People Gotta Have Dreams (now shut up and be happy)

Do you feel pressure to be happy? I am irresistibly drawn to anything that promises to make my life better. “Ten ways to wake up feeling good”, “The 12 most energizing foods”, “5 habits that keep you young”… you know I’m clicking on all that! Ironically, instead of giving me awesome tools for living my life, these articles usually leave me feeling stressed out.

In fact, I recall a study that found that most people who read self-help books ended up with lower self-esteem than they’d had prior to having read the books. It’s too much pressure!

O Magazine: I feel stressed already just reading about all the things I have to transform! (Sep 2012 issue)

O Magazine: I feel stressed already just reading about all the things I have to transform! (Sep 2012 issue)

And I have to admit that lately, I don’t feel so hot. Despite having a good job, a lovely relationship, cool friends, a fuzzy cat, and a high standard of living, I feel like crap many days. And I can’t figure it out. My first instinct in times like these is always to think I’m doing something wrong. If only I just ate more leafy greens (even though I am very healthy eater to begin with), did more lunges, or kept a gratitude journal, this wouldn’t be happening to me.

The other kind of pressure I feel frequently is the pressure to be positive. Don’t misunderstand, I can’t stand people who complain all the time; in fact, I complain about those people and I wish they would just shut up and be more positive! The issue for me is that some folks seem to think that positivity means acting like a brainwashed Pollyanna. Being analytical does not automatically equal negativity, just like there’s a difference between having a positive outlook and being saccharine. Plus, there are some situations on which I can’t put a positive spin, like my tension headache, and there are many realities that should not be sugarcoated, like the working conditions in Bangladeshi sweat shops.

So I really paid attention when someone close to me pointed out 2 separate occasions in the last weeks in which I looked happy. What was I doing that made me suddenly joyful during this rather blah period? In the first instance, I’d been helping friends shop for makeup. The second time, I was doing yoga. This shouldn’t seem like a revelation, but it was.

Cheerful orphan Pollyanna from the 1960 Disney film

Cheerful orphan Pollyanna from the 1960 Disney film

How much of what we do on a daily basis brings us real joy? The reality of working for an employer is that it’s a coercive situation; I learned this in a leadership workshop, believe it or not. We only go to work because we get a pay cheque. So no matter how much I like my job, I would never spend 8 hours a day answering reference questions if I wasn’t earning wages. Don’t believe the hype that says that if you love your job, it doesn’t feel like work! If you love your job, you don’t dread going into the office on Monday morning… but you would still rather stay in bed and read fashion magazines.

The complicating factor is that, in my spare time, I try to fit in all the things I have to do (errands, grooming, chores) plus all the things I want to do (kissing, sleeping, reading, blogging). The unfortunate outcome is that sometimes even the fun stuff starts to feel stressy when I’m trying to do it all.

So what would I do if I had a life of leisure? I would dance! I would take 3 or 4 dance lessons per week and I would go out dancing more because I wouldn’t have to wake up at 6:30 a.m. on a regular basis. Also – I would do relaxing yoga at home. I would prepare elaborate meals. I would drink prosecco on patios with my girlfriends. I would play my accordion. And I would write, a lot.

Gene Kelley in 1952's Singing in the Rain (there's a fair bit of dancing in the rain too!)

Gene Kelley in 1952’s Singing in the Rain (there’s a fair bit of dancing in the rain too!)

I think perhaps the key to happiness isn’t trying to take on lifestyle changes in an attempt at being “better”, it’s just recognizing what’s most satisfying in my life. To be happy, I have to learn to identify the joy because my brain is so often too busy thinking to appreciate how I’m feeling. I hadn’t even realized I enjoyed yoga so much until someone else pointed it out!

And being positive isn’t telling myself how lucky I am or how many of the world’s women would trade places with me in a heartbeat. True positivity means letting myself dream about all of the surprising developments still ahead in life. Yes, I am extremely fortunate, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t let my imagination run wild into the future…

What are your dreams these days?

This scene from Latcho Drom is joy embodied


  1. I have been so busy and stressed at work lately, that I am grateful when I can get a free day just to relax—which would make me the happiest person in the world! Even if it were just for an afternoon. The problem lately is that I can’t sit back and relax on a free day without worrying what I will have to get done the next time I go back to work. I feel like I am in a vicious cycle that won’t end. Thank goodness for Summer vacations 🙂 I really need a breather and reading your blogs, Brenda, certainly help with that. Thanks!

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