Some people just carry this positive energy in them, like a gift. They love life and have a lust for it. To have someone like that close to you is a blessing, and to be someone like that is having hit the jackpot of life. I was never one of those people.
I was never what you‘d call vivacious or outgoing.
Even as a kid I was introverted, melancholy and a bit of a closed booked. I enjoyed being on my own, and I frequently escaped into fantasy worlds. No wonder I didn‘t have many friends. Moreover, I didn‘t enjoy being among people all that much. And things didn‘t really change when I hit puberty and grew into a teenager – I wasn‘t particularly motivated, I didn‘t really stand out at anything I did, and I seemed to give off a weird air of arrogance in the eyes of others. I never really felt like I belonged anywhere. I did, however, find some stability in the emo movement, where I saw beauty in darkness and liked to call myself a realist. For as long as I can remember, melancholy was my constant companion. Back in the day, I saw my softness, my vulnerability as an obstacle on the road to growing up. I would have preferred to be hard, invulnerable and cold. I thought life must surely be easier if you feel it less. I probably thought so because the feeling that fills me most is melancholy. But how was I going to be able to feel less?
It‘s not that I don‘t have happy moments – I really do. There have been moments in my life when happiness suffused every single pore of my body, when I felt my heart so full with bliss that it seemed about to burst. But in time I also saw the other side of that particular coin: moments of bliss are transient, and in the worst case all you‘re left with is a happy memory, fragile like porcelain. Such memories can calcify into memorials of moments you will never be able to revisit, leaving the bitter taste of what-could-have-been whenever you relive them in your heart. It came to a point that I understood happiness as something like a tasty starter, inevitably followed by a main dish of sadness and routine, a disgusting glob, certain to ruin your appetite. I was tired of it. I was addicted to happiness, but so scared of the sadness that I knew came with it. Better to trust the hell I knew than to risk a fall into the uncertainty of even deeper pain. Right? I thought I was disillusioned. But instead I was blind.
The truth is, I just did not see the happiness that accompanied me with every step I took. I still can‘t quite believe how lucky I am to have made it to where I am today. It‘s certainly not due to my good attitude. If anything, I can credit myself for having had courage. I often thought to myself: „Why worry? I don‘t have much to lose.“ If you come from a bleak residential project, like I do, surrounded by people who had to bury their own dream and for that reason can‘t stand anyone else living theirs, it is difficult to have faith in a sparkling future. Sure, there are loads of doors to walk through, but most of them are dead ends. The main reason why I made it to where I am today, which is so far from where I started, is probably that I said „yes“ much more often than I said „no“. I think when it comes to new situations and experiences, I always had this matter-of-fact fearlessness about me, with an undertone of melancholy. What was there to be afraid of, after all?
But what good is creativity, if it does not leave room for happiness in life? Isn‘t a tiny little bit of happiness better than no happiness at all? And more importantly: what is happiness really?
At some point I learned to utilize this feeling as a source of creative energy, with the result that the my best texts and most beautiful images were all created in moments of dark melancholy. It is the underlying feeling on which this blog is founded, and the core of my visual aesthetic. My pensiveness had become my driving force, and the break holding me back.
I was stupid and afraid. I am still stupid, and still afraid, but I am older now, and that gives me the perspective to at least be more aware of my fear and stupidity. My wider perspective lead me to a realization, or, as a matter of fact, a bunch of them:
- Fear, even fear of happiness, makes you weak.
- Life without happiness is shit.
- It‘s more difficult to be a positive person than to be a negative one.
- Positive people are, in fact, happier.
But can you learn happiness? The simple answer is: yes. The realization was gradual and profound, and over time it lead me to the decision to change my life. What‘s the point of life if there are no ups and downs? Don‘t they always say that everyone is the architect of their own destiny? So, maybe, if I work on it, I‘ll master it some day? But mastery starts with apprenticeship, and there are a lot of happiness-skills I need to improve. Well, I‘m on it, and I have been for quite some time now.
The road to understanding this was a long one, not least due to my field of work: social media is a sphere of happy moments, but once inside you realize after a while that the happiness that looked so enticing from the outside is but an illusion. The smiles are paid for, expectations are so sky-high that ever success looks dangerously like failure, because the grass will always be even greener somewhere else.
How to stay positive in a world like that?
Where was I going to find a source of optimism in all this?
You know the answer: I had to find it in myself.
Specifically, I had to learn to main lessons, and implementing them was very, very difficult:
I needed to cut myself lose from everything that dragged me down – no matter how much it hurt. At least for a while. One consequence of this realization was that I ended the relationship with my then-boyfriend after 5 years. I also took a break from visiting my family, and shrank my circle of friends. This meant a lot of sacrifices, and guilty conscience galore. But it was probably the best thing I could have done at that time.
Sometimes you need to force yourself to be happy. I said it before, I am not someone for whom optimism is the default mode, but that‘s exactly where I wanted to improve. Instead of always looking ahead, I try to sometimes look back now, to acknowledge how far I‘ve come already. I try to spot happiness in small moments, and I am much more grateful for the little things in life instead of always craving the big sensations. My doggedness, my desire for MORE (whatever MORE meant, I really didn‘t have that clear an idea myself) – these qualities really helped get me where I am. But did they make me happy? It‘s important to slow down sometimes, to take stock of your inner state. Like in those moments during exercise when I remind myself to breathe deeply, or to straighten my back when I‘m sitting at the table. It‘s all a matter of routine! And just like that, I remind myself more often to be happier and to be more grateful. And you know what? It works pretty well by now.
I have developed a routine of optimism.
Now, let me say a word about optimism. Optimism certainly doesn‘t protect you from failure. On the contrary. I still feel like I failing very frequently, and the recurring feeling of inadequacy has not left me either – especially now, that I take breaks more often than I did. On top of it, sometimes things just don‘t work out, no matter how hard I try. Streaks of bad luck are real.
But hey, optimism doesn‘t mean blocking failure from sight, nor does it mean denying the existence of bad luck of misfortune. Optimism means accepting the reality of the moment, to readjust one‘s focus, and to look ahead with a positive frame of mind. There‘s wisdom in the old adage: it‘s ok to stumble, as long as you get back up again.
Not everyone manages to get back up again, and the older I get the more aware I am of that. I enjoy observing people, and I noticed a long time ago that most older folks really look like they‘ve been scarred by life.
“Nature gives you the face you have at twenty. Life shapes the face you have at thirty. But at fifty you get the face you deserve.”Coco Chanel
The corners of your mouth droop, your face sags. The eyes have lost their sparkle. There is so much you can read in the face of an aging person. People who were dealt a blow by fate sometimes age in the blink of an eye. I often think of the story of Dorian Grey, who didn‘t age. Instead his portrait grew uglier and uglier. But there are other examples too. There are people whose aura is thoroughly positive in old age, and whose eyes never lose their sparkle. People whose faces are embellished by a laugh lines, each one telling a long story of happiness. How I would love to hear all those stories!
I asked myself, recently: What do I want to look like when I‘m 50?
I want to be beautiful, and I want my face to be full of laugh lines. Each of these wrinkles will have required work in the form of laughter, long, hearty laughter, and a lot of it. I want to inhabit a healthy body, a body that‘s not only a tool but a temple. I want to look in the mirror when I‘m 50, and be happy with what I see. When I realized that, I also realized that it was not going to happen if I continued to be the person that I was.
So I had to change. For my own sake.
And you know what? Since I decided to change I‘m not only feeling better, I actually look better. I have never seen such fast results with anything. I‘m not joking, I never felt as beautiful as now, and the people I meet confirm it on a daily basis. It‘s almost as if a different person is looking back at me when I look at older pictures of myself. My face has changed so much! I got used to how happily the corners of my mouth point upwards so quickly, and the open sparkle in my eyes has become second nature so fast. It makes me proud whenever I notice it.
At the end of the day we decide for ourselves who we want to be. No one else. Sure, it‘s not easy to be optimistic in this world we‘re living in. But we need optimists. We need people who get back u again every time they stumble. We need people whom we can pin our hopes on, people who remind us that we, too, have the ability in us to make our dreams a reality. We need people who inspire us to think: „I want to look like that one day“, when we see all the laugh lines in their faces. And you know, what I really learned, at the heart of it, is this: being happy is really easy once you give it a go.