Do you sometimes feel like you could be happy if everybody else would just cooperate?
I could be happy if only my husband would….
I could be happy if only the children were…
I could be happy if only my friends didn’t…
I could be happy if only my co-workers would stop…
At some point you have to stop letting your happiness hinge on what other people say and do, because whether you’re five or fifty five, you’re going to be disappointed.
My granddaughter had just turned five. She was excited about her birthday, about being five years old, having five candles on her cake, and wearing her princess dress to preschool. As soon as she got there, she flounced over to her best friend and said, “I’m five today!”
Her best friend took in the princess dress, the big smile, and replied, “I wish you were never five!”
Life is tough, even for a five-year-old in a princess dress. We find this out early and the lesson is reinforced over and over through trials, setbacks and encounters with people who seem determined to rain on our parade, or birthday cake, or whatever.
But maybe you’re thinking, My happiness isn’t tied up in how other people act. I don’t let it get to me that much. You’re one of those goal-oriented people whose happiness depends on getting something: a husband, a girlfriend, a six figure income, a dream house, a book published, breast implants. Whatever it is, you think getting it is going to provide you with the perfect life you’ve been envisioning.
But even with goals met and mission accomplished, the satisfaction only lasts until you start hating your job with the six figure income, the book doesn’t sell, the implants don’t do all that much for you or the person you were jealous of gets a better house.
You had it all and you were happy, for about three weeks.
Once when I was working in a charity thrift shop a woman came to the register with a stack of nice, name brand clothes. In this thrift store you could find an Armani suit for $7 or a Ralph Lauren sweater for $3. After I had rung up her purchases I said, “You’ve found some beautiful clothes today, and you only spent $86.”
“Yes,” the woman replied, “I’m buying them all to give away. I’m going to bless other people with these clothes, because other people have been a blessing to me. I’ve driven a car I didn’t pay for, worn clothes I didn’t buy, eaten food provided by a food pantry and lived in an apartment when the rent was paid by somebody else. All these things were done for me, so I’m going to turn around and do something for somebody else.
“I wasn’t always like this,” she continued. “I used to have it all. I had the husband, the important job, the big income, the big house, the fine car and the fancy clothes. And it was all about me, me, me.
“But I lost the husband, the job, the income, the house, the fine car and the fancy clothes. I was a broken woman because I had lost everything. And that’s when I found out it isn’t about me. It’s about blessing and doing things for other people. I’m a transformed person, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been.”
This woman truly did seem happy as she walked out with a bag full of thrift store clothes to give away. And she had lost everything.
Sometimes something has to come along and shake us up before we realize we’ve got everything it takes to be happy right where we are.
Earlier in our marriage my husband was doing great in the stock market and his job. We had so much money rolling in that I bought extravagant stuff just because I could. He worked harder and harder because he wanted to make sure the big income kept flowing in. Then one day it all came to a screeching halt. He lost the job and the stock market tanked. We had just bought a house and closed on it the day before.
I went out and got a job right away that paid just a little above minimum wage. It was a long time before my husband got another job and that job paid a ton less than what he’d been making before.
But you know something? I was happier than I had ever been. My job led me to a whole new range of experiences and acquaintances. It opened doors of opportunity that would have remained closed if I had continued to roam the malls and spend money on things I didn’t need. Sometimes the important thing is how we respond to people and situations.
I asked my five-year-old granddaughter what she did when her friend wasn’t nice. “I made some new friends,” she said. “There are lots of other kids in my preschool.”
We have what it takes to be happy right now. We might need to look in a different direction and make some new friends, or take something less so we can get something more, or realize it’s not all about me, me, me. But with a changed perspective and a new attitude, this life can be better than the one we dreamed about.
See more of Bebe’s work here.
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