So something dawned on me yesterday. Happiness is a whole-pie sort of thing. I’ve been trying to figure out one piece here and one piece there – and that’s how it is for the most part as we journey this happiness path in life. We only have the capacity to work on one thing at a time, most of the time. But I realized something so huge for myself—that I’m sure other people have known about all along—that I have simply been missing. It’s everything together. It’s the sum total of life. Happiness is all of it.
Lately, I’ve been focusing on mental things (attitude, perspective, positivity). Emotion coaching (feel your feelings, then release them, express them constructively). Self-management (choices, balance, goals). Spiritual discipline (prayer, meditating on scripture, faith in action). Psychological explanations (depression, anxiety, codependency, workaholism, recovery). All of these things help (to the extent that they can) and are important (to the extent that they are). But you know what turned on the light bulb? Like big time? Do you really want to know? It’s going to be so simple that it might even be a let-down. Here it is—here is what made everything so clear for me in my head: the effects of stress on the body. Last night, I had seen an old episode of The West Wing where Mrs. Bartlett was talking to Leo about it (the effects of stress on the body). Now I’m a believer. And it explains a whole lot.
Stress, for me, is a whole lot more manageable than, say, anxiety and depression—two constant companions of mine since childhood (anxiety and depression, that is). Stress has always been like this thing that never existed for me (meaning that I never “felt” stress—similar to what President Bartlett had said about himself), yet I was in a constant sea of it growing up with piano and grades and social assimilation and family dynamics. But, you know what, that is the key here. Anxiety and depression are advanced forms of stress and conflict and contention. If we can back it all way up, there’s a lot of prevention and practical help that can be had if we just pay attention at first sign and then take action. Hence, this mindfulness journal.
Herein, I’m going to document my efforts to increase my quality of life by being more aware of my stress levels and then by taking measures to reduce these stress levels and to manage whatever level of stress can’t be avoided. It is my realization that less stress is happiness—that if we want to live happier lives overall, then we are going to look for ways, at some point in this journey towards a more rounded-out happiness, to live with less stress. Stress stands in the way of optimal happiness. What does happiness even mean? Different people have different ways of determining it for themselves, but for me, I see happiness as a state of everything-is-okay-and-everything-is-going-to-be-okay. There’s room for the unexpected in daily life, but in the grand scheme of things, the general sense is that it’s all going to work out. Happiness, to me, is linked to the belief that good wins out and that as we make better choices we can attain a better life.
I’m a stay-at-home mom of three wonderfully lively children ages five and under—so there’s always at least a minimal amount of the regular kind of pressure (i.e., stress) that exists in the day. But what I have come to understand is that even expected and nominal amounts of stress have a negative effect on the body. And I’m willing to admit that the stress I experience on a daily basis exceeds what might be considered “minimal.” It’s tough to raise kids (even on relatively “easy” days); I think any parent who’s being honest will attest to that.