You Could Be Happy. Today.

One year and five months ago, I thought I would never be happy. I felt a loss that I never even knew was possible: the loss of “true love”. I remember growing up with overly emotional friends who swore on their entire lives that their significant other was “The One”, and when those relationships ended they went about their daily lives as if nothing truly mattered anymore. And while I was always a good shoulder to cry on, I wasn’t entirely sympathetic. I thought it was weak to put your happiness in the hands of another like that. It’s just a relationship, I thought. They’ll move on. I’ll never find myself in that situation.

Fast forward over ten years later, and there I was, sobbing into my pillow. My cell phone still in my hand, my fingers clinching it as if it was my very life force. I kept re-reading the texts — yes, texts! — over and over again. “I don’t want to be with you anymore. I’m with someone new.” And I kept repeating the same thing to myself, like a new mantra for my new single life: I will never be happy. I just lost my true love. I will never be happy.

I was right in that same place that I judged so many years before. I now understood how others felt when their relationships crashed right at their feet.

Even though I could relate, I still knew that I couldn’t put the blame entirely on the person who had broken my heart. I knew that I needed to find happiness on my own. I needed this like I needed air to breathe and water to drink and goals in life. Happiness needed to be a very important point on my agenda, and I needed to make this my priority, stat.

And at first, it was extremely difficult. I was so unhappy, I didn’t care about my appearance anymore. I looked like the breakup victim of a sappy rom-com, minus the whimsical happy ending or the serendipitous encounter with someone who would prove to be my saving grace, my prince charming to pull me out of my fog. No, this wasn’t a movie. This was just my life. My messy hair, dirty t-shirt, same socks from yesterday, old fast food bags strewn across my bedroom and my car, life. And no one was going to magically come and save me from it.

And no one was going to magically come and save me from it…..except myself.

It didn’t happen overnight. I remember glancing in the mirror one day and not recognizing myself. I had always heard this expression, but I never knew how true it could be until I was the one standing in front of my reflection, mouth turned up in horror. Gross! Who was this person? When did I get such huge bags under my eyes? Why was there a piece of paper in my hair? What was I doing? 

I started with the simplest part: my looks. I pouted my lips and put on a little lipstick. I added mascara to my teeny tiny lashes. I instantly felt better. And more importantly, I felt better for myself. I wasn’t primping for another terrible first date. I wasn’t trying to impress anyone. I just wanted to look at myself and feel better. Before I knew it, I was doing more. I was washing my clothes and setting out nice outfits. I was looking forward to the next day. I started getting up earlier and taking long slow sips of coffee as I sat at my desk, reflecting on all of the things I was going to accomplish that day.

Happy New Year! Had it already been four months since the dreaded breakup? I had to pinch myself. It seemed just yesterday that I was staining my pillows with salty tears and cruddy mascara. Now I was planning a New Year’s Eve party with my friends. I poured my heart into every little detail, because it made me giddy to think of how well the party plans were coming together.

I am not usually one for resolutions, but I could feel such positive change happening in me, and I didn’t want to lose that flame. I wanted to feed it and fuel it into a bright and passionate fire. So I made a very simple resolution that New Years: simply say yes more. Say yes to good things in life. Not for anyone else, but for myself.

The first thing I said “Yes” to was a trip to New York City. I had to use one of my credit cards to pay for part of the trip, but the rest I saved myself and a few short months later, I stood at the top of the Empire State Building and realized that I was seeing one of my dreams come to fruition. I had achieved this all on my own. And somehow, that made the dream taste even sweeter.

Summer came. The longer days and sunny skies made me feel a bit forlorn. I was doing a lot better post-breakup, but I was still very far from being happy on my own. I reflected on this, a lot, and decided to use my reflection for good. I could either sit around wishing I had someone to spend the sunny days with, wishing I had a partner to take silly bike rides with along the pier; wishing I had an adventurous love who wanted to try several new types of sushi at a hip restaurant on a balmy night, or I could wish I had a relaxing soul to sit with on my porch, staring out at the long and slow sunsets of San Diego; or … I could do those things anyway. Did I need someone to be with me in order to enjoy the summer sun? Did I need someone in order to feel happiness during what is possibly the most happiest time of the year?

One day after work, I sat in traffic on my way home. The same traffic I always sat in when I left work. The longer days made it seem surreal as cars honked and buzzed around one another, all in a rush to get nowhere fast. I glanced up ahead and saw the exit signs for Mission Bay. I realized something suddenly: everyday I took the same path home from work, and everyday I passed a place that many people come to visit for vacation, without even a second glance. And here I was sitting in traffic, again. Not today.

I veered my car off to the right and exited the busy highway. And then I pulled into Mission Bay, and I walked along the waterfront park. I found a spot on a bench and I pulled out a pen and a small amount of paper that I had found in my car. I started writing. I didn’t even know what I wanted to write, and it didn’t matter. Before long, I found myself writing why it was so important for me to be happy. Not to just try to be happy. But to want it, too.

I teetered like this for several months. I spent time reflecting alone with myself and my thoughts, no matter how deep or dark or scary those thoughts could get. I faced them in silent reverie. I armed myself with my optimism as my shield and my recent experiences as my sword and I faced my thoughts like mini battles with my psyche. When I wasn’t doing that, I was still saying “yes” to things that would make me happy. Yes, I will go to Vegas this weekend! Yes, I will attend that live music show. Yes, I’ll try out this first date.

Yes, I will make sure that I am happy. Yes, I will take responsibility for that, all on my own. Yes, I can do this.

One year and five months ago, I thought I would never be happy. But here I am, one year and five months later, smiling for no reason at all, invigorated with all the possibilities, at all of the things that I can say yes to, inspired by all of the reflections of the world around me, and hopeful that I can achieve anything, as long as I believe in myself. It might sound like the last cheesy lines of a fable or fairy tale, but the truth is a lot less magical than it all seems. In a fairy tale, someone comes along and they save you, instantly. What they never tell you is that in real life, it might take time. It might take one year and five months. And in real life, it’s up to you to save yourself. And yes, you can absolutely do that. Why not start … today?

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