In January I took a hike. It was a required hike on account of a freelance assignment, but I welcomed it heartily because I needed a free and clear break from the world. It came along at the right time. I went alone.
I was gone for hours and in that time I thought a lot about the current political climate and how many people I loved and cared about were suffering inside of it. Sure, the country is split, and I’m upset about a lot of things too, but it was more than that. Relationships were fracturing. Marriages were suffering. There was so much discord among people I knew and I had a front row seat for it.
On that hike I cried. A lot. I prayed and I stopped occasionally to watch the wind blow through the trees or track a sound I heard in the distance. I passed few people, which I was glad for, because I probably looked a fright.
At some point during the final miles, I got an idea. In an undefined moment, on the top of a mountain on the clearest of days, I decided that I would actively counteract the negativity. For the month of February, I would narrow my focus so tight in an effort to find something good about every day among the mundane aspects of daily life.
This wasn’t for anyone else. Signs of Life wasn’t a movement or a series designed to speak to the masses. It was for me. It was a personal effort to not dwell in the frustrations and anger that had become a daily practice. I needed a new practice, and it started February 1.
So what was learned? What did this intentional focus teach me in the last 28 days?
I learned that it is entirely possible to choose happiness. I also learned that happiness is not the same as contentment, and the difference between these two things is important to understand. They aren’t even always connected.
Happiness is going out to dinner with my family because it means someone else is cooking and there’s not a kitchen to clean up afterward. Contentment is knowing the time spent with my family is worthwhile no matter where the meal happens.
Happiness is going to Girls Weekend and enjoying the company of two people I adore. Contentment is knowing these are friendships that have crossed over into family.
Happiness is a good movie, a good book, a beautiful sunset. Contentment is knowing life is good even when we can’t afford to go to the movies and the day has been so bad that the sunset goes unnoticed.
Happiness is finding a magazine that doesn’t Photoshop its images to project an unfair view of women. Contentment is knowing that I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Happiness is a wonderful thing. It feels like a lifeline when the world around you is dark and heavy. But friends, it is fleeting and unreliable. It changes by the day, the hour, the minute. Enjoy happiness when it visits. Seek it out. Work towards happy moments, but know that ultimately happiness will fade and circumstances will change and you’ll be hard-pressed again and again to see the good.
Also know that in the process of seeking the good, contentment might be there waiting for you.
February was a good practice for me, someone who, like my mamaw, is “turned” towards depressive, anxious thoughts. I could have 99 compliments flood my way, but I will dwell and obsess over the one negative remark. I can compare myself to beautiful, smart, successful people and let it steal every ounce of my joy and ambition. I can run five miles and berate myself for not running six. So I needed February. I needed a practice that pushed me in another direction.
The political climate is still tumultuous, and I don’t expect it to resolve itself anytime soon. More than ever we have to find what is good and dwell on in. Bathe in it. Sprinkle it everywhere. Sit very quietly and remember that this life is all we have. We are all we have, and in a blink of an eye, it could all be gone.
If you’ve walked this journey with me, thank you.
Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and another journey will begin. This time, we walk to the Cross.
Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed.