happiness

A Different Utopia

When I think of the word utopia, it brings to mind green, green grass, bright, bright flowers, happy buzzing bees, and families that have never found the word conflict to be in their vocabulary. A world in which traffic never builds up, grocery store lines are a memory, a child never stomps on their mother’s toe, and love never has to be sought, begged for, or cried about in the middle of the night. 

That is what the word utopia has been given, a dream that is easy to dream, as it is simply a filter for what we consider to be failures. It is life without the pain, without the fear, just warm, sunny days, never a moment of overtime at the workplace. 

This utopia leaves me uneasy. I find myself leaping over white picket fences to find something between every blade of grass, trying trying trying to understand what is missing because there is something missing and it is difficult for me to understand why in a perfect world I can’t finally feel complete and relax and stop moving and searching and delving into every word as if it’s a treasure chest of further understanding about this planet, and why I can’t just be content with a life of no pain after spending so many nights achingly begging the G-d I believe in to stop all the pain because I hate pain yet now in a world of no pain, I seek the pain as if it can give me something I’m forgetting I used to have.

Pain is not a stranger to me, as I seem to invite it into my life by allowing my emotions to always rise to the surface. I step into the ring over and over again, with my heart unprotected. I’ve spent countless nights with my tears and my pen. I lay in my bed, in fury with the G-d that allows for grief, and loss, and tragedy.  

I’ve prayed for utopia. Praying comes like second nature to me, it has been a part of my essence as far back as I can remember, and it’s as natural as breathing – “please, let the light stay green”, “please, help me get this assignment done”, “please, let there be no more pain”. 

I pray for no more pain for my family, for my loved ones, for the world over. 

Yet.

In moments of pain, I feel my essence sharpen. As I rise from pain, my muscles are sore and strengthened. The locks on my heart’s chambers are loosened. From pain, I reach a higher state of being. And as I emerge, I pray again, no more, no more. Yet, the me that emerges is a me that I like better. A me that feels for others in a richer way. 

I have spent my twenty-three years searching, never content with what is in front of me, always knowing that there will be more to find if I push a little harder, if I dig a little deeper, if I pray a little harder. There will always be that next step, the step you didn’t think was there but then suddenly comes into view as you brush the dirt aside. There will always be a human in the stranger that is driving your Uber, and there will always be a human in the parents that you’ve begun to take for granted. There will always be a story in every moment, because stories are not born in a lab, they are born when conflict meets climax, and resolution sometimes means it’s okay to not have all the answers.

When I dream my utopia, I look for a story with threads at the end that I can sew together myself, putting a part of my heart in the plot to take with me wherever I go. A world that is a little messy, and leaves paint on our hands and in our hair, and deep, belly laughter when the picture isn’t quite as straight as we anticipated, and the rain comes down just as we put together our picnic, and the box that we are carrying in from the trunk breaks all over the driveway. 

I’m trying to write a utopia with a new language. 

It’s not so clear cut. It’s not easy to imagine even though it’s more similar to the world we inhabit today. But the moments I hope for in my utopia get hidden today in waves of anger and miscommunication, in unshared dreams and turning away from those that love us most. In political outbursts, and a deep desire to have the last word, to be the most in-the-know, to have the most New York Times articles quoted. The moments get lost amidst the he-said, she-said. Amidst the tears that are not wiped away by a loved one, but looked away from in fear of the vulnerability they invite. Amidst the words said behind each other’s back to avoid having to see the human for the human that they are. 

Utopia is a world in which, as one digs to find the deeper meaning, another comes to offer their two hands to help dig a little further than one man can do on his own. A world in which conflict hurtles us forward, rather than brings us to a standstill, in which no human takes pleasure in crushing their opponent, but sees them as a partner in growth. When we can recognize our differences to be gifts, rather than reasons to stop communicating. A world in which we don’t spend more time arguing which problem deserves our attention most, but work together to just take care of them all, because if we just all worked together, we would be so far past the state that we find ourselves in now. A world in which we can look past our own needs and wants and paint a landscape of color and vibrancy and goodness that brings all of us together. 

A world in which we never choose silence in place of connection. 

A world in which we never choose anger in place of connection.

A world in which we never choose to yell over the sound of someone reaching out for connection.

And when I find myself in that white-picket-fence utopian planet with smiling store owners and those green green trees and the sky that never stops being blue and food that always comes out perfectly well and nobody ever fights with their neighbor about the state of their garden or their dog that flies out of the house barking and nobody ever falls off their bikes and skins their knee and I’m running and running and running I suddenly know what I am looking for. I am looking for me. And I’m looking for you. 

That green, green, green utopian world asks us to shed the human, the red and brown leaves across our lawns, the sand in our hair after a day at the ocean, the shared smiles with strangers when our children have temper tantrums in the grocery store. It removes conflict for the sake of ease, it removes inconveniences for the sake of efficiency, it removes pain for the sake of no blemishes. But it’s a world we would tire of quickly, for it leaves no room for our hearts, and our souls, and our courage. It leaves no room for the spiritual, for the searching, for rough drafts and the screeching sounds of a child learning to make music. It leaves no room for the broken words of someone trying to express their love, or learn a new concept, or for the songs that make our hearts ache in a way that heals us. It leaves no room for the lighting up of the sparks that lay all around us, in our souls, in our early mornings, in our travels across the planet.

That world leaves no room for us. 

For the messy child in me, and the sometimes tear-streaked woman I am slowly becoming.

For my parents, for my sisters and brothers, for my dearest friends.

For the people I work with, for the people that read my words.

And for that Uber driver I once cried with on the streets of LA. 

And that woman in the grocery store, with whom I discussed which brand of Tahini is best.

And for every stranger I’ve ever met, and for every stranger I haven’t yet.

Photo via The NYU Dispatch

Chasing Happy

Not too long ago, I was catching up with someone I hadn’t seen in a very long time.

As I finished bringing her up to speed about where I was in my life these days, she remarked: “You sound so happy.”

The statement startled me.

While attempting to attain happiness was no strange concept to me, someone letting me know that I was happy was a little unsettling.

After a moment or two of silence, I looked back at her, and while grasping it in my mind at the same time, I replied:

“I…am. I am happy. Thank G-d.”

I’ve been thinking about this non-incident ever since.

Am I happy?

What is happiness, really?

This is a concept I’ve grappled with in my mind for probably as long as I’ve been able to grasp that happiness was more than getting the lollipop I wanted (don’t worry, I still get confused.)

My life has been filled with ups and downs, learning and disillusion, mistakes and triumphs, as I walked my slow but steady path towards where I was headed. For a long time, I was very confused about where I was headed, career-wise. I tried all kinds of different things.

Friends and family laughed as I made self-deprecating jokes about being a quitter, about conveniently leaving jobs just in time for summer break, about how I’m a millennial who is just lazy and wants to do nothing and get paid for it.

But really, what was happening is that I tried new jobs to find a depth of happiness, and time and time again, my job was doing the opposite of bringing me happiness – it was dragging me down, silencing my creativity or leaving me completely unfulfilled.

Am I happy?

I certainly do not always feel happy. There are days that I wake up tired, stressed and anxious. Lack of sleep, an awkward interaction, missing a good meal, having too much or too little of a social life – all of these things seem to impact my day-to-day happiness on a much larger scale than anything else I’m doing with my life.

There are bad weeks and good weeks, there are painful experiences and joyful experiences, and these are all extremely intertwined on a daily basis.

There are days that I want to hurl heavy, hurtful things at G-d, stomp my feet and yell as loud as I possibly can, because I’m just so mad at Him.

Do all of these things mean that I am not happy?

I’ve often allowed myself to believe that.

When I’ve woken up in a bad mood, I have allowed that bad mood to control my day, because I was obviously just not happy. Why try to fight something that is not in my control? I’m not happy, why try to be?

Once, during a conversation with a close friend about happiness, sadness and all that comes in between, I mentioned something of that nature. I said, “I don’t feel like I control my moods, it all depends on how I wake up.”

She laughed, startling me, and refused to accept that that was the truth.

I took her laughter as a challenge, and the next time I woke up in a bad mood, I did all I could in my power to fight it, and transform that mood.

I succeeded.

The next time I woke up in a bad mood, I tried it again, with the memory of my prior success giving me confidence.

I failed.

Because there is no absolute path to happiness.

Because I’m learning that happiness does not mean that we don’t cry, that we don’t have bad days, that we don’t fight or say stupid things. Happiness does not mean that we have everything we could need or want, that everything is working in our favor, or that the sun is shining brightly.

True happiness is so much deeper, and I’ve finally begun to really understand that.

I want to say that true happiness comes from having a job you love, or being surrounded by people who love you, but these are privileged things to say. These are things that bring me happiness, but are often not possible for others to achieve, for various reasons. I have barely yet lived my life, and I am not foolish to think that I have dealt with life’s most painful challenges, and maintained my happiness through them. I have experienced pain, but in no way that compares to the level of pain that others have, thank G-d. So I feel cruel to claim that I have the key to happiness, because I most certainly do not. But, I will share the one thing that I have discovered that has brought me happiness, that I hope all can have as well.

It is an awareness that I try to sharpen every, single, day of my life:

I am not the most important person in my world.

Are you laughing? Maybe you’re saying “are you kidding, you absolute child? Obviously you aren’t, you spoiled, privileged, little girl.”

Did you say that? If yes, that’s okay. I get it. It seems like an incredibly simple concept that literally everyone should be aware of.

Yet, it is the single most powerful contributor to my happiness.

I am not the most important person in my world.

How does that practically make a mark on my happiness?

It reminds me that my job on earth is to give.

I have been given skills, gifts, and opportunities that are for me to use to make this world a better place.

It has allowed me to build a strong relationship with my G-d, even when I want to hurt Him with all my might. It has allowed my ego to step aside, even for just a few minutes each day, and recognize that it’s not about me. This world is so much bigger than I am, and it is filled with incredible, unique individuals, and I am a part of the tapestry. I have an important role to fill, and nobody else can replace me – but my contribution to this world is much more valuable than my happiness.

You may say that is the path to negative thoughts of oneself, but I’ve found it to be quite the contrary – it has made me value myself in a whole new way and keeps my perspective on how I can give, rather than in which ways I can take.

And I am happy.

Are there things that I really, really want?

Are there things that I believe I need, and that I don’t have?

Are there moments in which I collapse from the pain that life brings?

Are there nights and days that I wonder about my future, afraid?

The answer to all of these is a resounding yes.

Yet, I am grateful to G-d that He has allowed me to feel happiness in my core.

Like everything good, happiness too, comes from good old-fashioned hard work, quite conflicting with the path to happiness that we are often fed in modern day media.

Perhaps, to be happy is our generations greatest struggle.

But is it achievable?

Yes. Without a doubt: yes, it is.

 

 

Disclaimer:

This entire piece was written with the idea that what is stopping someone from attaining happiness are mindsets that they have control over. If you are struggling with depression or severe anxiety, please seek the assistance of a trained therapist or speak to your doctor. Speak to someone, reach out, and ask for help. Happiness is achievable for you too.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, you can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741, or call the suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255

You don’t have to do this alone.

2/52.


Featured Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

The Pain of Growth

Growing pains.

That’s always what they were. As a kid, I’d come to complain to my mom about yet another aching part of my body, and the reason was always growing pains.
It gave the pain some purpose, a sense of pride. I was in the process of growing, becoming older, getting taller.
Eventually, we all stop growing physically, our measurements coming to a slow halt, leaving us at relatively the same size as our 16-17 year old selves.
The growing pains ebb away, and I imagine the reminder of them comes as our own children turn to us and ask us about their own pain.
Growing pains.
So easily explained, so easily understood, so excusable for the hurt we feel.
But as we reach milestones, turn corners, and fall over as we awkwardly grow into emotional adults, the growing pains are so much more unclear.
They feel more like failure.
As we grip our aching soul, the pain seems to have no purpose, for the growth is hard to see.
This week, it is my birthday. I say that not to get a slew of birthday gifts (although welcome,) I say it to clarify why growth is something I’m really focusing on this week.
For what is growth?
Do birthdays mark growth?
Do I look back at the past year, and measure myself? Using what as the yardstick? Amassed funds? Amassed friends? Sweet memories?
What proves that I have grown between last years cake and this years?
To me, it’s all about the growing pains.
Because I have had them.
And while I was aching, there were times I persevered, believing in the purpose of the pain. But there were times I surrendered to the pain, eyes shut, hands up, and let it overtake me.
This year I expanded horizons, worked harder, re-focused, trampled my comfort zone.
I have also cried in the shower, eaten too much sugar, given up, and allowed my self-made limits to box me in.
I’m tempted, on my birthday, to ask G-d to wipe the world clean of challenges, of obstacles, of struggles.
But I fear that I would be asking Him to remove the color, to silence the joy.
I prefer to ask him to allow us to see the purpose of the pain.
To allow us to look in the mirror and smile through the ache, because we know that through our pain, we are painting the world with vibrant colors.
Without struggle, without challenge, there is no depth of joy, there are no intricacies of beauty.
I ask Him to wipe the world clean of endless grief, of grief so deep that the beauty is too deeply hidden to be asked to reveal itself.
But I ask Him to continue to challenge us, challenge us with pushing past our limits. Challenge us with obstacles we can see over, obstacles we know we can overcome.
Allow the growing pains to have a purpose, allow the pain to be only a roadblock, not the end of the road.
Because without growth, we fail, and without growing pains, we don’t notice the growth.
May my growing pains paint the picture of my future, strengthening my foundation, allowing me to build up and up and up.
Even joyous occasions come with growing pains  – adjusting to married life, a new baby, a brand new home, a new career. But these are the growing pains we can handle, these are the growing pains that make us better. That give our world more color, make life richer, that give life more purpose.
And so as I welcome a new year of my life, I look back at my growth. And I mark my growth by the pain. Not by how many days I felt defeated, but by how many days I felt euphoric, having overcome the challenge that had held me back.
And I ask G-d that He give me more of that strength, more of the ability to jump the hurdles, to push through the pain for the most epic of results:
Glorious, colorful, invigorating, beautiful growth.

Blog Post: 25/52

Let’s Talk About: #HappyChallenge

happinessWhen I was 12, I didn’t spend a lot of time with my grandparents. I lived in a different state, and we visited a few times a year. Each time we visited, we had dinner with my fathers parent’s, spending the evening with them. I was never really part of the conversation- it was always a very adult conversation, filled real life problems.

At some point during the year, I had the chance to spend two weeks in NY without the rest of my family. My brother who lived there at the time suggested that we go eat dinner with my grandparents, just the two of us.

So we did.

We ate in the kitchen, rather than the dining room.

The food was still just as thoughtfully and beautifully prepared, and there was plenty of it.

The conversation was different, with no parents or my other siblings around.

We spoke about me.

Well, my grandmother brought it up. She asked me about my writing. I, bashfully admitted that I was writing a novel (cringe.)

Interested, in only a way that a grandmother can be, she asked me what it was about.

Thrilled to receive the attention that my project so deserved,in my opinion, I described the plot in great detail. It obviously held details about tragedy and pain and suffering.

When I finished, my grandmother sighed and said “Why does everyone write about sad things? Why can’t someone write about something happy?”

At the time, I rolled my eyes. (In my head, not in reality. I was a good kid.)

All I said was, with the experience of a long-time writer, “Bubby, people aren’t going to read about happy things”

Somehow, it’s been three years since I last saw my Bubbys beautiful face.

Three years since I heard her laugh, and felt her hug, three years since I held her hand, and kissed her cheek with tears in my eyes, begging her to fight for us.

Three years since I heard her ask “Nu, Etti, what’s doing with your writing?”

It breaks my heart that I never got to show her anything worth reading.

It breaks my heart that she was my cheerleader, but I haven’t yet done anything to make her proud.

I haven’t written anything happy.

All my life, my pen came out when I was mad. When I was crying. When I was hurt and broken.

After my Bubby passed away, I wrote twelve things about losing her in the first week.

When I became distanced from beloved friends, I wrote.

When I was rejected from a school my friends were going to, I wrote.

When my grandfather passed away this past summer, I wrote.

When I was in the depths of my war against G-d, I wrote.

When things feel like they are falling apart, when my heart feels too small for all the sadness it feels, I turn to words.

But the one person who always remembered my love for words, the one person who asked about my greatest passion every time she saw me, asked me to write something happy.

Why haven’t I?

Tonight is Chanukah. The very first night of an eight day holiday that focuses on bringing light into the world.

I have had too much to write about the past few weeks. I don’t share everything I write. It would exhaust you. It exhausts me.

The pain is everywhere, the tears the world has shed can overflow the oceans.

Every human is in pain. Everyone is struggling, everyone is suffering. The world is the most terrifying place to be right now, and the fact that we are all in it together is not comforting this time.

Death is a reality, instead of a distant thought.

Self-identity is near impossible to discover, self-love is warped, and turns out, our world is self-destructing.

How can I not write about the pain?

But Chanukah is coming.

How am I helping the world by adding more pain?

There are eight nights of Chanukah.

I can find eight things this week that are happy. That are beautiful. That are universally heart-warming.

That is my challenge to myself this week.

I owe it to my grandmother.

I owe it to my self.

I’d love for you all to join me.

The #happychallenge.

We all need this.

I have one thing to ask of G-d though.

G-d? Please help me with this. Help me see the light in a world of darkness.

Make the light shine brighter and longer.

We need more than eight days of light, we need a lifetime, a never ending supply of happiness.

But I’ll start with these eight.

May this be the the easiest thing I have ever done.

Amen.