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Will I ever be happy?
I really wish that I could say, “yes.” So that’s what I’m going to do.
Yes, Chris, you will be happy.
If you want, you can start the work of becoming happy today. I have five suggestions as you begin.
First and most urgently, if your unhappiness is tempting you into thoughts of harming yourself — if it is causing you to wonder if death would be a way of ending your hurt and your loneliness, if it is whispering lies into your ear and insisting that the people who love you would be relieved if you weren’t around — then get help right now. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Research tells us that folks who survive a suicide attempt overwhelmingly don’t attempt suicide again. In other words, they get better. If you have even an inkling that you might attempt to end your life, type “suicide helpline” into Google and call the number that appears on your screen. We want you here, Chris, we need you here. We’d be devastated if you left us.
Second, find out if your unhappiness flows out of an illness such as depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, alcoholism, or another addiction. Go out for coffee with someone who is wise enough or strong enough to tell you the truth — and whom you trust enough so that you may hear the truth when she shares with you — and ask if she has observed you behaving in a way that is destructive or otherwise worrisome, if she suspects that you are ill. If there isn’t anyone like that in your life right now, then connect with a professional who is in the listening business — there are cheap or even free resources available via your school, your workplace, your faith community, and the interwebs. Be open, in other words, to the possibility that you may need help in finding happiness. And be open to the possibility that there are people who want to help you. Your doctor wants to help you. The 12-step community wants to help you. The people who love you want to help you.
Third, spend some time reflecting on what your life looked like when you were happy, when you felt confident and satisfied and full of an easy joy. Those days may feel pretty distant right now. But I bet that you did experience such days and that you do remember them. Back then, how did you spend your time? Who were your friends? What gave you energy? What gave you hope? What gave you opportunities to do meaningful work? What filled you up with wonder? I’m encouraging to look to your past, Chris, not instead of looking to your future but, rather, as a way of looking to your future; the practices that yielded happiness for you in the past are road tested, they are proven. They are, therefore, the practices to which you may want to return now.
Fourth — and this one is both brief and hard — ask yourself another question: what are the things or habits or stories or people that are holding you back from living with joy right now? What is it, in other words, that you might need to let go of in order to be light enough to swim back to the surface?
Last of all, as old-fashioned as it may sound, don’t forget to pray. I don’t know much about God, but I do know that God enjoys talking with you. And I know that God wants you to be happy. I’m not promising that prayer is going yield a sudden and great epiphany, that it’s going to hand you answers to all your questions or solve all of your problems. But I do promise that, in a way that we can neither measure nor reduce to words, prayer matters. Prayer is a flashlight in the dark. It’s one of the ways that we find the path back home.
Here’s my prediction, Chris. Putting together these five suggestions — or some variation on them — will give you a strategy, a list, a map for how you are going to spend the next few weeks or months or years. You may come up with some things that you need to do that are pretty urgent and pretty difficult: if you need to stop drinking or acknowledge your broken heart or quit a job or leave home or stop hanging out with people who are draining you, that will be really hard. You may come up with some changes that make you nervous: maybe this is the time when you will post your first advertisement on a dating site or take that dance class that you’ve been thinking about for years. And you may come up with some changes that actually sound kind of fun: perhaps the days of your happiness featured time with a musical instrument or with a sports team or with a paintbrush or with a forgotten collection of books. Perhaps it’s time to discover those things again.
All of this is to say, Chris, that it’s time or you to act. With God’s help, with the help of the people who love you, maybe with the help of a professional or two, it’s time to for you to get started. It’s time for you to begin the walk that will take you back to happiness.
The Rev. Martin Elfert is an immigrant to the Christian faith. After the birth of his first child, he began to wonder about the ways in which God was at work in his life and in the world. In response to this wondering, he joined Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he and his new son were baptized at the Easter Vigil in 2005 and where the community encouraged him to seek ordination. Martin served on the staff of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane, Wash. from 2011-2015. He is now the rector of Grace Memorial Episcopal Church in Portland, Oreg.