Choosing to Be Happy

“I think it’s brave to try to be happy. You’ve gotten so comfortable being unhappy. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to wake up in the morning and choose to be happy?”

This is a quote from one of my all-time favorite TV shows, Pushing Daisies. (It’s a beautiful and inspiring and clever show and I highly recommend it; it’s also very weird and quirky, so be warned if you decide to check it out.)

I have a question for you all: How often do you think of happiness as a choice? Sure, you can let the circumstances of your life determine your feelings. And if your life turns out perfectly just how you planned it and everything’s just like you thought it would be, and it’s raining star fruits and unicorns all the time (and also if you like star fruits and unicorns), then congratulations—you’ll probably be feeling pretty good.

But that’s pretty risky to leave your emotional wellbeing up to circumstance. What if your life doesn’t turn out the way you wanted? What if nobody is hiring you for your dream job? What if someone says something hurtful to you? What if your body is a different shape or size than you want it to be and the clothes you wish you could wear don’t fit?

Sure, if things go “wrong” it’s a whole lot easier to complain, to be frustrated, to feel hopeless, than to take action to make things better. But is taking the easy route really worth sacrificing your happiness? That’s up to you to decide.

Keyword: decide.

I’m not going to pretend I have this all figured out. I still get upset when things don’t go the way I was hoping they would. But more and more I am realizing that although outside circumstances definitely have an effect on how I’m feeling, it’s really my thoughts about the circumstance that’s creating the feeling.

I’m realizing that a trying situation is not determining my feelings but is instead challenging me to be a more grounded, peaceful, joyful, loving person, even when it is much harder to be one. And the more I realize this, the happier I am.

I promise you, friends, you have a choice. That choice gives you the power to feel the way you want to feel. So be aware of what you’re choosing.


Making Decisions

I have always struggled with decisions. I think I always waffle because I’m afraid of making the “wrong” choice. I worry about the other possibilities, the other things I might miss out on when I decide to go down a certain path. I tend to overthink all of the pros and cons of all of the possibilities, which usually just fuels my anxiety and sometimes prevents me from taking any action at all.

Case in point: When I was in middle school, I had to decide whether I wanted to take French or Spanish. Apparently my parents had to call the school several times because I kept changing my mind—and then I got an extension so I could have even longer to decide.

Recently, I’ve been trying to listen to my intuition, my gut instinct, and trust that it will lead me where I need to go. For somebody who feels the need to thoroughly check out every single option in the store before buying the “best” lip balm, this is pretty challenging. But, I’m making progress! The other day, my mom told me that my decisions have seemed “less traumatic” lately. Hooray! (p.s. In case you’re wondering, I’ve determined that the best lip balm is Dr. Bronner’s peppermint.)

In a talk about making decisions, Alan Watts says that letting go is one of the scariest things we can do. I totally agree with this. Being out of control is terrifying. I guess one reason that decisions are so stressful is that we think going through all the possibilities thoroughly and making an “informed” decision, we are more in control of the outcome. But as much as we like to think we can control outcomes, we really can’t. Going with your gut instinct makes it more obvious that you’re entrusting the outcome to a force that we don’t really understand. Intuition is not something that can be measured or explained.

One of the scary things about this is that people still hold you accountable for things that resulted because of your decisions. And it’s easier to blame someone (including yourself) for a bad decision if you think they at least made their best effort to make a good one.

The thing is, I think entrusting your decision to our intuition, even though we don’t really understand it, is probably our best effort. At least it saves us a whole lot of time and tears during the deciding process.

One of the reasons I love making art is that artistic pursuits are probably the area of my life in which I feel most comfortable trusting my intuition. I don’t mean that I don’t make any “bad” decisions when I’m making art—I have definitely created some really bizarre drawings and poems—but I feel confident in most of my choices in the process. And often things do turn out well.

Mr. Watts also makes the point that even seemingly disastrous decisions turn out to be okay in the end. You never really know what’s going to happen in the future anyway, as he points out, because even if you try to make a really well-informed decision, you can’t take into account all of the infinite possible things that could happen. And who knows, maybe things will end up turning out even better than you could have imagined.

Now you may be wondering what became of my tortured Spanish vs. French decision; Spanish won out in the end. And it turned out to be my favorite academic subject in middle and high school. Was that what my gut was telling me to do? Who knows. I was so caught up in my thoughts that I don’t even think I could hear my gut. But I survived. Plus, I can sort of speak Spanish now. ¡Que éxito!


Alan Watts on Making Decisions

A Love Letter to the Earth

Dear Earth,

You are a very nice place and I like you very much. Also you smell nice. Right now you smell like rain. You smell soft and quiet and sweetly herbaceous and the smell makes me want to breathe deeply and think a lot.

One time I went for a walk with my mom around a nearby cross country course and I thought it smelled so amazing. There were all these fabulous and unidentifiable plant smells mingling in the air and it made me feel like summer and happiness. My mom thought it smelled like dog poop. Obviously we had very different olfactory experiences. (Side note: the fascinatingly unique scent profiles that individual noses are able to detect is yet another testament to the awesomeness of this planet and all the life on it!)

I also love the way you feel. I love to stand on your spongy beds of moss and soft sand and cool grass. I love when my toes go rogue and pick a flower without my brain telling them to and then hold onto it stubbornly. It’s like when people adorn their hair with flowers, only my toes are adorning themselves. And I must say they do look very lovely with the addition of a tiny blossom.

I love how you sound. I love the wacky rubber band noises of bullfrogs on summer nights and the crackle of dry leaves and the sound that falling snowflakes make when I lie very quietly on the ground on a snowy night.

You remind me of all the hours I spent as a child hanging out with the flower fairies out in the woods and the garden. Remember the rock hotel with the tiny crater that I used to fill with water for a fairy swimming pool? And all the fairy dresses I made out of fallen flowers?

Sometimes when I am out in nature I get this feeling like it is just so beautiful and so perfect and so full of life that I don’t know what to do with myself. And yet I feel inspired to do something… It’s like the Earth is infusing me with creative energy and saying, “GO DO SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL TODAY, MARIA!” Today when I felt that, I decided to write a love letter to our dear Earth, to thank her for sharing that energy.

I thank you, Earth, from the bottom of my heart. I hope you never stop emitting those beautiful and mysterious smells.