Turning Towards Happiness

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I have known depression and despair. I have known optimism. Believe me, optimism is better. Depression can be secure…it can be “known territory”, while optimism is that place of open ended view out into the future, trusting your ability to leap and land with both feet on the ground, the wind in your hair. Not so predictable. You can remember that babies are not born depressed–depression is learned, optimism forgotten in the face of it. And getting from depression back to optimism takes such a great leap. Perhaps you’d rather make it a slow hike. No matter; in this movement from one to another, there is a wonderfully strange place where your self-view (“I am depressed”) melts, and the far less definable self-view hasn’t quite emerged. I noticed that I went from defining myself by my emotion (I’m depressed) to doing so by my action (I went to the concert, I found a great sale on clothes, I went fishing, I talked to three of my friends today).

There are skills to learn along the way when venturing from depression to optimism. These skills can be learned, and practiced; sort of like learning to walk, or scuba diving. One of these skills, I have found, is to notice details of beauty. Notice the details of beauty. This means to allow yourself to seek and find the beauty in the small things—the raindrop, the flower, the way a cat’s tongue feels. Do this daily, allowing the noticing to sink in. It may feel, at first, like watering a too-dry plant. The water, or experience, runs off, unable to be absorbed. Do it again anyway–notice the slight difference. They say it takes at least three times to water a Bonsai tree, for the water does not reach the inner roots until the third watering. So, give yourself time. Notice small beauty, every day, until you become aware of its effect deep inside you. Does doing this wake you up the next morning with joy in your voice? Reaching ongoing happiness will probably take a bit longer. However, starting with beauty has a special benefit: You can practice in secret, without anyone expecting or noticing a change–in fact, as you practice, you can find yourself changing so gradually, or perhaps returning to that more rewarding place of optimism in such a steady rhythm, that what was once a habit in infancy, moves through new feelings, to become a familiar daily awareness.

Kate Bowditch


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