My guide to happiness, part one.

Happiness, Life Lessons

Understand your pitfalls.

Know yourself and understand where you struggle. Stop wishing to be normal… normal doesn’t exist. Instead, just be in tune with your pitfalls. By understanding and accepting your darker sides, you’ll be able to deal with them a little easier. When I was fourteen, I had my first panic attack. I literally thought I was dying, as the symptoms are very similar to a heart attack. I’d stay up all night, come to terms with my inevitable death, get tired, eventually fall asleep and wake up in the morning amazed that I was still alive. I was so sure that I had some awful terminal illness. When I finally found out that they were panic attacks caused by anxiety, they were easier to manage. Did they go away completely? No… but when one came, I knew exactly what it was. I went from staying up all night thinking that I would be dead in the morning to learning how to breathe deeply and isolate myself so I could ride out the attack. It didn’t happen overnight… but since I learned how to manage my anxiety, I’ve had significantly less panic attacks.

Once you understand something, it becomes less scary. When you know your struggles, when you can see where they come from, you can manage them easier. Pretending that they don’t exist won’t solve anything. You have to learn how to live with whatever crap you have on your shoulders. You have to learn how to ride out the waves.

Let people know how much they mean to you.

This was my biggest regret when my dad died. I felt as if I let him die without knowing how much I loved him. I was so caught up in my teenage angst and didn’t make the time to have those conversations with him. The truth is, most of us don’t. We’re so scared of being rejected that we hold back our feelings towards those we idolize, love or care for. There’s nothing wrong with you for wanting to guard yourself. It’s human. It actually took me three deaths to realize there’s no time to hold back how you feel. When I lost my dad and two of my friends unexpectedly, I realized that I need to let people know that I care for them while we still have time together.

So I write letters and tell people that I’m appreciative of them. I let people know that they made a difference in the way I look at the world. The truth is that everyone is human. Even if you think that someone is perfect and flawless, they have moments of self-doubt. Your kind words of gratitude may be what makes someone realize that they’re great. Don’t ever be afraid to let someone know they changed your life.

Be kind.

To everyone. I always say that it’s not hard to be kind… because it really isn’t. You have to practice patience and self-control but it can be done. I hate people who fight… grown adults who yell at each other. Nothing gets under my skin more than this. Being kind doesn’t mean that you always have to be happy with someone, but if you’re angry then treat them as a decent human being and have a conversation. Be levelheaded.

Don’t make fun of people. It’s so stupid… I hate this. I hate when one of my friends posts a picture, or video, of some homeless person on the street who is clearly has an intellectual disability. I love people who have intellectual disabilities and I know that they’re so damn lucky to be in a loving family. These people on the street weren’t as fortunate, that’s all. If you don’t want to help, just leave them alone.

Ah, and finally, the hardest of them all… being kind to those who are awful to you. This is where patience comes into play. When someone is yelling at you for no reason, all you want to do is scream back and tell them they’re shit. I know this. I dealt with it every day for two years. I do believe that there are bad people in the world. However, I also believe that if you treat these people like shit then you’re sacrificing your character for someone who honestly isn’t worth it. My mom taught me this lesson… some people just aren’t worth your time and energy. She always told me to consider the source… don’t let words from someone whose character you don’t believe in affect you. If you dislike them as a person, why are their words hurting you? They’re invalid words. They don’t mean anything. They hold no weight. Once you’re able to realize this, you’re also able to let their fighting words fly past you and speak with them levelheaded. Stick up for yourself, but do it in a professional manner. Let them know that their behavior is unacceptable… but do it in a kind way. Through an intelligent conversation. Your opinions hold more weight when they’re executed with a clear mind. If you yell at them, you’re just as bad as the person you’re yelling at.

Go for it.

What do you really want? Be honest with yourself. What do you want to do in life? Why aren’t you doing it?

You’re going to come up with a million different reasons. I came up with four years’ worth of reasons. I came out to Chicago to pursue comedy then avoided it for four years. Why? Because I was terrified of not making it. Before I even got started, I was scared. Here are just a few of my excuses: It’s stupid idea, it’s too much money, I don’t have time, what if I’m not good at it?, if I really love my family then I’ll move home after graduation instead of being selfish, that’s something that I should have done earlier… now it’s too late, what if I fail? There were a million more excuses.

Then want to know what happened? I almost had my comedy dreams stripped away from me. I was moving home without ever trying… I was leaving that dream behind. Then I got a job in Chicago and a week later I found myself on a train back to Chicago. It was a second chance. This time I’ll just go for it… because nothing felt worse than having to explain to my friends back home why I never got started.

So I signed up for one class. That’s it. Just one class. It changed my life. Let me say that again… it changed my life. My life changed forever. I became happier, a better person to be around. I met mentors who changed my life. I quit my awful job. I learned that I deserve more out of life. I learned that failure isn’t as scary as never getting started. When I was little, my dad used to tell us “shoulda, woulda, coulda’s don’t go on the scoreboard.” You may fail, you may succeed… but do something. Don’t live in regret. One class just over a year ago evolved into 15 classes, 26 shows, 33 original sketches, a blog, an internship, a new job and an incredible community that I couldn’t imagine my life without.

That kind of stuff happens when you go after what you want. You find that you wanted it because it fits you like a glove.

Don’t expect the world to hand you anything, especially happiness.

No one is going to do it for you. Work hard, maintain a good character and strive for happiness. No one is going to bring you happiness. No one. No person, doctor, object, amount of money or success will do this for you. You have to work really hard at it.

I know because I spent a long time wondering if I was ever going to be happy again. When I finally went for help and was diagnosed with PTSD, I learned that I was never going to just be happy naturally. No one is ever happy naturally. We’re all fucked up in some way. When that illusion faded, I realized that I can teach myself how to be happy. I literally wrote one thing down every single day that I’m grateful for. One thing a day to extract happiness from. Sometimes it was hard… sometimes it was as simple as “I’m happy I’m alive”… and when I couldn’t find anything in my life to be happy about, I looked around me… “I’m happy my mom is healthy,” “I’m happy that my nephew was born,” “I’m happy that I have a bed to sleep in.”

This taught me to extract happiness from the world around me. That no one was going to come up to me and tell me that I’m cured, or that it’s time to be happy. I learned that shit happens… all the time. Bad things will always happen. However, when you learn how to extract happiness from the world around you, the bad things won’t seem as scary. You’ll feel like you can deal with that one awful thing because you have lists of incredible things to be happy about.

I kept my list for 42 days, exactly. I know this because I still have it. After 42 days, I no longer needed a list. I had trained myself to extract happiness naturally. I worked really hard for those 42 days – I was sober, I stayed away from most people, I avoided anything tied to a bad memory… I just focused on myself. After 42 days, I felt like I could start being the young, vibrant person that I wanted to be again.

Happiness didn’t just appear after 42 days, but I knew that it was coming. I felt like I was in recovery – knowing that better days were to come. And they did. They came about two years ago. I realized one day that I was purely happy. I was no longer self-conscious, paranoid, selfish, ruled by anxiety, depressed… I was better. I was happy all the time. Bad things have happened since then, I’ve cried a lot, but I didn’t let those things rule my life anymore. This is my new life. I am in control.

This formula won’t work for everybody. Everyone has a different way to heal. This is just what worked for me.  But what I’m getting at is that you have to work for the things you want in life. They’re not just going to come. That never happens.

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