Some of us swoon when the hero gets the girl at the end of our favorite books and movies. We squeal over True Love’s Kiss. We giggle at the first hint of love among our dearest friends and can’t wait for wedding season. We love Happily Ever After.
While we dance in the kitchen, humming our favorite tunes, there’s another side to reality: people hurt each other on purpose. They steal, lie, and cheat. Those beloved to us die unexpectedly or after long, painful illnesses. Jobs are lost, reputations are ruined by unfortunate choices, and situations arise, in an instant, to change us forever.
For every happy moment, where our romantic imagination runs free, there is someone standing by with a scowl and a story to remind us that “Happily Ever After doesn’t exist in real life.” Well, yes and no. I believe that maintaining a real, yet objective perspective, is key. But I also believe that you find what you seek.
Remember when you were young and a grownup told you if you went looking for trouble, you’d find it? Happiness is the same way. Like watching for yellow cars or motorcycles on the highway, if you look for goodness, you will find it.
Happily Ever After isn’t free of irritations or difficulties. No matter how wonderful life is, there are always bills to pay. The kid who randomly loses socks at the most inconvenient time. Dogs track mud across freshly mopped kitchen floors. Unemployment. Unexpected illness. Deadlines. Misunderstandings with significant others. Dirty laundry and little people who want twelve snacks each hour. Then there are days when the beautiful ideas in our head simply will not organize themselves into words that dance across the page to inspire readers.
The key to finding happiness in the midst of everyday chaos isn’t to free ourselves from inconveniences or problems. It’s recognizing that undesired situations aren’t always a crisis and to look for the good in every circumstance. Yes, I know it’s hard to be happy when the toilet explodes and the plumber’s bill costs more than the last two car payments. But providing an opportunity for the plumber to feed his family is a blessing of another kind. When we seek the good, it finds us.
The quickest way to recognize happiness is to intimately know unhappiness. If you haven’t known wretchedness, count yourself lucky. Few people make it to adulthood unscathed. When we experience the consequences of poor choices, years of pain that led to divorce, financial difficulties, loss of a loved one, or a dozen other gut-wrenching situations, we either become bitter or quicker to recognize when things genuinely aren’t so bad. It is in those places of less unhappiness that Happily Ever After flourishes.
The emotion of running late to an important meeting should be radically different than getting a call informing you a beloved parent died unexpectedly. Sadly, I’ve seen people treat these situations as the same type of calamity. If you watch reality television, you find that everything is a crisis and drama and disaster. I’ve seen everyday folks try to live a similar way, only to wonder why they are unhappy. In order to find happiness, we need to step back and genuinely evaluate the situations we find ourselves in.
If the worst thing to happen today is getting stuck in traffic, remember, that may be the highlight for some. Does it mean we should feel guilty for easier experiences when others are struggling? No. It simply means we need to keep a realistic perspective on the day’s challenges and count our blessings. When we come to realize life isn’t so bad, happiness happens.
Remember that all troubles pass eventually. I want you to remember the relief you felt when a particularly stressful situation resolved positively. Take a minute and breathe it in. That feeling is something you need to channel into everyday life. Reminding yourself that stress resolves itself and this too shall pass makes the most stressful situations bearable.
When we live through what seems like a never-ending onslaught of tough circumstances, it’s normal to find ourselves worrying about the other shoe dropping. I get it. I’ve been there. But here’s the thing, we need to stop borrowing trouble. It’s OK to plan for the future, but we need to live today. If something isn’t a problem today and there’s a plan in place to handle it tomorrow, breathe deeply and get back to now.
Not every unhappy situation is a case of misappropriated perspective. While I believe we can find a lesson to learn from any situation, there is no perspective shift or view that makes abusive behavior acceptable. Abuse doesn’t have to be physical, it can be emotional, verbal, or financial. And you don’t have to be called a stupid, fat, ugly bitch to be verbally or emotionally abused. Some abuse is much more dangerous because it doesn’t look like “traditional” abuse.
If you lovingly confront someone about an issue that makes you feel uncomfortable and they don’t stop or get help, you need to pause and take steps to protect yourself and those in your care. You need to be honest about your situation and brave enough to seek help and make changes. If a situation is volatile, you need to seek professional help immediately and get yourself to safety.
On the flip side, just because someone is opinionated, belligerent, and passionately disagrees with you, it doesn’t mean they are abusive. If they are respectful and you feel safe, it could be a case of misdirected communicate. Learn the difference.
Happily Ever After takes work. I’m ten years late to the party, but I adored Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project when I read it last summer. She picks apart the elements of happiness. I love her conclusions because, well, they are similar to what I discovered through the years – only she has the research to back them up.
The concept that resonated with me: taking the steps necessary to accomplish something that will make us happy, doesn’t always make us happy. For example, I love a clean bathroom, but I don’t enjoy scrubbing the tub or playing in the toilet. Because a clean bathroom makes me happy, I do what it takes to keep the joy alive. Likewise, it’s not always pleasant to have difficult conversations with my husband, but the intimacy and love that springs from them are always worth it. Always.
For some writers, suggesting they create an outline before putting words on a page gives them hives. An outline doesn’t have to be fancy and proper in form. Simply thinking through idea order and listing general concepts works well too.
The hassle of outlining might not make us happy, but the secret to including every important concept or having your plot work, is by being intentional with your content. Trust me when I say happiness is multiplied when the book is finish and it turns out much better than you hoped.
Happily Ever After doesn’t mean the same thing to all people. As writers, finding Happily Ever After doesn’t mean every article submission is accepted or that we write a string of bestsellers read by millions. Happily Ever After surfaces when we enjoy the satisfaction of our accomplishments – no matter how small – and intentionally pursue our dreams with simple plans and realistic steps. It shows up when we focus our creative energy by proactively managing and limiting the details of life that drain us. We identify our passions and learn how to channel them. We understand what it means to rest and relax, and we choose to share our time with people who energize us.
Happily Ever After also means making positive choices every day. When difficult times show their face, they aren’t as stressful because we are living with vision. We have a plan with goals to fulfill our dreams. We should plan for a rainy day, but not borrow trouble by worrying about something that hasn’t happened. That process looks different for everyone.
Happily Ever After isn’t an endless stream of mushy feelings and perfectly sunny days. Happily Ever After is a series of intentional choices that help us live our best lives. Some of those choices are difficult. Some are mundane, but they free our minds to be our most creative selves.
When I was young, I dreamed of a place with no pain, good hair days, and the sun shining warm on my skin. As I got older and lived through more than a few painful experiences, there were times I was grateful to merely survive. Somewhere along the way I realized that life won’t be all bad or all good. It’s a wild mix of everything. The choices we make and how we view the events in our life are how we find joy that leads to happiness. When the goodness collides with optimism, even in the face of heartbreak, Happily Ever After immerges. Welcome.
In Part 2, we’ll talk about dreams.
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