The universe and I came to an agreement. We signed the papers, shook hands, then took each other out for a beer. The 100 day countdown began here: Contract with Joy.
It required planting one magic bean every day for 100 days.
Of course, it had started well before that.
I was stuck. Two years had come and gone since the Jenga blocks of my little family had fallen all around me. Apparently it was not the most solid construction to begin with, but that’s a different story.
I was waiting. Waiting for what is anyone’s guess. Something to change, maybe? For a surge of energy? A white knight? I kept waiting to feel ready for the next chapter. Was I ready to move forward with the new love or ready to let go? Maybe I was waiting for my ex-husband to make a decision that would force me into decisiveness. I am sure I was waiting for a better-paying job to appear on the horizon (as if this is how such things happen), or to feel inspired enough to launch the project that haul me out of my financial pit. At the very least, I was waiting to feel something other than dread about the future.
I think I was waiting for a sign. Since I do not believe in signs, it will come as no surprise that none materialized.
All this waiting contained neither momentum nor acceptance. It was frantic. I kept swirling, spinning my wheels, slipping into the same old vortex of exhaustion and hopelessness. Pick your metaphor. Every one is a different version of a circle turning back on itself. Work was a grindstone. Conversations with both the boyfriend and the ex were broken records. The needle never moved forward along the groove of the music to find its conclusion and lift away, making room for the next piece. No, it was all just revolve, skip, repeat.
Work was getting done. I was walking and dancing myself healthy, staying on top of my son’s schedule, calming myself before the reactivity and complications that seemed to weigh down every interaction with the people closest to me. Sure, I was looking well enough on the surface. “You really just have it all together,” one of my co-workers said to me. I gave her a “huh!” that made her jump. I was holding things together, but only barely. It just didn’t make sense to me that two years into this new life, and everything (and I mean everything) felt so hard.
I claimed I did not know how to do anything differently. Those familiar grooves, even the revolve and skip and repeat, were keeping me a kind of safe. Known safe. Nothing-has-to-change-and-I-can-manage safe.
But, boy howdy, was I miserable. Oh, and did I mention? Tired, tired, tired.
In September, after a brief detour, I found myself returning to the same refrain of despair. I had gone through a tailspin preparing for a series of interviews for a job opportunity that would have helped me approach self-sustaining. After the dizzying crash when it was offered to one of the other two candidates (the one with 14 years of experience in a field to which I have just returned, so who can blame them?), I brushed myself off, got back to the grind, and heard the mean little voice I had heard at least four thousand times before:
No one is coming for me.
For two years, this message has left me bereft.
But on this day, I woke up. Something sounded different. I looked that voice right in the eye. “Say that again. A little louder.”
No one is coming for me.
A key turned in a lock. The whole mechanism of my understanding slipped into alignment, and the door fell open.
No one is coming for me!
I am off the hook! I do not have to keep waiting for vague fantasies of rescue to come pulsing to life. No one is coming. It’s all me, and I get to do this in any way I see fit. No more clutching, grasping, longing, and struggling to endure this in order to get to that.
What a relief!
The reason I am stuck is not because I do not work hard enough. The reason I am stuck is because I am stuck. The only way to get un-stuck is to lift the needle, remove the worn-out composition, and replace it with music more to my liking.
I am ready to make my own happy.
I understand that “happy” is not a steady state nor is it a fixed target. I also know that whatever form it takes, it is an ingredient required for that elusive success I feel is so far out of my grasp. Without a little pleasure, I am just stuck in the same groove. Revolve, skip, repeat.
Depression, exhaustion, and a worst-case-scenario mindset have done far more damage than all of my professional and relational decisions combined. Or, another way to say it is this: feeling bad makes the universe of options constrict so completely that I make poor, short-sighted choices. And I generally choose inertia over bold steps.
So, “happy” may be an insufficient condition for getting un-stuck, but it is certainly necessary. Career success, inspiration, intimacy, and health all demand this one thing. Not harder work, no. I have been working myself hollow. Instead, it is throwing open the curtains and maybe humming a little good-morning tune.
That’s how this all started. I decided to right then and there to quit kvetching and start taking in the good, as Rick Hanson advises. It was a simple decision to begin the daily practice of seeking out a more positive, loving perspective. To calm my reactions and smile the tension down. I figured that doing this with any intention would require turning the good experiences over in my mind, rolling them around the tongue. First, seek moments of engagement, then collect them, and finally, describe them.
For these 100 days, I give over to the possibility of neuroplasticity, and let these practices do what they can to rebuild the tendencies of this long-suffering brain. This was the promise I made to myself when I wrote that contract with joy.
I will let in the light. I will find the new song. I will not shy away.
I will write it all down.
This final practice, I have discovered, kills two birds with one stone (or plants two trees with one seed, as the case may be), because writing makes me happy. Writing about happy things makes me doubly so.
Let the signs come. I may not believe, but I will keep my eyes and ears open. If they do not materialize, well, then, I will just have to go and cobble them together from whatever is on hand. Which is, after all, everything.
Ready any or every of the 100 here.