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RETHINKING HAPPINESS



RETHINKING HAPPINESS
DIVINE CAROLINE
AUGUST 2009
BY JULIA ALLISON

I have an apartment the size of most people’s bathrooms. My income stream is not terribly large, and often unsteady. I haven’t had a relationship which lasted longer than six months in the last two and a half years. And people who have never met me feel obligated to write unfavorable things about my personality, appearance, and life choices.

But I’m happy.  Because I don’t think about things that way.  I think about them like this:

Yes, I have an apartment the size of most people’s bathrooms—but it’s new and it’s clean and it’s safe and it’s comfortable and I’ve decorated it exactly the way I like it and it’s all mine.

Yes, my income stream is not terribly large—but it’s enough to live on, in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. And I made it myself; after three years of earning under poverty level wages, I feel very, very rich indeed. No, I don’t have a 401k, but I do have enough for food and shelter and a comfortable bed in which to experience insomnia. What more is there?

Yes, I haven’t had a relationship which lasted more than six months in the last two and a half years, but that’s exactly what I wanted/needed! I wanted to discover what it was like to date all sorts of men—yes, even jerks (check, check, check)—and live as an independent adult without a boyfriend or husband as a crutch. While I haven’t loved every moment (I’ve certainly cried my share of tears), I don’t regret for one second this period of being single. I’ve had a series of incredibly rewarding, enriching experiences in my dating life, experiences which aren’t belittled by the length of time, some of which have turned out to be the most formative experiences in my adult life. I also believe there is no such thing as a “failed” relationship, that you learn something new from each person who comes into your life. I have a far greater understanding of who I am, and what traits I want in a partner, not to mention, an exponentially greater appreciation for the “good guys.” And yes, when the right Good Guy does come along, I’ll be ready for him, unlike the way I felt when I was twenty-five …

On August 14, 2006, I wrote in my dating column about leaving my amazing then live-in boyfriend that “I need to make my own mistakes, to date Mr. Wrongs, to see what else life has to offer. A decade from now, I don’t want to wonder, “Can I really stand on my own two feet—without him?” I want to know I can.”  In the next week’s column, after people called me immature and shortsighted, I wrote, “I am convinced that if I stayed with The Boyfriend, married him, and had children, that I’d feel a nagging uneasiness … Should I have experienced more of life independently before submerging myself in the cozy confines of coupledom? My relationship offered security, stability, predictability … but I’m still not convinced one should make life choices solely to avoid possible future unhappiness.”

When I read those words, I’m floored. Everything I’ve learned in the time since then underscores their importance, and yet, when I think back, I was just operating on gut alone.

And finally, yes, people who have never met me feel obligated to write bad things about my personality, appearance, and life choices—but this, in its odd, painful way, has been one of the best lessons I could have ever learned: judge not, lest ye be judged. It has made me into a kinder, more considerate, far, far less judgmental person. And now, as 2009 ends, I’m seeing something else happening. I’m developing a core of, not apathy, because I’m the antithesis of apathetic, but calm. Compassion. Peace. Maybe even Zen? For the first time in my life, I’m beginning to understand how to let go of other people’s opinions. After all, I know myself far, far better than anyone else—including my friends, my family, the guys I date, and the people I meet at parties, but especially angry internet commenters. And I’m beginning—just beginning—to rein in this frantic need to prove myself, to impress people I don’t know and will never care about, to make everyone love me. I’ve never been under the illusion that I’m even close to perfect, but I believe in self-examination, I believe in the miracle of personal transformation, and I believe in myself.

And that, my friends, is why I am sitting here alone, in front of my laptop, thinking that life is pretty darn good right now.

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