We all do it.
You find the perfect job, an amazing partner, the cutest puppy or the dream house you always wanted – and you’re ecstatic with joy. For a while. Then the fear sets in, creeping into your thoughts and disturbing your sleep.
My thoughts usually go something like, “This isn’t going to last, you know” or “Why should I have nice things?” or even “Don’t focus on happiness because it will attract tragedy.” Crazy talk, but still.
Dr. Brene Brown calls it “dress-rehearsing tragedy” and it holds us back from truly experiencing happiness, contentment, and joy. It blocks us as surely as a locked door.
The Young Man and the Horse
There’s a story of a young man who purchased a beautiful horse. He’d never owned anything so incredible or valuable. The minute he brought it home, he started worrying that something would happen to the horse.
He was so distressed about the horse getting harmed, he refused to ride it. He built an expensive barn so the horse could always be kept safe. He wouldn’t allow anyone to see the horse because they might unintentionally injure this mighty creature. He began sleeping in the barn so no one would steal his horse and he became increasingly paranoid and unhappy.
This went on for many years until one day the horse died. The man exclaimed, “I KNEW something bad would happen to this horse. Good things never last.”
What horse do you have locked inside a barn? What is happening in your life that you refuse to enjoy because you feel happiness attracts tragedy? Do you hold yourself out of love, out of connection, and out of life in the hope nothing will hurt you? Why is it so hard to give ourselves permission to feel happiness?
In Elizabeth Berg’s fantastic book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, she explains there is no universal permission slip that allows us to be happy, creative, and loving beings. It’s something we do for ourselves.
She writes, “You do not need a permission slip from the principal’s office to live a creative life. Or if you do worry that you need a permission slip – THERE, I just gave it to you. I just wrote it on the back of an old shopping list. Consider yourself fully accredited. Now go make something.”
Wanting to be happy is not a selfish desire. Longing for a life of meaning and connection isn’t egotistic. So how do we let ourselves fall headfirst into happiness? Here are some practices to try:
Sit quietly and close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths. Think back to a memory that was very happy for you. It might have been a vacation or an achievement or just a loving moment with someone you care about. Go back to that time and relive all those feelings, reminding yourself you’ve had happiness before – without dire consequences.
When we get in the headspace that things are spiraling down, journaling appreciation can reverse that freefall. At the end of each day, write down five things you appreciated during the day. It could be something a small as a smile at the grocery store or something as big as winning the lottery. As you write down each experience, say a mental “Thank you” to these small blessings. This practice reminds you that good things happen every day.
Earl Nightingale said, “Creativity is a natural extension of our enthusiasm.” Whether you create delicious chocolate chip cookies or fabulous marble statues, the act of creation lifts us out of our doom-and-gloom thinking. And don’t say, “But I’m not creative!” Everyone is a creator. Maybe your creativity involves organizing closets or planting tulips or grooming puppies or singing Old English ballads. Find an activity that makes you smile – and do it!
Playing and creativity go hand in hand. In fact, the more you play, the more creative you’ll be. Especially in these nutty times where we’re confined to our homes, play is extraordinarily important. Just like being creative is individual, so is play. Play, for you, might look like sitting on the couch with a good book and a cup of chai tea. Or it might look like snow shoeing across a mountain or painting rocks you find in the backyard. Think of what you loved to do as a child and get out there and play. Hopscotch, anyone?
The more you allow yourself to feel happiness, the more you’ll begin to trust its reality. You’ll find you’re not dress-rehearsing tragedy nearly as often when you meditate, appreciate, create and play.
Write yourself a permission slip that says, “I give you permission to be happy and creative without guilt.” Stick it on the fridge and act on it every day.