Five Roads to My Happiness
I am the happiest I have been in over 20 years. I am in such a state of happiness that I sometimes sound like a cheesy motivational speaker when I talk to people. It’s embarrassing yet fulfilling. But when I tell folks I really can’t complain, I mean it. It’s funny because I’m not living the way I thought “Happy Eddie” would live — in a phat house, driving a phat car because of my phat job. What I have, however, is more than I could ask for— a great wife, a great kid, a cool pad, a dependable car, Apple TV, and a career I love. Anyone with less and hearing me complain about my current situation would understandably slap the taste out of my mouth.
The key to this is understanding that it has taken work — something that many people hate to do — to get to my happy place. Now, I want to set realistic expectations here. I have never suffered from depression but I have been depressed enough to want to end it all. I was raised by great parents but I went through quite a rebellious stage. I went to great schools, especially my beloved high school and a highly respected university, but those schools look different when you see how the sausage is made. So, what was there to be unhappy about? I had a hard time piecing that together, so here is what I did to get myself to my current state of happiness.
I had questions that I was determined to answer so I looked for someone who could help me answer them. As it turns out, I wasn’t nuts for feeling kind of weird about it. I found out that I fit into a mental health danger zone. According to mental health professionals, three groups of people run like hell from mental health conversations, let alone treatment — Southerners, African Americans, and men. I hit the trifecta. Because I’ve always been a different kind of brotha from the South, however, I developed a healthy intellectual curiosity about the old noodle.
I never thought I was “crazy” but I hated feeling unfulfilled about life and generally pissed off for no reason. The down home wisdom that I should talk to a priest or uncle wasn’t enough for me. I innately understood that I needed to hear from someone who was trained to understand how the human brain works. Even when I decided to go to therapy, however, the sensible side of me didn’t put all of my eggs in that basket. Therapists are human so they have crap with them like everyone else. They also have invaluable information. So, I used therapy as a springboard to figure stuff out. Therapy gave me one of the greatest gifts anyone could get— perspective.
As a result of therapy, I learned to ask myself what part I played in my unhappiness. Let’s take my dating life as an example. As my first marriage wound down, I couldn’t understand what the world was coming to. I didn’t abuse or cheat on women. I’m an articulate, healthy, educated, sensible, good black man (something that society would have you believe is like finding Bigfoot). Who wouldn’t want this hunk o’ man??? Any woman who didn’t act right with me clearly had some issues. That attitude, as it turns out, was the problem. I was so busy trying to hold women accountable for wisely choosing me that I didn’t bother to hold myself accountable for choosing the right woman. That required my pulling my head out of my rear and being more than a “good guy.”
Life became much easier when held myself accountable for being the boss of me. One of my relationships was a disaster from the second I jumped into it, and I was dumb enough to let it last for two years. When my current wife asked me about this particularly chaotic situation, I almost gave the default “I didn’t know she was crazy” answer. Instead, I thought for a second and said, “My self esteem was in the toilet, so I chose not to pay attention to who I was dealing with. I was in such bad shape that it took two years for me to pull myself together, and demand better for me and my son.” I finally felt accountable and ready for healthier situations.
In a presentation I do for members of African American fraternities and sororities, I stress the importance of knowing the difference between who you are and what you are as means to being great members. With that in mind, I learned that it’s important to be genuinely satisfied with who I am in order to be great at what I do. Some folks try to hustle us by sporting an f-you, “I’m happy with who I am” attitude knowing good and well they don’t sleep well at night or that they really want to be loved by the very people they diss. No, we cannot or should not try to please everyone; but we should have a deep, genuine appreciation for who we really are.
The key to loving my identity came in one thought, “That’s okay.” I had to learn to that it’s okay for me to be who I am as long as I sought healthy improvement. I’m articulate, intelligent, opinionated, goofy, communicative, peaceful, culturally conscious, compassionate, creative, slightly overweight, and that’s okay. I work to improve my communication skills, I want a master’s degree, I’m learning to become a businessman, I want to see my abs, and that’s okay, too. I’m happy because I’m okay and working to get better.
A CHANGE OF SCENERY
This was huge for me. I was born and raised in New Orleans, the picturesque Southern cradle of charm, culture, creativity, passion, food, good times and the Who Dat Nation. I love what New Orleans has given me in terms of personality and mad kitchen skills but I had been trying to leave that place since I was 17. It took me years to leave but the move has paid off handsomely. I’ve discovered a new career, new friends and the perfect wife.
Feel me on this. The places we love can also be the nest of our demons. I don’t think New Orleans is a bad place at all but I have always been wildly curious about who else was out there. Luckily, I happened upon a city where so many folks are from somewhere else so I get to see the rest of the world through others’ eyes. Years of curiosity satisfied.
A dream is a beautiful thing but I looked at the uselessness of my dreams. Remember what I said about a place you love also being a nest for demons? One of my demons was growing up in a community where folks were just as quick to dash your dreams as they were to party. You have no idea how many times I ran up on someone who made it their business to limit my options on some passive aggressive punk stuff. You find that kind of stuff everywhere but for it to happen in your home community during your formative years truly sucks.
As much as I am into accountability this is where I had to learn that this area of my unhappiness was not my fault. I had been told that I wouldn’t reach my dream of being a professional actor (because it was senseless), that I wasn’t good enough to do prime time radio, that I wasn’t “black enough,” that I couldn’t be this or wouldn’t be that. It was logical for me to believe that my dreams would not be realized. Regardless of my age, removing myself from a place where I experienced pain gave me a chance to emotionally reset. More diverse, objective voices challenging me with, “Why not?” has been quite the difference-maker. My dreams are cool again and that makes me happy.