Recently, I made enemies with a girl I barely knew. I didn’t know I was making enemies with her, I thought I was being friendly. I complimented her clothes, bit my tongue and smiled when she told me she only wore vintage (in a tone which implies that she was the first person to have ever worn vintage and also, that everyone else was quite possibly doomed to having their soul sucked out by Walmart if they were wearing anything but vintage), made her cookies, drove her home in a snow storm, refused to speak ill of her when others did, and just was generally nice to her. After all, it’s nice to be nice.
Turns out, as a matter of fact, according to her, it is *not* nice to be nice. In fact, it is down right bitchy! It took me a little while to figure this out. I was confused at how being kind could be looked upon not simply as a stupid thing to do, but also a cruel and “insane” thing to do. And then I realized something.
Five years ago, I was living in upstate NY. I was not born there, but I grew up there and spent most of my life there. It snows a lot in upstate NY. There aren’t really any fun things to do. You mainly only know people that you already know. And if you are even just a little bit unhappy, then it snowballs into a gut crushing depression that there seems to be no digging yourself out of. Of course, I know plenty of people from my hometown who are generally happy, who run marathons or volunteer or have wine night with their friends and just generally work hard to socialize. But I can safely say that when I was living there, from the ages of 15-22, I was terrifyingly miserable.
It wasn’t until I moved away and created a huge gap between me and all of the people I had once known that I was finally able to really reflect on my life. And what I saw was that I had always been sort of a bitch. No, wait, that isn’t quite right. I had always known I was a bitch, but I had worn that moniker with pride. I didn’t take any shit from anyone, I would pick a fight with anyone, and I was catty. Frankly, when you stick a bunch of very different human beings in a small town and make them spend 20 years together, they are going to start to claw at each other because personalities conflict. You’re bored and suddenly, any drama starts to seem like a good idea. You want to hate people because it validates your life choices better. You need to be mean in order to set yourself apart from others and protect yourself from thinking too hard about your day to day life.
But these days, I have mainly super positive friends. Friends who aren’t naturally happy necessarily, but people who have really made a point to strive for happiness. I have friends suffering from MS, or maybe with husbands that are recovering alcoholics, suffering from debt and bankruptcy, cancer, deaths in the family, disabled children, memories of horrific child abuse and so much more. And yet…these people are happy. They look out there window and they see a tree with the sunlight on it and they smile. They get a free coffee at Starbucks randomly and they giggle. Or maybe, like my friend Rhea, she finds an envelope with $10 in it, left by another person committed to finding their bliss and sharing it, and her whole day is made. Yup, a found $10 makes us gleeful, because we know it’s not the amount but the thought.
So, I know that I have been insulated from “the real world.” Rhea reminded me the other day that although we, and our similar friends, are happy, the rest of the world treats us like crazies. It’s a shame that being grateful and hopeful every day makes us into insane people, but I suppose I would rather be crazy happy than crazy suicidal or even just a tad angsty any day.
I sort of hate positivity blogs because they often seem so sappy and false, and I never want this to be like that. But I know that recently I have had to deal with several extremely negative people and, instead of wanting to comfort them, they are starting to make me want to stop speaking to them. You can only rub someone’s back and tell them they are beautiful wonderful souls so many times until you just want to scream: change something! When people choose to be self-destructive and sad, there isn’t much you can do. And I can feel them zapping my energy from me whenever we are in the same room.
And I know that I don’t want to be like that. I like walking into a room, or hiking along a trail, and smiling at strangers. I like when they smile back. I like when we start talking. I like making friends. And I don’t feel like I have acquaintances, I feel like I have friends. The other day I was informed that when you randomly meet people, they aren’t friends. But I don’t believe that at all! I met my friend Katie for 1 week while we hiked around Scotland together last Christmas, and then 6 months later she was letting me crash at her house in Budapest and meeting all of her college friends. She’s amazing and I would never ever call her simply an “acquaintance.” She’s my friend, even though she’s logged in less than two weeks of face time with me.
So my quick, no frills advice to you on how to be happier, right now? Here ya go:
Lower your expectations. I don’t mean forever or for your life goals. I mean, today. Today is not going to blow your mind. You aren’t going to be made President or save a drowning baby from a well. I mean, maybe this will happen, but it seems really unlikely. Go into today thinking: If I don’t die or get mauled by a tiger, it’s going to be awesome. Then, when the guy at the coffee shop gets your order right, smiles at you, and then you find a table by the window, you are going to be thrilled. You are going to love how amazing the coffee smells and you are going to think it’s cute the way the kid outside the window is prancing in her fairy costume on the way to school. Later on, at work, when you are wading through a stack of papers you hate, you will smile when you see someone used a star shaped paper clip. The ride home, you are smiling, and so the middle aged guy gets up off his seat on the train and offers it to you. Instead of collapsing into it and looking down, you feel thankful you got a seat. For dinner, you don’t feel like cooking, so instead you have a big bowl of fruity pebbles and sorry, that’s awesome.
Is that an AMAZING day? No. In fact, it could very well have been a crap day. But you aren’t dead and you weren’t mauled and so you met all your expectations and got some nice surprises. Every day isn’t going to be a winner, but it doesn’t have to suck either.
Join a Group. Or just make friends with someone in a group. All my friends out here are in a kickball league. I don’t want to play kickball, I suck at sports. But I tag along to the after game drinking events and trust me, no one is like, why are you here? They just buy me a beer and we hang out and chat. Every single positivity blog says to widen your circle of friends and the reason you should do it is because it works.
Watch Glee. Go on Hulu and watch Glee. Even my totally serious friends love watching Glee. It’s silly, it’s funny, it numbs your brain, and you can sing along. Watch it alone, tell no one, and enjoy yourself for an hour.
Eat some Italian food. I always feel better when I have a bowl of pasta, some salad, and a cannoli. You should always be eating dessert because it makes you feel like a kid, being rewarded for eating all your veggies. And how can feeling like a kid again not make you happy? Kids don’t have jobs!
Write Letters to Your Best Friends. Every Christmas, I write all my best friends letters telling them how much I love them and why. I hope it makes them feel amazing, and I think it does, from their feedback. But more than that,it helps to remind me why I am so lucky to have them in my life. It makes me feel grateful. And a lot less selfish than just writing a gratitude list.