Updated: Feb 13
It feels like forever ago now. I was living in Tulsa, Oklahoma at a friend's house for the summer. I had just moved out of an apartment near downtown, where I had been living by myself. I had a pretty good idea I was about to do something big, I just didn’t know what. I needed to lay low and not have a lease to be concerned with. My friend that owned the house was traveling for the summer. Yes, there were times where it was lonely, but I somehow felt much more myself away from the city. When I wasn’t at work, I spent the whole summer watching GOT on her massive projection screen in the back room of the house. In the mornings, I lounged in a hammock on the front lawn.
It was a quiet little community. Lawnmowers in the distant gently humming, birds chirping, the swoosh of the air flowing through the tall trees in the neighborhood, dew on the grass, a crisp and cool quality about the air. The sun rose to face the front porch where I lounged. I enjoyed noticing the gradual process of feeling progressively warmer. For those few moments, I had an opportunity to go nowhere in my mind and I took it.
Then inevitably a wasp would curiously and erratically fly around me and ruin the whole moment. I tried to ignore them but I just can’t stand wasps. I fixate on the distraction, flinching with every flyby. Multiple times over that summer, I left my comfortable spot to go back inside the house, annoyed, irritated that my moment was ruined. Happiness is hard. There’s always something that can get in the way.
That summer in Oklahoma was also when I decided to invest into counseling for myself. I was in the middle of an existential crisis. I remember one of the first times I talked with my counselor, he asked me what was going on, and one of the things I said was that I was not happy. He asked me very directly through his thick glasses, “who told you you aren’t happy?” That question got me for a moment.
Betterhelp.com (and they’re not paying me to say this), was a good solution for me because I was broke and could not find a counselor that would take insurance. They gave me a scholarship and I paid something like $500 for 3 months of unlimited service. Since then, I’ve tried therapy with Betterhelp here in Colorado, and have had a much harder time. I think at the time, Betterhelp was still relatively new. My counselor was able to give me a lot of sessions. But during that time, we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic to be sure. It also seems that because there were not as many people living in that state BetterHelp counselors weren’t as busy. Betterhelp is still restricted by state guidelines, and counselor can only provide services to the states they are licensed in.
My friends and I have experienced in Colorado that counselors tend to be busier and have less time to give when they work on platforms. On Betterhelp, even after switch counselors a few times, in Colorado, I would go long periods without hearing from them. So here’s a shameless plug: I do offer teletherapy, and in fact and I take insurance, a lot of other counselors in Colorado do too. Counselors like me dedicate our time to our clients. An hour session is an hour session. But I will say platforms do still have their advantages and there’s plenty to choose from as well. Check out this list.
Back when I was living in the apartment by myself, one of my friends was moving and we had a going-away party for him. When I was leaving the party to go home, I walked over to him to officially say good bye. He grabbed me tight, looked into my eyes as he began to cry and he said, "I really want you to be happy." I received a different message than he intended. He meant to bless me, he meant absolutely no harm, and it was so sincere. "I really want you to be happy" sounded to me like, "You are sadness". I spoke about this in my last blog, in my mind I heard him saying I didn't have an emotion, I was the emotion itself. The emotion was sadness. Sadness, often times in our culture feels like a deficit of happiness. If happiness is healthy and whole, sadness is when you're either too much or not enough. Sadness is when something is wrong with you. I don't think my friend meant it that way, but I heard him saying "Chris, you're not enough." In what ways have you heard a different message then what others intended? Or maybe you received the exact message they intended for you, only it stuck because it felt like they were right? Has someone told you you were stupid or ugly? I thought of that moment at the going away party when my counselor asked me about my happiness. But really, that was not the only person or place I ever received that message from. It turns out your atmosphere can accidentally send these messages as well.
A few years prior to living alone, I had graduated from a Christian college where it seemed a part of the culture to be happy all the time. Compared to me, other students seemed full of energy, smiley, and pretty looking. I gotta be honest, college was a tough time for me compared to the way they made it look. I was depressed a lot, and I worked insane hours while doing a full course load every semester. I was tired a lot and I didn’t have much time for fun. I mean Christians are happy people because they have Jesus, right? So if I wasn’t bubbly, perky, and excited then I must not be happy. Happy equals healthy, right? Christians are healthy, right? Had to be something wrong with me, right?
Sometimes we think that if people aren’t happy it’s our fault. Occasionally someone would try to “cheer me up” and I had to wonder if they thought they had to. They had to fix it. “Be happy!” They might say. “What’s wrong?”, they might ask. Where did we get the idea something was “wrong”? Why is it our job to do anything? I mean because I was exhausted from overworking myself, and not really giving myself time to enjoy life, I’d say my emotions were perfectly functioning for telling me I needed to slow down. Often times we wanna shut down the emotion, when the emotion is trying to help. A good solution would not have been to stuff it all down to put on a fake smile for others, and I certainly did not have the energy for it anyway. I let it hang out and people sometimes noticed.
But still, comparison indicated to me that something was wrong with me. I was no longer working so hard, and I now found time to enjoy my life. So why wasn’t I happy like everybody else had been in college? My Counselor looked at me, through his thick glasses with curiosity and said, “Doesn’t sound like you even know what happiness is, but it sounds like that college environment was toxic for you…” Really, some very well-intentioned, people that were meaning me absolutely no harm, had a culture that just did not sit well with who I am as a person... That's it. It just was not a good fit school for me, and that's okay because I still got a degree and I still learned important lessons like this one.
Really, the friends I had, the people I kept around me, they were like me, we were a family. We didn't always get along perfectly with each other but together we were confused and disillusioned, breaking rules, rebelling, failing in a system that wasn't designed for us, and saying to each other "me too". And that "me too" kept us alive. They were the reason I stayed at that school, the reason I endured. They were my happiness in that season and I'm happy I went to the misfit school for that reason.
My counselor and I began a long conversation about what happiness was. He explained that in the Jewish tradition he was from, happiness was more akin to contentment. If you didn’t feel negative emotions, and all seemed satisfactory it was happiness. It wasn’t about feeling excited or inflamed with passion and energy. It was about quiet, calm, and at peace. I thought about how much I had been enjoying my summer, wasps and all, and I realized for the first time I felt happy. He looked at me and said, “your shoulders just fell a little, and you’re face is relaxing and now smiling, what’s going on?” I looked at him and said, “I just realized I’m happy.” That was the end of our session for the day and it would seem like a good place to end this blog if only for the fact that it’s not always that easy.
Not a second after I got off the session with him, I began to question my newfound peace. Was I right? Did I feel happy? I probed my thoughts. How can I feel happy when there’s so much that I still don’t know, still don’t feel comfortable about in my world? As Brené Brown (yeah, I know her again) would say, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. I was flinching. I was on high alert. It was just too easy, and I felt super vulnerable.
But that’s just it, it takes vulnerability to allow ourselves to feel happiness. It is supported by a pinch of trust, a dab of relaxation, and a heaping portion of intentionality. You have to decide to allow yourself to feel good and that can be super hard. I don’t know how many times I had allowed myself to relax just to have wasps quietly fly in and sting my arms. Trust and relaxation are the antitheses of controlling and I was the king of control.
Happiness is floating on your back and letting the current take you. Happiness is vulnerable and non-judgmental. Happiness is an open hand, not a closed fist. Happiness is not letting our desires rule us with obsession—this is why we don’t have to be wealthy to be happy. Happiness is having, not wanting, happiness is contentment. Happiness is here and now. Happiness is realizing you are happy.
During that summer my counselor and I realized that if I really wanted to be happy I needed to honor a dream I had since I was a little kid running around in cowboy boots. I have always wanted to live in Colorado and I needed to make every effort to make it happen. Especially since I had been blowing myself off for so long. By the end of the summer, I found myself moving into a house with some roommates in Denver. I wasn’t quite there yet though, I was still pretty lonely and I wanted someone to share my adventures with. A year after living in Colorado, I met my wife through online dating. I’m happy to say she does not complete me; she was not the destination; she journey’s with me. We got married and now have our first baby on the way.
It’s been interesting to listen to myself this season. I don’t feel “super excited” or “pumped” to have our first kid. Sometimes I feel bad for that like I should care more. But when I think about all of the stuff I’m afraid of for her and for us, all the stuff I don’t want to do, all that could go wrong—stuff I have absolutely no control over—between here and forever, I know I care a lot. I’m scared shitless of that stuff. And we take the bad with the good. I also have allowed myself to fully appreciate all the moments where I realize how much fun it will be to be a dad.
I’m going to introduce her to all my favorite music, I’m going to get to take her on daddy-daughter dances and dates, we’ll get ice cream, go on bike rides and we’ll act weird together. We’re going to almost die teaching her to drive, she’s gonna slam the door on me when I ground her for sneaking out, and I’m going to get to say, “DON’T SLAM THE DOOR!”. We’re going to get to watch her graduate and go off to college. And sometimes, she might call us and we will try not to call her every day. We will talk about stuff and realize we sound like our parents, and that she sounds so ignorant and our parents were right about everything anyway. I get to be proud of her achievements and how she handles failure. It’s because of the good and the bad stuff that I know I love this girl and I haven’t even met her.
And somehow, that feels like happiness to me.