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The Personal Art of Happiness

Arielle Ford 12-17

The Personal Art of HappinessI was about to nod off on the stuffy, crowded airplane as the flight attendant began her safety demonstration. Snapping the seat-belt buckle tightly, then releasing the latch with practiced deftness, she smiled down the aisle of the airless cabin. “In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will descend from the ceiling. Put your own mask on first before attempting to help anyone else.”

Having logged hundreds of thousands of air miles in my lifetime, I have heard that line more times than I can count. But that day, crammed into a window seat overlooking the rolling tarmac, I really heard it.

In order to help someone else, I first had to take care of myself. I first needed to have enough oxygen in my own mind and body before I could even think about giving anyone assistance. As I pondered this seemingly new information, I realized that when I chose to skip my workout to meet a work deadline, or rushed through a less-than-ideal meal to save time for something I deemed more important that my own nutrition, I was not contributing to that which was my highest good. What I had were seemingly good excuses for not taking the time and energy to nurture and care for myself. In my naïveté I believed that putting myself first meant that I was self-centered, or, dare I say it, egotistical.

When my husband Brian and I first began living together, I began to notice his patterns. Every morning he would wake up happy somewhere between 4:30 and 6 a.m. He would make his coffee, eat a small breakfast, read the paper, and then go workout for around two hours. Brian was and is one of the most consistent people I have ever met. Brian already knew that by focusing on taking care of himself – body, mind, and spirit – he fills himself up and has more to give me and everyone around him.

All too often we look to the other person in our relationships to provide everything we need for our keys to happiness. But by looking within and realizing the power we have over our own circumstances, we pave the way for a happier and healthier relationship.

Make Yourself Happy

Barack and Michelle Obama married in 1992 and began building a life together in Chicago. Michelle was the major breadwinner, while Barack began his political career. Several of their biggest issues surfaced early: They both had major debt in the form of student loans. While she handled the family finances, he was downright cavalier with money. He was also a chain smoker and a slob. He thought nothing of leaving his clothes strewn about and wet towels on the floor.

Several years later, while he was heavily engaged in his political career in Springfield, Michelle was in Chicago, working full-time, raising two young girls, and home alone each night, feeling tired, angry, abandoned, overworked, and out of shape. She was also very concerned that they would have to someday file for bankruptcy. “He seems to think he can just go out there and pursue his dream and leave all the heavy lifting to me,” she complained to her mother. From Barack’s point of view, he was focused on the big picture and felt that many of her complaints were petty. “I love Michelle,” he shared with his grandmother “Toot,” “but she’s killing me with this constant criticism.” They were at a crisis point.

Early one morning around 4:30, as Barack lay next to her soundly asleep, Michelle suddenly realized that if she simply got up and went to the gym to reclaim her workouts, he would be forced to take care of the kids when they got up. She tiptoed out and headed for the gym. Sure enough when she returned, the girls were fed and all was well.

From that day on, whenever Barack was home, this became her new routine. Michelle began to take a new approach to the problems in her marriage. As the saying attributed to Sister Mary Tricky goes, “If you really want to be happy, no one can stop you.” Michelle had been waiting for Barack to be the one to change, but she now saw that she had to stop being mad at him and start problem solving. Slowly but surely, she began to cobble together the resources she needed to make herself happy. That meant finding ways to create more time and space for herself. Michelle finally took her mother up on her long-standing offer to help her take care of the kids. She also found a new job with higher pay and less stress. Being married to a politician certainly required some sacrifice, but just as often she told her husband, “I’m not doing this by myself.” She insisted that Sundays be reserved as family day and that Barack make the time to be actively involved in the girls’ lives, attending parent-teacher conferences and recitals. She brought structure where chaos once reigned. With the same determination she had brought to everything in life, she found a way to live this dream while keeping herself, her marriage, and her family happy and fulfilled.

As Michelle Obama discovered, it’s about knowing that our happiness is up to us. Our happiness resides within us, and the choices we make, like the one to put our own oxygen mask on first, lie within our realm of responsibility. It requires deep listening to the requests whispered by our souls.

We were all raised with many misbegotten myths about “happily ever after” only to discover that our princess or knight in shining armor arrived with some serious baggage and dents. Shedding the fantasies of what we hoped our mates would be while shining a loving and bright light on the beauty of who they really are is the true path to happiness and contentment.

The above excerpt is adapted from the new book Wabi Sabi Love: The Ancient Art of Finding Perfect Love in Imperfect Relationships by Arielle Ford. Reprinted with the permission of HarperOne. ©2012.


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