In Pursuit Of Happiness (2014 and Beyond)

Posted: January 22, 2014 in Documentary
Tags: , ,

Robert Downey Jr. New Year New Me Meme

I’ve struggled with what to write about on this blog lately. Is it a car blog? A film blog? A window into my own personal thoughts? Over time, it’s become a bit of all three I guess, and I’ve decided I’m fine with that (although as the reader you might disagree).

All joking aside, I want this to be a place where I can comfortably talk about the things that are happening in my life – the things that drive me – whatever they may be. To inspire others from my own personal journey. That has always been the goal of the documentary, so why not this site too.

I’d like to talk a bit about happiness. 2013 got off to a rough start, but in terms of happiness, it was a banner year for me. And I can honestly say I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I’ve learned so much about myself, and accomplished even more. The Z is built, the documentary is progressing, and I’m so much closer to the life that I truly want. But more importantly, I’m happy in the here and now – I’m more present, more alive, than I’ve ever been.

It wasn’t always that way.

Grumpy Cat

“Why can’t we just be happy now?” That was the last thing I remember my ex saying as we sat across from one another, almost a year ago. At the time, I couldn’t grasp the concept.

Honestly, I couldn’t even grasp how we had found ourselves at that point in the relationship. “It’s easy for you,” I replied, “you have everything going for you. How can I possibly be happy? X, Y, and Z are so far out of my reach.”

Abby was always happy: it’s one of the main reasons I was so drawn to her.

Sure, she checked all the other boxes – she was smart, kind, had a great sense of humor, and was adorable – but her general outlook on life captivated me the most. The girl was never without a smile on her face. A positive aura surrounded her. It was such a breath of fresh air.

I had never known such happiness, much less dated anyone like that. I wasn’t a miserable person by any means: there had been many times in my life when I experienced joy, satisfaction, even happiness, but it was never lasting. Never integrating itself into daily life, so seamlessly, as it did for her.

She introduced me to so many new things; made me feel better than I had ever felt. When I was with her, I took better care of myself. I ate healthier, I forgave easier, loved more… She taught me all of those things. Being with her allowed me to be the best possible person I could be.

Yet lasting happiness still alluded me. I’ve spent the last year trying to understand why.

What I came to realize, was that no one person could “make” me happy. Only I could be responsible for my own happiness, and it had to come from within. Along that journey, I set into motion things that would start me on my own path to lasting happiness. This is what I learned.

Happiness As a Goal

I was looking at happiness as a goal. Something that could only be achieved after a certain amount of accomplishments were collected, after a move to the right city, after finding the perfect career…

The problem with “happiness as a goal” line of thinking, at least for me, was that even after I achieved the things I told myself were required for happiness, the feeling would eventually fade. So I’d inevitably dream up a whole new set of requirements – or projects – pushing the goal post of happiness even further out of reach.

But lasting happiness was there all along. I was just looking for it in the wrong place.

Happiness Is Found Along The Journey, Not Just At The End Of It

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When I stopped looking at happiness only as a distant goal, I awoke to the daily pleasures of life. They’re all around us. Within those daily pleasures, I began to build a wealth of happiness.

The realization that happiness was waiting to be found in the smallest of things, was a real eye opener. Something as simple as a cup of coffee can bring so much joy, if you let it. We recently had a little Cafe open up in town that sells Stumptown (my favorite coffee). I know it sounds ridiculous, but I get so much joy from sipping that morning cup, from trying the new roasts as they come in.

When you slow down and become more appreciative of the things around you – that cup of coffee, a good meal, connecting with friends old and new – you begin to cherish those moments, become grateful for them. It’s what life is all about. Even listening to music, getting lost in my favorite albums (or discovering new ones), can bring such a feeling of wellbeing to my everyday life.

Opportunities exist like this every day, take the time to embrace them. You’ll be happier for it.

However… If Your Situation Is Less Than Optimal, Don’t Be Afraid To Do Something About It.

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There was a critical moment after my breakup that became one of the defining moments of my new life. I was standing in the frozen food isle of a grocery store late one night. Staring into the freezer at a wall of processed frozen pot pies… and I almost broke down in tears.

Abby was an great cook. We used to laugh because I would say there was no food in the house. And she would say “there’s plenty of food.” To which I would reply, “no actual food… only the ingredients you use to make food.”

She exuded the virtues of eating healthy, of buying organic, and made the most wonderful meals. In those three years, I learned so much about healthy living. But there I was, post breakup, staring at those frozen pot pies… thinking, “how did I end up back here?”

I left the store, and swore I’d start eating healthy again. I challenged myself to make everything I could out of the healthy ingredients still stocked in my kitchen from her. And you know what? Not only did I start to feel better physically, but mentally as well.

And that kicked open the door to even more positive changes.

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It doesn’t have to be huge to be life changing – a big move, career change, etc. (although that very well could be worth exploring).

Trying to make big life changes all at once can be a crippling endeavor. I’d known for a long time that I wanted to make changes in certain areas of my life, but felt helpless. I was overwhelmed by the big picture, with no idea how to begin.

Start with small things, day to day things that you can easily change. It will still make an improvement in your life, and can snowball into something that makes the larger changes even easier later. Which brings me to my next point.

Roll With Life As It Comes

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Over the course of our relationship, I was obsessed with how life would play out. I tend to do that in all my relationships. When I’m by myself, I’m much more forgiving with the passage of time, with where I am in life. But while in relationships, I tend to think “this is serious business now, we need to have everything mapped out.”

I set lofty goals, put a lot of pressure on myself, and lose track of what really matters. It’s good to have a plan, it’s good to set goals… but plans change, life happens. Embrace it, and learn to make the best of what you have.

There’s a fantastic NY Times article about “Learning To Measure Time In Love And Loss.” Where the author comes to the realization that he needs to think about the passage of time not in minutes, but in months, in years even. In experiences both good and bad. It’s a great way to look at life.

I’ve stopped obsessing over time. Thinking that things need to get done a certain way, in a certain timeframe… because in the end, will I really remember a year from now that I trailed off to watch Netflix for a few hours while writing this post? Or that it took me a week of revisions before I posted it? No. Some things get done in a day, some take longer, some may never happen. But I refuse to beat myself up over it anymore.

The same can be said for my documentary. I’ve been spending an hour a day working on my film, when I tell myself to only spend an hour editing, it makes the task at hand much less daunting. Free from the pressure I’d normally put on myself, one hour becomes 3, or 5 – and I end up with a much higher quality of work than if I went into it thinking I had to do 8 hours minimum, that I had to get this done… and spent that time riddled with anxiety. Speaking of anxiety.

Exercise Is The Key To Not Just Physical, But Mental Wellbeing

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I’m a little ashamed that it took me so long to figure this one out, considering I edited a PBS program on the virtues of that very topic a few years back called “Younger Next Year.”

But the real “lightbulb” moment came just a few weeks ago. As I wrote in my “This Doesn’t Define You” post, I had some of my best months this past year. Just before that time, I started running.

I knew running had something to do with my newfound wellbeing, but I failed to realize how truly important it was.

About a month ago, I found myself in a bit of a slump again, and couldn’t understand why. All the progress I had made over the year seemed to be slipping away. My thoughts were cloudy, I was doubting my decisions, anxiety had taken hold again. I thought it was post vacation depression, or the arctic like temperatures of the winter months here in the Northeast.

I was extremely busy throughout the fall, and stopped running. It was one of those things that I got “too busy for,” and figured I’d just get back to it at some point in the future. I also started eating out more (and less healthy). I told myself I was too busy to cook, and deserved to get that takeout.

I spent a lot of years feeling this way, and knew I didn’t want to go down that road again. Something had to change, so I forced myself to join the local YMCA in late December. The minute I hit that treadmill – the negativity, the doubt, the anxiety – it all faded away. After just that first run, I remembered how good running made me feel! I was hooked all over again.

Physical activity is a major component to happiness (and clearer thoughts) in my life. It seriously changes my whole mood / outlook on life, and helps me to realize all the things I spoke of earlier in this post. I regret waiting so long to get back to it. Which brings me to my final point.

Learn From Your Mistakes (But Move The Fuck On)

tupac

Ok, so I stole the second part of my title from Tupac, but I think it applies well here.

I’ve spent a lot of time beating myself up over the years for past decisions, constantly second guessing myself. “What if I hadn’t done this? If only I had done that. Why did I buy that house, that car… start that project?” And for what? I couldn’t go back and change any of it even if I wanted to. The past is the past, and the sooner you realize that, the sooner you start to truly live in the present. Moreover, living in a constant state of regret stops you from making the best choices moving forward.

You’re going to make mistakes, you’re only human. Learn from them. Use the knowledge you acquire to grow as a person, to help you make better choices in the future… but for god’s sake let it go after that.

And remember to go easy on yourself and stay positive throughout the process.

I will never regret our relationship, I’m a better man for having known Abby. I wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for her. One of the last things she said to me was that “breaking up was the best thing for both of us right now.” At the time, I couldn’t understand how she believed that.

But she was right. I would have never figured this stuff out had we stayed together. Sometimes a tragedy can be the best thing for you. To shake you to your core and make you reevaluate everything about yourself. Sometimes people are just in different places, and you need to move on. I know that I alone did not cause our relationship to fail, but understanding my stake in it has helped me to grow as a person, to become a better person.

And someday, I will carry that knowledge (and happiness) forward into another relationship, and it will be better for it…

Jay

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Comments
  1. libs012 says:

    Every milestone is reached through stepping stones. Really enjoyed your honesty and thoughtfulness here J. Happy to know you and happy to make memories with you (even if they are scattered a few months away from one another at a time). Keep rolling, friend. xox – Libs

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