Envying Happy

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Last weekend, my partner and I attended the Pride parade. We walked down the road, holding hands, my sons J and A gripping our hands tight. To all, we looked like a happy family. Many, seeing a gay couple out and proud, with kids at their sides, gave ‘oohs’, and ‘so cutes!’ as we walked by. (They were right, we are cute.)

One friend, though, messaged me later that day. “I saw you with your family at Pride and I couldn’t say hello. I was too sad.” He went on to explain that while he was genuinely happy for me, and that he knew I had worked hard to be where I am in life now, but that he envied the things I have, implying that happiness may elude him forever.

To this friend, one I care about a lot, I want to say ten things.

  1. I know how you feel! I spent so many years watching others be happy, and feeling like I could never be! I remember as a teenager, seeing straight guys get to actually date girls while I could never date guys. I remember seeing people who were fit during the time when I was obese and envying how ‘easy’ it came to them. When I was closeted, I remember seeing happy gay couples, just knowing that would never be me. When I was in debt, I saw those with financial freedom with absolute heartache. When I was single, I saw happy couples sometimes almost with derision, wondering constantly why I could never find that. I know how you feel!
  2. Things aren’t always as ideal as they seem. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with my life. But you saw us around, what, 10 am? The morning before that consisted of breakfast for four people, showers and getting ready, and packing bags, the kids both having separate fits because they couldn’t play longer, one kid sticking his hand inside a garbage can and subsequently putting it in his mouth, the barista being completely untrained and not understanding what a drip coffee was, and me forgetting the sunscreen. In fact, the reason we were walking like that, with the kids on either side, was to keep them from fighting. What I’m getting at is, yes, I’m happy, but it is a lot of work. (I mean, the child support payments alone). I’m just saying, the richest people still have problems, and the happiest couples sometimes fight the most.
  3. Ten years ago, I was depressed, obese, childless, in an unhappy marriage, and broken. I believed I could never be happy. My path ahead sixty hour work weeks, debt, empty church service, health problems, and more depression. My journey forward started by exercising, then coming out, then learning how to be an out gay man with children and debt. Even after that, I was single for 6 years. I turn 40 this year, and happiness was hard won.
  4. Even now, I’m happy, but I’m not. I have things I’m dissatisfied with. I set goals constantly. Bad things happen to me, I have bad days, and I get sad, angry, and scared quite often. I’ve learned to be kind to myself on tough days, and I’ve learned to accept that being dissatisfied is part of being human. I love parenting, but I don’t love everything about parenting. I love my job, but I don’t love everything about my job. I love being in a healthy relationship, but I don’t love everything about being in a relationship. I’m consistently striving for bigger and better. I am constantly working on my own happy.
  5. Happiness is fleeting. It comes in short bursts. It takes effort and consistency, just like fitness and financial freedom do. It means a lot of hard internal work. Healthy doesn’t happen without good nutrition, a whole lot of physical effort, and consistency. It doesn’t take personal trainers or the perfect genes, it just means super hard work. I did that work on my outsides (I still am!) and I did that work on my insides (I still am!)
  6. Everyone’s happy is different than everyone else’s. There is no perfect recipe for happiness. A boyfriend or husband, a better job, a million dollars, a home, a child… those all bring their own struggles and concerns. Happiness needs to be found in the present, and then it changes with us as we grow and alter and age. You don’t want my life, or my happy, you want your own. And that means figuring out what that is for you.
  7. Before I could be in a relationship, I had to learn how to be single. That meant learning how to be my own favorite person, my own best friend, my own motivator. I used to go to parties or events and feel pathetic for being solo; I got over it. I started to date myself: plays, movies, concerts, trips. I was honest with myself, I held myself accountable. I worked on goals (getting braces, paying off credit cards) and I was kind to myself when I made mistakes or had bad days. I still like my own company. I genuinely like myself and I’m my own favorite person. This was the best work I ever did.
  8. To be blunt and honest, the world is frequently a shitty place. We humans complain about most anything, from the weather to how long our coffee is taking to brew, but the world is full of real problems and struggles outside ourselves. Just scanning the periphery of my brain, the words human-trafficking, rape culture, school shootings, lava flows, and immigrants having their kids taken away pop up. You can’t scan the news without abject horror clouding your landscape. Happiness has to be a choice in spite of all of that, whether the pressure comes internally or externally. The only thing you have control over is you. And happiness can’t be found by ignoring the world, only by embracing the world with its flaws and being happy in spite of it, all while trying to make the world better around us.
  9. Depression is a real thing. And when someone is depressed, happy not only feels impossible, it feels like a real chore. It feels like ‘it’s impossible’ and ‘what’s the point’ all at once. Depression hurts, and it’s miserable, and it sinks into your soul. But it can be temporary. It takes work to climb out of it. I did, once, and I try to help others do so. And if you have depression, well, then, you can too. I’m here anytime you need to talk.
  10. Lastly, I wish you could see you the way others see you, the way I see you. No matter how sad you might feel, it doesn’t make you any less amazing. You make art, and you see the world with an artist’s eye. You have survived unbearable things, and you have gone on to inspire others. You have restarted your life, shed your past, and began again with a new name and a new beginning. When a friend was hurting, you gave of yourself to help this friend in a way that very well may have saved his life, and that meant a lengthy healing process for you afterward. What you did for him is super-human. You have an enormous heart, and endless potential. Take a moment to look outside in, and do so with love and understanding, because you are incredible.

Don’t envy my happy. Instead: Be happy! Be you! Find your happy! Start today! I’m here, and I’ll be watching. And next time you see me walking down the sidewalk, don’t be sad. Instead, come out and say hi. I’ll have a huge hug waiting for you.

Unhappy People

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In my experience, you can usually recognize unhappy people quickly because they spend a lot of time telling you why they are unhappy.

Back when I was heavy (I lost 80 pounds several years back), I would spend a lot of time telling people why I was heavy and why I couldn’t get fit. I must have had dozens of conversations with people who were in better shape that sounded something like this.

Wow, you’ve gotten in really good shape. I’m totally envious.

You know, you could get in shape, too. It all comes down to diet and exercise.

Yeah, I know, but I wasn’t raised like that. I don’t have the time to catch up. And you’re so far ahead of me.

Lots of people lose weight and get fit. It takes work and dedication, but it is totally possible.

I understand that as a concept, but those people don’t have my life. I’m working 60 hours a week and I have Church callings, I have kids, plus I have a bad back. Maybe in the future. And eating healthy takes so much time and money. It’s just beyond me right now.

Well, the truth was, I could get fit (and I later did). It wasn’t that I didn’t have time, it’s that I didn’t manage my time well. It wasn’t that I had a bad back, in fact my back pain was much much worse when I was heavy. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the training, I just needed to train myself. It wasn’t that eating well took time and money, it is that I was lazy, uneducated, and unwise in my food choices, and I consumed far too many unhealthy things.

Yet I spent a lot of time telling people why I envied them, why I was unhappy. I wanted their attention and sympathy, even as I went to grab a family size bag of Peanut Butter MnMs, microwaved popcorn with butter, and a large Coke for lunch, and then hit the fast-food drive-thru on the way home. And ate it all and wanted more. While feeling sorry for myself.

I see the same types of habits with people who feel stuck by life, who are struggling with physical or emotional health issues, who have financial burdens, who are frustrated by a certain type of success that they want to achieve, or even who are in unhealthy relationships that last way too long.

People that we perceive as successful, that we honor and laud for their success, are those who don’t waste time whining about the status of their lives and instead get up to affect change.

Despite my recent accomplishments, I have fallen into a few old patterns lately, isolating myself a bit and feeling sorry for myself, even while lamenting a certain quality of friends or relationships. I’ve had my reasons and excuses this past year: a few professional ventures haven’t succeeded like I had hoped, a relationship I put a lot into didn’t pan out, and my best friend died. But these old patterns have held me down. I have had decades of practice at putting them in place, all those years spent as the quiet closeted Mormon kid who didn’t think he had a future.

I want to point out that there is an enormous difference between unhappy and sad. Every human needs time to be sad, to grieve and be heartbroken, to be a little numb and even to have a good cry from time to time. But being momentarily sad is vastly different than being unhappy long-term.

The truth is, I have every potential for happiness, fitness, financial freedom, healthy relationships, and success as anyone else. It all comes down to how I spend my time, what I spend my time on, who I spend my time with, and what I choose to make my priorities.

I’m making a new firm commitment with myself that I will stop wasting time being unhappy and will spend more time making decisions that lead me toward happiness. I only get to do this once, and 38 is beckoning ever closer.

Embracing Failure

Failure

Like most human adults, I fear failure. It’s bred deeply into me, a primal fear, a distaste regarding the very idea of doing poorly at something.

As an American white kid, I grew up in a grading system that measured success with letters. For some kids, Bs representing horrifying failure, and for others, Cs represented great achievement and success. I figured out early on that senses of failure and success are very individual experiences, depending on upbringing and culture (family, community, religious, etc).

We measure success against failure in a million different ways. Through our appearance and level of fitness, through our career achievements, through our romantic pursuits, through our religious duties, through our children’s successes. We have specific ideas and roadmaps of what success should look like, and anything less is automatically felt and experienced as a failure.

I see this all the time in my office as a therapist. I may have a client who owns a home, has a thriving business, and is incredible shape, but he feels like a failure because his wife is struggling with depression; I may have a client who is in an incredibly happy marriage and three thriving children, yet she is consistently unhappy because she can’t lose ten pounds.

We are constantly putting forth effort to avoid failure. And we fail to realize that in our very essences, because we are human, failure is simply a part of our existence.

I read a lot of biographies. Most biographies are written about or by people who are remembered for being a celebrity in one realm or another. And consistent failure is a part of every story, every single one of them. And even when major successes are achieved, variable failures will still follow.

David Bowie went through several different bands and band managers before his music caught on, and it was after that that he struggled with drug addiction and failed relationships. Oprah Winfrey had a career of hits and misses before her talk show caught on. Harvey Milk lost several elections before he was ever elected to public office, shortly before his assassination. John Stockton missed a lot of shots with the basketball before he made it famous on the Jazz. I could give thousands of examples.

When I look at my own life, I am realizing that failure is not a word I am afraid of any longer. I have had many successes, most easily viewed in the accomplishments of my children, who are happy and well-adjusted and creative and beautiful. I have a Masters degree. I have published a book. I have lost 80 pounds. I successfully transitioned to a full and authentic life out of the closet. I have a lot of friends and loved ones. I am engaged in pursuits that inspire my mind and fulfill my spirit.

Lately, my old fears of failure have worked their way out of my subconscious into my life. I have put a lot of energy and effort into passion projects that have born little fruit. The sinking results of these ventures, which I have put time and money and collaboration behind, have left me with a sense of dread. This, in conjunction with the death of my best friend Kurt, have left me a little empty and withdrawn internally lately, and I’ve had to take time to sort out what that means to me and my journey.

And in truth, in the scheme of things, it means very little.

Musical artists can spend hundreds of hours composing what they feel is a masterpiece, putting their entire hearts and souls behind it, only to have no one purchase the product, while the bubble gum piece they produced years before is played on the radio every ten minutes. An actress can spend months in a role she is made for only to have the movie flop commercially, while a bit part in a science fiction show makes her immortally famous. A painter can take five years to complete a masterpiece that no one will ever see.

I’m 37 now and I’m embracing the parts of me that I have avoided much of my life. I am an artist. I am a writer. I am a historian. I am a creator with a hungry and passionate soul who strives and wants and desires.

And my long-term success isn’t in my financial prowess or my academic pursuits or my physical endurance. It is in my spiritual soundness, and in my inner balance and peace, and in the smiles of my children. And in doing things that I love. And that may make me a huge success in the eyes of the world, or it may just make me quietly happy in the here and now. And either way, that is enough.

And even when I’m “enough”, failure will still be part of the journey.