Choosing Happiness.

Ugh. I don’t know what is wrong with me today. I can’t quite snap out of this groggy, grumpy mindset. I slipped on the stairs a few days ago and hurt my lower back considerably. Nothing was broken and I am not seriously injured, thankfully, but it’s been quite painful and inconvenient. I haven’t been able to move around very much, and I have a limited range of motion which makes getting anything on my lengthy To Do List accomplished nearly impossible. Talk about stress! I don’t know if it is fortunate or unfortunate that this happened during my spring break. I didn’t get to do much of anything I was anticipating, but then again if this happened while classes were in session, I would have missed a considerable amount of school and definitely would have fallen behind from not being able to work on my projects.

However, my slight injury has given me a renewed appreciation for my health, and also has given me a glimpse into a life that many people deal with on a daily basis. How do these people battling with injury and disease swallow these unfavorable circumstances to lead fulfilling and happy lives? It’s a choice. It’s an opportunity. It’s an attitude. As psychologist William James put it, “The greatest discovery of any generation is that a human can alter his life by altering his attitude.”

Well, that’s good news! Let’s all just choose to be happy! If only it was so simple. But it kind of is that simple, isn’t it? So why do we choose fear? Why do we choose worry? It’s true that some of us are wired differently. The chemistry in some of our brains increases the likelihood of depression and anxiety. I personally have, and still do, struggle with both anxiety and depression. Do I consider myself a depressed person? Not usually. I believe it is important to feel these emotions when they occur and reflect on what may be causing them. These extra hurdles some of us have to jump can be quite exhausting and all-consuming at times.

Luckily, I have an outlet through writing, but mostly art-making that allows me to actively and quite literally expel some of this negativity from my body and onto a canvas or page. I highly recommend this to ANYONE. It doesn’t matter if you have “no artistic abilities” (which you totally do, you just may not have recognized it in yourself yet), just make a fucking mess. Fling some paint, scribble with crayons or markers, cut out magazines to make silly collages, pound your fists in some clay. Let go of fear and any expectations of yourself. I guarantee you that it will feel good. No one has to see your work. No one even has to know you did it.

For me, the first step to happiness is acknowledging these negative emotions, reflecting on them, and then trying to make sense of them. I usually make art from an intuitive place, and it manifests itself in an abstract manner. I may be experiencing a lot of negative emotion and anxiety, but somehow I am able to look at my “problems” from a more objective point of view as the artist then I would be able to as the victim.

There is a quote from a television show that I have always loved and identified with that says, “We make art with all our selves.” This doesn’t mean all of ourself, per se. It means all the different people we are, all the different mindsets and personalities we contain, work together to make a piece of art. Just writing about this, along with some happy music of course, has already made the little black rain cloud overhead begin to dissipate.

This morning I had a choice. I woke up feeling negative emotions- fear, rejection, frustration, anger, resentment, sadness, confusion…While part of me wanted to dwell on that, the larger part of me knew that I don’t need or really want to harbor all that negativity for the rest of the day. I chose to get my ass out of bed, make some strong coffee, and write it out. While I didn’t address any of my specific issues in writing (sorry I don’t know that I’m THAT comfortable yet), I acknowledged these negative emotions and thoughts, briefly reflected on them, and directly them out through the keys on my computer. According to Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist and author of Hardwiring Happiness, our brains are wired to scout for all that’s bad — as he puts it, the brain is like velcro for negative experiences and teflon for positive ones. This “negativity bias” causes the brain to react intensely to bad news, compared to how it responds to good news. But we can counter the brain’s negativity bias — which triggers us to form stronger bad memories than good ones — by appreciating and lingering on those tiny, positive moments.

I don’t mean this entry to be preachy, and this wasn’t really my intention at all when I sat down to write, but it’s something I needed to remind myself. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I will go paint some “happy trees.”