There are popular misconceptions when it comes to happiness.
Happiness defined as a delightful look on your face all the time.
Happiness as “How are you doing?” conversations concluding with an “I’m doing just great!” ending.
Happiness as having a great golf record or a perfect manicure.
Defining happiness in this way makes us feel good in the moment.
But might there be more?
I don’t mean to discourage positivity. Because a positivity is a gift. And scientifically proven to reduce sickness, lead to longer relationships, etc. By all means, live with hope.
But this is what I want to challenge: to be happy, you have to be “great” all the time.
Two months ago, I posted this blog called “Terrible and Beautiful Things Will Happen.” So many of you told me how much you resonated with my words. You also believe that life is of full of the best of times and the worst of times (and sometimes in the same breath).
So today, I want to take that conversation one step further and ask you how you’re naming both the terrible and the beautiful? How are you embracing what it most real about your life?
Many years ago, I met a woman who from the outside “had it all together.”
She worked at a job that she excelled and where praise of her work was never to far from anyone’s lips.
She mothered three bright-eyed children well on their way to meaningful adulthood. She’d just recently sent her baby to college at Princeton!
She spoke often of her loving husband and all the ways she’d partnered with him to make their shared dreams of owning their own internet company come true!
But, I didn’t quite buy it. I never felt at ease around her. She spoke in a fake high-pitched tone whenever anyone new walked in a room. She used words like “Oh yes” and “Honey and Sugar dear” a lot. At church, this woman never spoke up in Bible study when we shared prayer requests. She was too busy telling us all how amazing her life was!
I gave her space and time.
And then one day much to my surprise, she and I had a breakthrough conversation.
She invited me to coffee and just came out with it “I’m living a lie.”
Sure, all of those things she most wanted people to know about her were true. She liked her job. Her kids seemed to be doing ok. But on the inside, her marriage was falling apart inside her home and so was her faith.
“I don’t know how to talk about this, Pastor” she’d say over and over. “I just want to be happy. My whole life I was taught to be happy. How can I be happy AND acknowledge all of this other stuff?”
I told her to just start. Talk. Tell somebody trustworthy her worries. And, consider how her faith calling was to imperfection. It’s not like she was Jesus, afterall . . .
Within weeks, light came to this woman’s eyes that I’d never seen before! It was breath-taking to behold as a new community around her began to know her for the first time.
It’s so true: we all have stuff that keeps us up at night. Stuff that’s not right. Deaths of all kinds we’re grieving.
But so few of us talk about it.
Yet, you and I can’t truly get to that deep, down gut feeling of security, peace and happiness (what we all really crave) if we don’t first start with acknowledging what is not well. And not be ashamed to say:
“I still feel a gaping ache every time I drive the house where my Daddy used to live.”
“I yearn for my daughter to make better choices and stop asking me for money.”
“I haven’t talked to my best friend in ages. We had a falling out.”
This is what I most what to tell you: We can have aches in our lives and still lean into happiness.
Or as author Brene Brown writes in her book The Gifts of Imperfection, “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”
Brown goes on to describe people who are happy as those who tell the truth about their lives in spaces safe enough to hold them.
My friends, being plastic never looked good on anyone. It doesn’t look good me. It doesn’t look good on you.
One secret to happiness: just be you. Soon joy will be on the way!