I have never been an easygoing person. Not once has anyone ever described me as laid back. I always assumed it wasn’t in my DNA to be calm and peaceful. When things went wrong, it destroyed me. I had coping skills, but they weren’t effective, unless you consider drowning your sorrows in bottles of wine and pans of brownies healthy. Sad but true, when things didn’t go my way or my expectations weren’t met, I felt desperately inept at holding myself together.
I kept waiting for my life to change–for things to start going my way. And that’s when I finally realized that life doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t simply go the way you want it to, no matter how much you wish or pray about it, and even sometimes no matter how hard you work at it. More often than not, life is simply hard. You don’t often get what you want, and most of us certainly don’t get what we deserve. We just get what we get. It’s how we cope with it, embrace it, and learn from it that makes us whole or broken.
Once I realized this, it was a slow awakening. I didn’t simply understand one day and wake up changed. Just like the reality of the alarm clock in the morning, I tried to deny it. I hit snooze. Pulled the covers over my head. Chased the last bits of darkness and dreams. But eventually, as is always true, I had to wake up and live my life.
Funnily enough, I took my cues on changing the way I lived from my dog. After all, she is happy all the time, so who better to look to for ways to live life? So I started to live like her.
1. Embrace the morning.
I noticed that every morning, my dog wakes up happy and realized there’s no reason I can’t, too. She’s always snuggly and wagging and excited that it’s a new day. Instead of waking each morning and wishing my life were different, I decided to wake up thinking of it as a new beginning. No matter what has happened the day before, the morning is always a new opportunity—to change your attitude, your mood, your mind. That was a decision I had to make, a practice to put into play. I talked myself through it everyday until I didn’t need reminders anymore. Now, my puppy and I awake to stretch our limbs, get some good snuggles, and go outside for some fresh air. Each morning, regardless of whether it’s cold outside or I’m especially sleepy, is a fresh start.
2. Use your senses.
Every time I walk the pup, she’s constantly sniffing, listening, alert. I realized that I never paid attention to my surroundings. I was always too busy brooding—looking at my feet or my phone or just lost in negative thoughts. Now, I’m present in each moment of my day. I look up at the sky to notice its blueness and the way the clouds stretch across the horizon. I take deep breaths, inhale the crisp winter air, and give thanks. I listen to the last of the leaves crunching underfoot, and cuddle into the softness of my scarf. It makes me grateful for the small things.
Let me preface this by telling you: I am not a singer. But, my dog absolutely adores it when I sing. She wags her whole body when I sing to her each morning and cuddles right up to me during her lullaby each night. I sing Taylor Swift and Queen and Sir Mix-a-lot and butcher every last lyric and note. But guess what? It makes her—and me—happy. You can’t belt out Bohemian Rhapsody and stay in a bad mood. It’s a scientific fact. Ok, maybe not, but it’s true for me.
4. Show affection.
No matter what has happened in my day, my puppy is always glad to see me. She wags. She jumps. She gives kisses and cuddles. She cuddles up to me when I sit on the couch and sits on my lap when I work from home. While her affection doesn’t exactly translate into my world, I take a cue from her by smiling at people on the street, saying good morning, holding doors open, and paying compliments to friends and strangers alike. Not surprisingly, it makes me feel good to make others feel good. To send my sister a “just because” card, bring my co-worker his favorite snack, pick up the tab when I get coffee with a friend—it all makes me a happier person.
How does this translate into resilience? Well, I’m a happier person. Not because I have the perfect job or family or friends. Not because I have loads of money or my ideal figure or an amazing apartment. Not because I’m dating the man of my dreams or getting married or having a child. I’m happier because I’m grateful. I realize that for all the things I don’t have in my life, there are hundreds, maybe even thousands, more to appreciate. When things don’t go the way I’d hoped, it doesn’t destroy me because I can recognize that there’s so much I have that is good, and there are so many reasons to be happy. I allow myself to feel sad or hurt or angry, but it doesn’t consume me. I feel it, and then I move on from it. I wake up to a new day, sing to my puppy, and say hello to my neighbors while the first snowflakes swirl around me. I can see the bigger picture and realize that these are all small moments in a much greater scene. Rather than pursuing happiness, I’m just letting myself be happy.
Melissa Woodson is the community manager for @WashULaw, a Masters of Law in U.S. Law offered through Washington University in St. Louis that is considered a premier LLM degree. In her spare time, she enjoys running, cooking, and making half-baked attempts at training her dog. You may find her personal blog at hungryhealthymj.com or follow her on twitter @hungryhealthyMJ.