“Ok. Before you hang up, I want to ask you something.”
“Obviously I wanted to call and catch up. But—I’m also calling because I had a shitty day. I could not snap myself out of a bad mood, so I decided to call the happiest person I know.”
“Oh!! Sunshine! That makes me so happy!”
I’ve called my friend Marla Sunshine for as long as I can remember [not sure how she came to reflect the nickname back on to me]. In appearance, she could pass for my younger sister. In attitude, we could not be more different. She is the single most cheerful, smiley, radiant beam of light you’ll see prancing down the f#$*ing street. She is the happiest girl in the world. It could be her professional title: Happiest Girl in the World.
“I mean, are you ever in a bad mood? Do you ever get mad?”
I expected her to say, “That’s ridiculous, of course I get mad!” Instead, these were the words I heard: “Not really. No, I guess I don’t ever get mad.”
Well isn’t that splendid. And completely unhelpful.
“The reason I don’t get mad is there really isn’t a point. So, for example, at work this week a girl tried to blame something on me that wasn’t my fault. I started getting upset…then I realized that was on her. It did not change whether I was happy with myself.”
Ten years ago, The Happiest Girl in the World was the underclassman I drove home from track practice. I’m pretty sure she helped me change my first flat tire. It was so weird to receive advice from the now twenty-five year old, who pays a mortgage and is in the midst of a bathroom remodel. [Irrelevant side note: Her condo is in a retirement community. I find this hilarious.]
Lesson One: Being unhappy with other people, should not impact being happy with yourself.
“Sunshine, when I was in high school, I decided I was going to be the happy girl who always smiled—and I was. I was a people pleaser. If you asked me to jump, I’d say how high.
“Now, I’m really at peace with who I am. I’m really, really happy with being Marla. And you need to be happy with being Kara, right now.”
Two big things came out of that one, little sentence:
- Negative people, crappy days, and every other shit scenario should not matter. They just shouldn’t. Those items are completely removed from whether I am happy with myself. If I’m happy with my work, my fitness routine, my mental focus—it should not matter if I get yelled at, honked at, or otherwise torn apart.
- I need to be happy with myself now. Meaning, I need to be happy with Kara on March 13th 2016. I do not need to be happy or upset with Kara from 2012 or future 30-year-old Kara. I can’t be upset about the things I haven’t yet accomplished, or my past fuck-ups. I just need to be happy with who I am today.
Lesson Two: There are only two things you can control.
“Sunshine, you know why certain things don’t matter? Because there are only two things we can control. And do you know what those two things are?”
I felt like we were playing student-teacher.
“Those two things are your actions, and your attitude.”
This is one of the hardest things on planet Earth for me to accept. I’ve never been one to say, “That’s on you; that’s not on me,” and walk away.
My friend Tim is an expert on this. It drives his girlfriend—my friend Paula—absolutely nuts.
Someone could scream in Tim’s face, and Tim would show zero signs of reciprocity. He does not dwell on arguments after they happen. This is how Tim’s brain processes these situations: “I can’t control the fact that they’re pissed off, so why should I let it affect me? Just because they’re mad, doesn’t mean I have to be mad with them.”
Now. Doesn’t he make it sound so easy?
Lesson Three: To be happy, you’re going to have to work at it.
“I keep a journal, and every day I write down ten things I’m grateful for. Have you ever done that before? It’s really, really hard to think of new things! One day I wrote I was grateful it was warm enough to not have to wear a jacket.”
I’ve heard of gratitude journals, but that’s not why this comment made an impact on me.
I’ve always assumed Sunshine was a naturally happy person, and that was that. By keeping a gratitude journal, it shows she still has to work at it. I am a natural-born runner, but I still train every day. I am naturally a good writer, but you’re still reading something I’ve written, aren’t you?
Just because Marla wakes up with a smile on her face, doesn’t mean she doesn’t put effort into it. Which means there is still hope for the rest of us, who are prone to resting with a bitch face.