Tuesday, June 12, 2012

happiness

when I first got married, my husband and I had the opportunity to live in Brooklyn for 2 months en route to immigrating to Israel (East 10th and Avenue P for those of you in the know). We took a cute little 1-bedroom basement apartment and equipped ourselves with just a few necessities for our humble abode. New to domestic life (having your own apartment for just you and your husband cannot be compared to dorm life or even rooming with friends in college*... note: i'm pretty sure my roommates and i called our landlord if we needed a lightbulb changed... we were super oblivious to the requirements of running a home), I was having fun experimenting with cooking, cleaning, and even having a laundry pile for two :).

I remember one of the first weeks we were there, we were preparing for Shabbat and I decided that I would figure out how to wash the floor (specifically in the Israeli style of "spongea" where you take a long squeegie stick and wrap some type of absorbent floor towel around it, pour soapy water all over the floor, and then basically rub the towel all around- not sure why the old invention known as 'the mop' never made it here...). So there I was, swishing and pouring and having a grand old time, and I realized that I was actually so excited about what I was doing... I had zero feeling of 'ugh i'm stuck doing this chore when i'd rather be doing something else'. rather, I felt like a little girl playing house, only it was real! there was a husband and a home and a whole real life that I was privileged to be at the center of. And cleaning the floor was just an expression of that reality and so it filled me with absolute joy!

Ok great. So I was a blissful newlywed and the dirty floor water didn't get to me. What's the big deal?

Well, let's fast forward a little bit to our home in Israel which is *Baruch Hashem* busy with little ones, lots of action, and lots of guests, specifically on Shabbat. So Friday afternoon when we are busy finishing all the preparations before Shabbat starts at sundown, there can inevitably be a lot of pressure and even stress. So when the floor is still not clean and then I have to race to try to get it done (my husband is actually extraordinarily helpful around the house, but it turns out this whole spongea business is kind of an art and he has yet to tackle it and learn this most valuable trade himself, so meanwhile floor-cleaning is my responsibility)... so when i'm racing and rushing, let's picture it, do you think i'm in that same blissful state of absolute joy??

probably not!! i would probably look more like a mean angry person who just wants everyone else out of her way...

so how is it that the same act of cleaning the floor can bring so much happiness in one instance (reminding me of my blessings of having a husband and home) but in another it could drive me to resentment, anger, or even despair?

I think the answer comes from two things. 1) Expectations & a feeling of Entitlement. 2) Willingness to see and accept the good.

Now while we might be tempted to say that really the second situation I just described is genuinely harder (trying to accomplish ANY task with young children at foot is never simple) than the first, I can assure you that that is not the real issue here, because there have also been plenty of times when I set aside time to clean the floor when the kids were at school, there was no time pressure, and little else to do, and yet STILL it did not arouse in me the same feelings of bliss that are apparently achievable while spongea-ing!!

Ok, so number one, expectations and entitlement... when we feel like we deserve something or expect it to go only our way, and then it doesn't or we don't get what we want, it is very easy and most natural to then feel down about the situation. So if my floor needs washing and I start saying 'oh poor me I can't find any cleaning help (which urgh btw is true, really haven't found anyone!)' or 'it's not fair, why should I be doing this when really i have better things to do' (which is also true to some extent, i really do have a lot of other obligations) or 'cleaning the floor is beneath me' (ha that last one i made up, not one of my usual complaints)...  then I have both long-term and short-term options to deal with the situation:

long-term: if i feel my concerns are legitimate, then instead of whining or having self-pity, i better just decide to fix the situation (i.e. hire someone to do it for me or teach the kids to do it... which btw i really did, they just used water and no soap and had a great time (note: spongea= way cooler than mop, if you didn't catch that yet), but then you have to worry about them not slipping, it taking too long, etc.... so there's a balance)... but basically, what i'm saying is that if you feel like something in your life is not the way you would like it to be, then by all means, go about finding a solution to fix it for yourself, that is totally legitimate... but if your solution does not include changing the circumstances that have got you to this place (either because it's not worth it for you or maybe it's just beyond your control) then we are left with the choice of being miserable or of changing our attitude...

so what's the short-term fix? it's that attitude change... if i know that today i'm the only one who will be cleaning my floor and i do want it clean, then i could mope my way through the chore (feeling bad for myself and ever more resentful towards the rest of the world as i go), OR (here it comes...) I could throw away those feelings of entitlement and those expectations that things should be otherwise, and simply accept the task at hand. And once I've shed those negative thoughts and can say 'ok so right now my job in the world is to clean this floor' then I am free to move on to the next step, willingness to see and accept the good.

So let's go back to newlywed-me. Not only did I not have any expectations that someone else should be doing my chore for me, but I naturally felt grateful that it was MY chore because of my new stage in life. So seeing the task as mine, I could easily look around and see all the wonderful things that went along with it (which by the way are just as true today... thank G-d I have a husband, a home, energetic children who 'get in the way' of cleaning because they need my attention which really I am so lucky for, etc. etc.... ). The good is there, we just have to let ourselves tune into it.

And this applies for everything in life. If I was expecting a promotion but didn't get it, I have to first shed my expectations and entitlement that 'that job was mine- I DESERVED it.' Once I can say, 'no, I have the right job for me and another opportunity will come along in the right time' (and btw I'm allowed to think of why i DIDN'T get the job and try to learn lessons for the future so maybe next time I will get it, it's just the unproductive negative feelings we want to get away from right away), then I can make a list for myself of all the things I'm grateful for (I still have my old job, I didn't get fired, I have friends, family, a car, 2 hands, my eyesight, nice jeans, comfy shoes, really yummy gum... we can choose whatever we want)! The point is that happiness is ALWAYS within our reach no matter how hard things are.

SO remember, when things don't go your way and you want to choose to be happy, you've got to:
- throw out your feelings of entitlement and expectations that things should've been another way
- look for the good, focus on it, and feel good about it

I hope this will help you all out, and hopefully I will listen to my own advice!!!

I also just ask everyone to please keep my father in your prayers for a complete recovery- his name is David Yaakov ben Golda.

Thank you all, love julie

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