from which happy is made

I am happy.

For me, this simple-sounding understanding was very hard won.

I routinely endured violence growing up. I managed to endure it by separating my mind from my body. As I saw indicators violence was imminent, I’d drift away from my bodily harsh reality and into daydreams, a drifting away I did so often that I eventually stopped knowing how to come back to my body at all.

For a couple of years now, I’ve been doing the hard work of learning to come back to my body. Most the time, the work feels like running a marathon having only run a mile or two in preparation; I so want to quit, but I want the satisfaction of finishing the run even more. So I keep stepping through the pain, and taking heart in the fortitude I’m showing in doing so.

Part of living so disembodied for so long is that I’ve had virtually no contact between my head and heart. What happened in my heart has typically been a total mystery to my head, and vice versa. I didn’t have identifiable feelings so much as three feeling buckets: the good-feeling bucket, the bad-feeling bucket, and the mystery what-is-this-even? one.

I’ve experienced the last few months as a tornado of learning about feelings.

At first, the tornado began as a breeze sweeping a few gentle lessons my way. After I’d absorbed those blessed gifts, I was surprised to feel the breeze not so much flowing by me as coming to encircle me. At first, the encompassing felt gentle, almost sustaining, and I delighted in what I was coming to know.

With each lesson I learned, though, the encompassing came to feel much rougher. Each learning ended up being the foundation for three more, so that I soon found myself completely lost within the tornado. I wanted to exit it and knew exactly how to do so, but, even more than I wanted to exit it,

I wanted the satisfaction of learning all I could learn only by finishing it.

The Friday before last, I came to understand I needed to make some changes immediately to keep myself in acceptable behavior.

I tried something I’d never tried before. While it was an objectively small thing, it was subjectively terrifying for me—exactly the kind of thing that would’ve been used as an excuse for violence, were I still a child.

You know what actually happened?

Nothing bad. No one even appeared to have noticed.


I felt so burden-liftedly light I thought I might actually, bodily

drift away.

The same thing happened when I tried something else later that day, so that I saw very clearly:

I have been weighing myself down with rules that no longer apply.

No one else has been doing that; I have. Which means:

I and I alone can let those rules go. Which means:

it’s fully within my power.

No one else’s.


The following day, I stayed in my body for the entirety of the hardest conversation of my life so far. More than simply staying in my body, I showed up for the conversation with love and tenderness.

Afterward, I was crystal clear I was only able to do that because of all the grace and space I’d made for myself the day before.

As the week passed, I kept taking action to let go of shit rules from my childhood. Every time I took such an action, I felt … something. Something weird. Something I’d previously have put in my good-feeling bucket.

Was it … contentment? No, that felt too mild for what I was experiencing, which also wasn’t as loud as joy. Thinking of the “Places We Go When Life Is Good” section of Brown’s Atlas of the Heart, I wondered, “Wait, is this … happiness? I think this feeling is … happiness!”

Re-reading the passage on happiness, I was delighted to find a match for what I was feeling. In contrast to joy, “Happiness is stable, longer-lasting, and normally the result of effort. It’s lower in intensity than joy and more self-focused. With happiness, we feel a sense of being in control.”

I was not only happy, a feeling much more rich and complex than I’d ever understood when witnessing it in other people, I was happy because I’d taken important actions in line with my own values. I’d couraged. I’d connected. I’d shown curiosity,

all of which paved the way for me to understand

what happy feels like.

(I. did. this.)

I am happy.

To have this feeling,
to hold it and feel its lightness and know it by name,
to know that I know it by name only because I dared to venture the profound discomfort of riding out the tornado:
this is the stuff from which

4 thoughts on “from which happy is made

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