Chasing Tails

I’ve spent the better part of this century so far chasing my tail in circles. The exact metaphor changes periodically, but essentially the tail is happiness. Sometimes that happiness manifests as career goals, or social hopes, or a large bowl of Panera Mac and Cheese.

It’s easy to say “the better part of this century” and ignore that when the century changed, I had only been 9 for 8 days. Before then I’d dealt with my fair share of troubles, many of which I’m not going to go into at this point, but which all culminated in me being 9, spending the holidays at my grandmother’s, staying up to watch the New Year’s ball drop on a folded out mattress sofa that we unfurled to mark special occasions.

By that point, I’d had my share of traumas, lost a few dads, moved a few times. But happiness was easy to find: all I needed was to lift the sofa cushions and fold out the creaking metal frame and stay up to midnight.

I’ve spent a lot of time with that Mac and Cheese, but I still haven’t found that level of happiness. Being a kid is great. Everything is new, and the world hasn’t ruined the concept of “new” for you yet. As an adult, new usually means a new bill, a new breakup. New is scary, even when it’s a new job or a new town. I didn’t use to be anxious about those things. Then again, I was 9. Somewhere after that the fear creeped in. Probably all that trauma.

Most of my life is spent avoiding that feeling. I fear a lot of things: failure, mostly. I fear not being happy, so I don’t chase the things that make me happy. It’s nonsensical and weird and kinda dumb.

I watched that Marie Kondo show on Netflix, Tidying Up, and felt a bit inspired. One of those chasing tails in circle things for me has always been how a space feels. I love designing a space, I love quality textiles and pretty objects. I hate mess and the anxiety it gives, yet I wallow in it.

Marie talks about sparking joy. A lot. Like, in every scene. After a while it was drilled into my head: the thing I was searching for this whole time. I became obsessed with the difference between happiness and joy, and the way that they manifest. I’ve spent so much time wanting to just be happy, but it was always fleeting. Joy is more spiritual, it lingers.

I took Marie’s words and mannerisms and felt so suddenly inspired, as I think many of us who watched her show were, and I began to tidy up. I got rid of the trash, both literal and figurative, that I’d built around me. I asked myself what sparked joy and removed the ones that didn’t.

I ask myself now, is this giving me joy? I go through more than just my things, examining my actions, my habits. It’s only been a few days, but the shift has improved my mood pretty ecstatically. I started making lunch at home, because paying for shitty food was not sparking joy. I stopped going to Starbucks and have been drinking more water daily than I honestly ever have. I’m taking my multivitamin like a good vegetarian and even drinking a healthy superfood powder concoction. Who am I?!

When I was earlier in my twenties I lost a good amount of weight, because that weight wasn’t sparking joy – it wasn’t something that I consciously thought, but I felt it. I later gained it back, and then more, and then more, each time gaining because of an addiction to that rush of happiness. I quit smoking for non-joyous reasons (thanks, peer shame, debt, and eco-conscious guilt!) and ballooned even more, replacing my immediate-happiness-harm-stick breaks with immediate-happiness-calorie-bomb lunch breaks. But were either of these things even making me happy, let alone joyous?

This week I’ve found joy in being conscious and aware, in taking care of myself. When I lazily place something on a surface I’d spent time cleaning, I’ve been asking myself – is leaving this here going to spark joy? When I want to go all food-addiction on a plate of fried foods, is this really helping me?

I hope this lasts. This is the best I’ve felt in a while. I have further to go, better to do. I have goals that I’ve been chasing for almost two decades now, more joy to have sparked. I’m allowing myself to ease into it, because anxiety is still a real thing, and I’m tired of succumbing to it. I’m tired of chasing my tail.

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