[Note: Normally I’m a very private person, but I think this is something that’s very important to be honest about because I thought I was the only one struggling, and perhaps my journey can help someone else]
I’ve always hated my birthday. I spent my sixth in bed with chicken pox, my tenth and my twenty-second in tears, and quite a few others in just a generally sour temper.
See, I have a mean little part of my brain that I like to call my “happiness” sector. It’s the part of my brain that’s always compartmentalizing, always looking around at my life and saying, “Are you sure you can be happy with this?”
I’ve always been a big people pleaser. A kind word could make my heart soar, a disparaging comment could bring me down to the dust. When, after high school, everyone I knew was reaching what I saw as the heights of their lives, going to college, making new friends, doing things that I wasn’t doing, I fell into the false belief that that gave them more worth. My happiness sector told me that I didn’t add up, because I wasn’t checking all of the boxes that society told me were normal for my age. I felt guilt for not living up to society’s expectations for me, and I compared myself to others who were living up to them.
You know what ALWAYS comes from comparison? Unhappiness. And unhappiness piles on even more discouraging thoughts, the “why can’t I be like everyone else?” and the “Will I ever be happy, when there will always be people who are better than me?”
Last year, on my twenty-second birthday, I was still in the trap of believing that I wasn’t living up to expectations. Just like many other years, my birthday brought my attention to the lack of anything to be ‘proud’ of. It brought my attention to all of the things in my life that I was missing.
It’s a dangerous place to be, basing your happiness off your circumstances. Last year around this time, 90% of my time was spent asking myself, “You’re not good enough, you have all of these things you should be dwelling on and worry about, you think you deserve to be happy?” I was always telling myself that surely others looked down on me, because I was ‘only’ this or that. ‘Only’ is a dangerous word.
But my question above, “will I ever be happy, when there will always be people who are better than me?” is the question that changed my life. Suddenly I wondered, why did it matter how I compared to others, when I knew there would always be someone to outrank me? When I finally gave myself permission to forget what others thought about me, and realized that the only opinions that mattered to me were those of my siblings’ and my parents’ opinions, my opinion of myself, and most importantly, God’s Opinion of me. I wondered how I had gotten to the point where the opinions of people I barely knew meant more to me than God’s.
It was a hard change to finally come to the realization that joy was not based in checking items off my list, doing things that others would approve of. And when I finally learned that I could live my life without always asking myself what other peoples’ opinions of me were, I found true JOY for the first time in my life. It was joy based not in circumstances, but in the freedom I had found from expectations. God’s opinion of me gave me freedom and contentment instead of the depression I found when relying on the opinions of others.. I learned what it is to live a life free of expectations and free of circumstances.
And this year for the first time in a long time, I am excited for my birthday. Because no longer am I compartmentalizing, wondering if I deserve happiness. I know what true joy is and that I can be happy. And though I haven’t achieved any hugely tangible accomplishment since last year, it has taught me a priceless lesson, how to be joyful in any situation. And for that, I can say that I am eternally thankful for my twenty-second year, theyear that begun with tears and will end with laughter.
[PS: Thank you to everyone who has wished me a happy birthday. It will be a happy one indeed! I’m going to be wearing shorts all day, eating picnic foods and pretending that it’s summer. 🙂 ]
[Sorry I haven’t been reading any of your blogs. I’ve gotten really behind, but I will catch up soon!]