A few months ago, I was returning home from work, and Lady Gaga’s Million Reasons started playing on the radio. As the singer crooned, “I’ve got a hundred million reasons to walk away, but baby, I just need one good one to stay,” it resonated with me. I don’t know why, but I felt the words deep in my bones. I thought about the rut at work I was facing due to the personal crisis that was looming in the horizon, and how everything made me want to just quit and run away somewhere no one can find me.
Gaga was singing about her failed relationships, and wanting to find one good partner who will make her stay and return her faith in love. However, the song doesn’t restrict its interpretation to love alone – you can find a variety of meaning in this song.
What I found was this deep dissatisfaction with life slowly building within me. I kept thinking, as I drove down the almost empty highway, what was I doing? Why am I so focused on all the bad things in my life, instead of focusing on the good ones? Sure, I was stuck on a project at work, but I recalled how supportive and encouraging the people around me are.
I was diagnosed with chronic pain disorder (CPS) that doctors said will slowly deteriorate as I grow older, but who says I can’t have fun? I know of a person with a disease like EDS (Ehlers-Danlo Syndrome, a terrible condition that affects the joints in your body), and his enthusiasm for life hasn’t ceased.
Coincidentally, the radio next played Dog Days Are Over by Florence and The Machine, and I was smiling. Perhaps, this was the universe’s way of telling me that I don’t have to feel miserable all the time.
But finding happiness is no easy task. Especially, when one wakes up with aching muscles, but I decided to stop complaining. My research on my condition brought me to a YouTube channel called Simon and Martina.
They are a husband-wife duo who V-log about their lives in Japan, and I was surprised to learn the cheerful, bright pink-haired Martina was the one suffering from EDS. I started watching their videos and their goofy humour made me smile, and then, I stumbled upon one of her videos titled, Build a Ladder. The idea sparked something within me.
Martina took something good from her every day. She takes all her small accomplishments, every good memory, no matter how big or small, and adds that to the ladder, like a rung. She allows herself some bad days, but always keeps building the ladder. That’s when I decided to sit down and find out what were the things that were making me unhappy in the first place.
I called this my Blueprint of Happiness (I work as an architect, I simply couldn’t resist myself). It wasn’t akin to Build a Ladder, but I took inspiration. I wanted it to be a draft that I could keep editing and correcting to find happiness in my life. It took me some time, and I found out the reasons, and slowly, started to create my own plan.
So, the first step was to pick up a new hobby. I decided I wanted something outside of work to focus my attention on. I was always into gardening, having grown with grandmother with a green thumb, so, I started with a herb garden. At first, I wasn’t doing well, and my lavender plant died. I was devastated, but I persisted, and finally, I managed to grow oregano and basil. I was so happy!
Another plant did die on me, but the joy I found in remaining plants surviving pushed me along. I am currently developing my balcony space to grow my own tomatoes and mint! I know I may not succeed at first since tomatoes are a whole different game than small herbs, but I’m determined. I have my small herboire, I did that, I can do this too.
I used to think, treat yourself is the best way to deal with the blues, and the instant gratification didn’t last. I decided to change that by treating myself to things that can give me lasting joy. I always wanted to bake, so, I got myself a baking kit and bought a cookbook to help me along. I started with easy recipes, like vanilla cupcakes and sugar cookies. The first attempts were bad; I either did some mistakes with the measurements, or couldn’t figure out how much preheating was okay.
But, I learned from these mistakes, and when I presented my first good batch of cupcakes to my coworkers, they loved it! I started to bake in earnest, and brought over treats to my friends’ houses and to my family. The joy on their faces made me happy, thus, it became an important addition to my Blueprint.
The other thing I wanted to change was my work ethic. It is a scientific fact that there are two types of decision-makers: the satisficers and the maximizers.
The satisficers are the ones who are happy with the good enough, while the maximizers aren’t happy with just ‘good enough’—they want the best. The maximizers aren’t easily satisfied, and are often the root cause of their distress. I was a maximizer; I didn’t understand how much dissatisfaction it was bringing to me.
When I read about this decision-making strategy, I was eager to change. So, I set small goals for myself, and if they fell through, I wouldn’t be too fussed. I tweaked the objective and worked with that. I got the results, and I was satisfied with them. I stopped comparing decisions with others, and stopped obsessing over other options. At first, I thought this would affect my productivity, but to my surprise, it actually helped me evolve and my work.
Then, on some days, it’s really hard to get up from my bed. Since there is no cure to CPS, I have no other option but deal with it. I have my pain medications and that does help, but it leaves me mentally exhausted, and I usually end up crying. I started jotting down all my small accomplishments and putting down all my happy memories in my notebook, I would read through them on bad days, and it makes me smile.
And when the pain meds kick in, I can move, so, I do things that make me happy, such as chat with my mother, tend to my garden, go to my favourite bakery or cafe, take a walk (if the pain is low enough, of course), try a new recipe of cheesecake, etc. It helps when I’m distracted doing the things that bring me joy. Even the pain doesn’t bother me too much.
A couple of days ago, I found a tiny egg-shaped rock on my walk, and I shared a picture of it with my mother, and it delighted her, which in turn made me happy. Today, as I write this and sit on my bed, a hot water bag on my back, I’m thinking about my mother’s giggles over the phone, and it is making my heart happy. I kept the rock on my bedside table—I think it could be a bit magical.
I’m aware of not everyone goes through CPS the same, and I’m no psychologist, so, I can’t guarantee it will definitely work for you, but trying can do no harm. And the best part about the Blueprint? You can add or divide from it yourself! You can tailor it to your needs, so, for the first of firsts, go on, give it a try.
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