The other day I was perusing the bookshelf in my bedroom at my parents' house and I came across the book How to Be Happy, Dammit: A Cynic's Guide to Spiritual Happiness. I instantly recalled getting this book from my best friend in college, an overly obvious assertion on her part that I was in need of an attitude adjustment. I picked it up off the shelf and flipped though it, thinking about how ironic it was that I hadn't even read it when she gave it to me. I'd loved the cover, with it's bright orange background and it's neon green flower. I'd loved the images and the design of the book, I remembered that. But I knew that I hadn't read it. I guess, like so many things in life, I wasn't ready for it then. But I am now.
I took the book home with me and read it in an evening, curled up in my bed with a notebook and pen in hand. I just knew it would have some good ideas in it, and I was right. Over the next few weeks I have a feeling I'll be making a lot of references to this book. Right now I want to share one of my favorite passages, called "Dope on a Rope":
This criminal had committed a crime. He was sent to the king for his punishment. The king told him he had a choice. He could be hung by a rope or take the punishment behind the big, dark, scary steel door. The criminal quickly decided on the rope. As the noose was being slipped on him, he asked, "Out of curiosity, what's behind that door?" The king laughed and said, "You know, it's funny. I offer all you guys the same choice, and nearly all of you pick the rope." "So," said the criminal, "what's behind the door? Obviously, I won't tell anyone," he said, pointing to the noose around his neck. The king paused and answered, "Freedom, but it seems most people are so afraid of the unknown that they immediately take the rope."
Do you take the rope? More often than not, it is our own fear -- not external obstacles -- that stop us from going where we want to in life. Are you staying in a relationship because you are afraid of being single? Are you staying in a job you hate because you are afraid of being jobless or taking on a new job? Are you living in the same town because you're frightened of starting over somewhere new? We all do this, stay where we are certain and feel safe, because it is easier and it is something is known. We would often stick with a painful, unhappy known than risk something that is unknown.
But how can we truly be happy if we're doing this? Sticking with the known for fear of the unknown is settling. Do we really want to settle in our lives? One of my favorite quotes comes from the mouth of Carrie Bradshaw, a character from Sex and the City. She says, "Some people are settling down. Some people are settling. And some people refuse to settle for anything less than butterflies." Take a moment to think about your life. Are you settling in any major areas of your life? If so, why?
In a recent session with my therapist I was grasping to understand why I'd always gone back to my ex-boyfriends. Maybe it would be a long while before I did or maybe I'd find a new one in-between, but I'd somehow always go back, no matter how bad I knew the relationship had been. "Why do I do this?" I bemoaned, looking at her desperately for an answer, any answer. She looked at me and replied, quite simply, quite honestly, "You do this because it's comfortable and familiar." She was right. I liked the comfort. I liked knowing what I was getting into (even if it was bad news). It always seemed more appealing to me than trying to out in the world and meet someone new.
Of course, this pattern was extremely unhealthy for me. Things had ended with these guys for a reason. I had moved on. And then I'd come back for comfort. I was settling. It was that simple. Because of this, the passage from the book really hits home for me. I've been taking the noose and, in the process, rejecting freedom. The unknown is a scary, scary thing, but that's what's so wonderful about it.
I don't know about you, but I don't want to settle for what seems easy (after all, the things that seem easy are usually the ones that end up being the most difficult in the long run). Like Bradshaw said, I want to be one of those people who doesn't settle for anything less than butterflies. Life -- all aspects of it -- should bring you butterflies, that excited little feeling in the pit of your stomach when you're nervous and happy and looking forward to whatever it is you're about to dive into. I have to admit, all of the aspects of my life don't quite give me that butterfly feeling, but I am working on making changes and I'm striving to live a life that is far from settling.