The death of a loved one changes you forever. You mourn, determine your grief work, do the work, and try to build a new life. At least, these are the things I had to do after four loved ones died in 2007. Though I miss my father-in-law, brother, and former son-in-law, my daughter’s death affected me the most. The pain has been unbearable.
Coming to terms with multiple losses is a journey in itself. Reconciliation is hard-won and I had many times when recovery seemed elusive — a moving target I could not reach no matter how fast I ran. Three years have passed since my loved ones died and, during this time, I often thought about happiness. Was it also an elusive goal?
Judith Viorst writes about the mourning process in her book, “Necessary Losses.” After a loved one dies, we make our way through shock, acute pain, weeping, and adaptation. As time passes, “we recover our stability, our energy, our hopefulness, our capacity to enjoy and invest in life,” she writes.
Bill Cosby’s approach to happiness is detailed in a Hospice of Siouxland newsletter article, “Laughter and Loss.” Some criticized Cosby for returning to work so soon after his son was murdered. Cosby did not agree with their opinion. “It’s time for me to tell people that we have to laugh… we’ve got to laugh,” he explained.
Laughter lifts our spirits and contributes to happiness. But mourners who define happiness by their achievements may find it difficult to be happy again. As David D. Burns, M.D. describes in his book, “Feeling Good,” we have to realize that most of us are not great achievers. Yet most Americans are happy and respected, he continues. “Clearly, happiness and great achievement have no necessary connection.”
What is necessary, it seems to me, is the willingness to change. How do we choose happiness? First, we can believe in ourselves. If we were happy in the past, we have the capacity to be happy in the future. Second, we have to learn to trust life again. After Hazelden writer Melodie Beattie’s son died, she showed her trust in life by getting a dog. Instead of getting a pet, you may travel or take a course.
Adjusting our thinking also helps us to choose happiness. When negative thoughts come into my mind, I balance them with positive thoughts. Focusing on the lessons of grief is another way to choose happiness for ourselves. For me the biggest lesson has been that every moment of every day is a miracle.
Happiness is a personal choice, a gift to ourselves, and we are all worthy of it. Every day, we have the opportunity to choose happiness, or as President Abraham Lincoln put it, “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Make up your mind to be happy again and enjoy that happiness. Share it with others every chance you get.