over think everything, but as a writer, I do have to think so I have things to say, don’t I? Still, I am learning just to be. (Dancing helps. It’s hard to ruminate when one is focused on the learning the steps.)
Most of all, I try to cultivate a sense of gratitude. I am very grateful for all the joys of my life, my friends, my dance classes, the days that lack any kind of misery.
It’s a start.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.