Three of the best ways to Be HAPPY (and how I measure up accordingly…)

I found this article via LESLEY CARTER’S BLOG.

My (Pam Wagner’s) self-evaluations are in colors contrasting with original text.

Lesley’s comment: “This article is from Chiara Fucarino. Enjoy!”

Original Blog: There are two types of people in the world: those who choose to be happy,

Two Happy Girls Dancing Around A Tree (picture by Pam Wagner)

and those who choose to be unhappy. Contrary to popular belief, happiness doesn’t come from fame, fortune, other people, or material possessions. Rather, it comes from within. The richest person in the world could be miserable while a homeless person could be right outside, smiling and content with their life. Happy people are happy because they make themselves happy. They maintain a positive outlook on life and remain at peace with themselves.

The question is: how do they do that?

It’s quite simple. Happy people have good habits that enhance their lives. They do things differently. Ask any happy person, and they will tell you that they …

1. Don’t hold grudges.

Pam Wagner : In my life I have tried to follow a path of forgiveness, and luckily forgetting comes more easily than hanging on to wrongs of many sorts. Alas, however, as many know who read this blog, the wrongest wrongs that have been done to me, those committed by the people who said that they wanted to help me (meaning in hospitals) seem to be both stuck in my craw, so to speak, stuck in my psyche, and to be wrongs that I am stuck in, you might even say mired in. I KNOW that it is not good for me to keep going over the same old ground…I know that rerunning these movies only paralyzes me and keeps me from writing anything other than the same old trauma track, again and again. BORRRRRRRIng to the max. But I do not seem to get it, to mean it, to absorb the message where it matters, that is, in my heart. I still worry the mangy sore until it bleeds and I tremble and cry and feel the shit and the hurt all over again. Why? Why do I do this? It is craziness. It just makes me miserable! Not only does it not make me happy, it only increases my continuing unhappiness and misery. Yet I refuse, yes, it must be in some sense willful…I won’t let it go. As if to let it go, to let go of my hurt and rage and misery means that they — the people who abused me — will have gotten away with it. And to admit that means that they won.


Yes, they did get away with it. Frankly. YES. So Why not give it up. Give my pain away and let it go? NOBODY and NOTHING is going to change because I have held onto it since 2oo9 (or before) nor because I keep adding to my stock of additional hurts with each abusive hospital stay that happens. Each additional “I told you so.  ALL Hospitals ABUSE ME…” Of course hospitals abuse patients….They especially abuse patients who do not agree to the contract to take medications while they are there. What else do I expect them to do? That is what they are predicated on, and what else would anyone expect in Connecticut hospitals? This is NOT Vermont or Massachusetts after all! We do not have Open Dialogue experiments nor the in-patient sorts of intensive programs that allow psychotic persons to go through their experiences drug-free. Just what do I expect? If I go into a hospital for care and personal safety, I have to have already agreed to this sort of contract so I’d better agree to SOME drug therapy or be prepared for forcible injections! (This is what Donna suggests and isn’t she correct? I know what to expect, even if I do not agree with the premise. It is not as if I haven’t been around their block a few times!)

But that’s beside the point. What is important at the moment is that I can forgive them. ALSO, I CAN FORGIVE MYSELF for letting them abuse me. The truth is when it comes right down to it, it is myself that I hate the most for permitting them to restrain me “voluntarily” at Middlesex, naked and without protestation, in terror of what would happen to me in fighting back…But positioned in a physically torturous way so that it resulted in extreme pain, because as we all knew, it was punishment  and not for safety at all, they tortured me deliberately…NO, I will not go there, I will take a deep breath and forgive them, forgive them because they were good people doing bad things, and who knows what was in their minds or what had happened to them that day…

THe same goes for my passive non-resistance at the Institute of Living this past winter, when it took one or two nurses at most to restrain me, simply because I let them do it. It was punishment and not “necessary”, just a disciplinary measure” to teach me a lesson that I permitted because I (wrongly) believed that if I didn’t put up resistance I would be taken out quickly. Instead, I was kept in full restraints for many hours…But NO, I will not go over that ground, but let it go. Let it go. Deep breath, let the hurt and the pain go and the bad thoughts breathe out… I cannot do anything to stop  it or change it, but I can forgive them and forgive myself for not doing everything differently. It is over. Nothing can change what happened. And indeed maybe they will continue to do what they do.

I can ONLY change myself. I can ONLY change myself. But you know, that is a good thing, because in fact I CAN CHANGE myself! HAPPY IS THE PERSON WHO KNOWS THAT SHE CAN CHANGE HERSELF…AND WORKS ON THAT. Today I vow to stop blaming myself and others for past traumas that keep me and my mind mired in misery. And I vow to practice forgiveness. I want to learn radical forgiveness that finds the GOOD even in people who were cruel to me…THAT is hard, but just as I like to try to make my worst enemies my friends in order to preserve my sanity, this too must become my way of being. For the sake of my sanity and my life.

Original Blog: Happy people understand that it’s better to forgive and forget than to let their negative feelings crowd out their positive feelings. Holding a grudge has a lot of detrimental effects on your wellbeing, including increased depression, anxiety, and stress. Why let anyone who has wronged you have power over you? If you let go of all your grudges, you’ll gain a clear conscience and enough energy to enjoy the good things in life.

Pam Wagner: Forgiveness is much more important than merely to decrease depression, anxiety and stress. If you forgive those who have wronged you, and then find it possible to forgive yourself for permitting them the power to abuse you, that forgiveness has in itself an amazing power to heal and strengthen and empower. I believe that when we can forgive and let go of the worst wrongs done to us, and forgive ourselves the fact that we allowed others to do these things to us, we can actually  grow better and stronger than ever from the experience. It is possible that such experiences can actually make us stronger than we might otherwise have been, more compassionate and more sensitive to the needs of others and more understanding of how the world works. But this is possible only when we truly forgive and grow away from and out of the destructive aspects of our hurt and use forgiveness creatively.  

2. Treat everyone with kindness.

Pam Wagner: Despite my often cruel (verbal) behavior to the contrary in hospital, this is not “my usual” by any means. It was strictly my response to their treatment of me and while I was never proud of calling people nasty names, I also will not “own” such behavior as “my norm”. I believe that I usually  try to behave with kindness towards all. This is important to me, for the simple reason that I know what it is like to be treated with unkindness and judgmental attitudes and in general I never want others to feel as I have. It is cruel to inflict pain on others deliberately, and as a rule, I avoid it at all costs. But there is more to this.

It is critical that a KIND ATTITUDE, non-judgmental and open-minded, underlie kind behavior. How can one behave kindly when one is judgmental in attitude? It is very difficult and certainly hypocritical. Usually those served can tell the difference. I have been hauled up short time and again by friends I thought were kindly, and therefore kind, when hearing them make unkind judgmental comments, sometimes on mere passersby, and at times on something as inconsequential as their appearance, nothing more. How superficial can one be? And how little  — ie, no one can read another’s mind about why they choose to look as they do — how little can you possibly know about a person than why they appear as they do???

Yet people have made extraordinarily nasty “aside” comments to me, seemingly in passing, about strangers, even their weight, something completely “surface” about their appearance…and it has shocked me. How on earth could anyone make  judgement calls about anyone’s, much less a stranger’s appearance? We cannot have any idea why a person looks as they do, not why they are thin nor why they may be morbidly obese or somewhere in-between..not even when they appear to be carelessly, mindlessly obliterating a mountain of heart attack french fries that their 400-pound plus body doesn’t “need”. For example, no one knew I was taking 40 mg of obesity- inducing Zyprexa when I was fat, nor that I was psychologically anorexic at one and the same time…They just labelled me “a pig” (if they did) and if they were as insensitive as many are they likely thought a lot of nasty other things about why that was so. But what do we “know” about other people or why they do what they do? We know nothing, not a single damn thing, despite all the petty and judgmental assumptions others feel justified in making. 

Some may FEEL that an obese person is “pigging out” on “junk food” they “do not need” but they have no inner knowledge or compassionate feeling for what the person is actually experiencing and are only judging them, with negative results and nastiness that makes them feel better but condemns the person judged to outer darkness. If the judger “look better” compared to the “slutty out of control obesity” then, well, they cannot be so bad, can they? But at what price such self-esteem, and at what cost the other’s devaluation? A terrible price and cost both.

Dr Mary O’Malley, a psychiatrist I once foolishly trusted and adored, writing in my medical chart when I was admitted to CP-3 at Norwalk Hospital, even as I wrapped myself in my winter coat despite the heat of summer,  commented that I was “obese, filthy and wearing soiled clothing with a malodorous smell.” (I quote from memory, but it was something to that effect, and probably worse than I recall…) Now she would have claimed that she was not judging me, only making a clinical observation, but words like these are “fighting words”  and no one, not even the most “debilitated schizophrenic” likes to be called obese, filthy or malodorous, “factual” or not.

Furthermore, Dr O’Malley knew perfectly well that the reason I was psychotic was that I had been so unhappy with Zyprexa-induced obesity that I had stopped taking the offending medication…with predictable consequences and that I wrapped myself in my sweaty, smelly winter coat because I was ashamed of my size and disgusted by how much room I took up. So to then go on to judge me for these things, using the weapons of “objective clinical judgment” only added insult to injury. But that’s the point. She judged me, and disliked me because of it. I felt the sting of this judgement often and in many ways.

But now I am learning to understand this and vowing to understand and forgive it and her (see above), but above all never to repeat what was done to me while interacting with others.

That is one thing i am actually good: NOT judging people ( at least most of the time). I like the feeling of understanding where a person is coming from. I feel good giving them a “break” and figuring out what it is that drives them to do what they do, especially when no one else tries to…It makes me feel better to understand someone no one else bothers with, instead of judging them. I feel less stressed and frankly I feel better when I feel kindly towards someone, which makes me want to behave kindly towards that same person. It is true, however, that I try harder to understand the underdog than the “overseer” and this is a failing of mine. I don’t try as hard to understand the privileged person as I do the poorly treated or abused. I need to give everyone a fair shake. Yes, even REPUBLICANS! 8)

*The only other thing i will say about kindness is that even when you do not FEEL KINDLY, you must behave with kindness. Behaving with kindness, acting with love, can itself bring on feelings of kindness. “Caritas” or charity is loving kindness, but it describes a behavior of loving kindness. “Fake it till you make it.” Doing acts of kindness will make you feel more kind and more kindly disposed towards those you may have formerly despised. 

Original Blog: “Did you know that it has been scientifically proven that being kind makes you happier? Every time you perform a selfless act, your brain produces serotonin, a hormone that eases tension and lifts your spirits. Not only that, but treating people with love, dignity, and respect also allows you to build stronger relationships.”

(There were several other injunctions in the blog about how to be happy that lay between that one and the following, but I want to emphasize the next one, so if you want to see what I left out, check out the websites mentioned at the top.)

3. Take the time to listen.

Talk less; listen more. Listening keeps your mind open to others’ wisdoms and outlooks on the world. The more intensely you listen, the quieter your mind gets, and the more content you feel.

Pam Wagner: Truth is, Most people prefer to talk. Listening is very difficult, and it takes work to pay attention. Certain people find it more difficult than others to “not talk.” For me, because of narcolepsy, long passages of not talking/deep listening must always be peppered with “encouragement words” as well as questions to keep my mind alert, because otherwise too long a lack of physical engagement can put me into such a narcoleptic state of non-arousal as to leave me liable to falling fast asleep. I have learned that I can always listen and “interrupt” a speaker if I gently ask her a question about what she was just talking about.   This way, I do not run the risk of napping because someone talks without a break and puts me into an inadvertent  drowse. At the same time, I do not seem rude despite my interruptions because I am after all only asking  for clarification of points that the person just made.

When I was in high school (I may have already been borderline narcoleptic at the time — I brought knitting into my classes to help me listen to the teachers), I rarely spoke, and was often called, behind my back, the Zombie because of my apparent lack of engagement with the world. Nevertheless, those who bothered with me knew that I remained an apparently very good listener. Many a lonely teenager, and there were plenty in that New Haven college prep all-girls school in the 60s, sought me out to listen to them. I do not recall what I said to them, nor if I counseled anything at all. I cannot imagine that I did, since I had no experience of life from which to offer advice of any sort. But I think I knew how to present the face of an active listener, nevertheless, with just the right “Go ahead” and “Yes?” and “Uh huh?” in the places where they were needed, just enough for the person talking to feel that she was being heard. That was all that they required, so it seemed. 

All I recall is that I was talked to, talked at,  often enough that I remember feeling like it was “my job” to be the resident “pair of ears” in high school, small as it was. I knew never to  speak about myself, and had precious little to offer by way of advice. But I knew that I had my ears and my act of attentiveness (which was precious indeed, esp as I suspected most of these girls had no one else at all to listen to them), and if nothing else I needed to feel needed. So it served  some purpose even  for me. I was into self sacrifice, and it felt that way…

I also may have felt used, yes, at one and the same time. After all, who did they think they were reaching out to, someone with a great deal of sanity and stability, someone who could handle their problems and upheavals? What did they think, really? Did they think about it or me at all? Even at the time it stunned me that they would want to burden me, knowing that I was possibly the most unstable girl in school at the time, or at least the least known quantity in my class, and possibly psychotic. But no one seemed concerned about me or my status, not at any rate when they wanted to share their petty lives with me. I was just a blank canvas or a pair of ears who said, Uh huh in the right spots, and never otherwise objected!

ON THE OTHER HAND, and there must be another hand, I must have wanted these one- sided needy conversations somehow to continue, because I did not need to encourage them, and could easily have discouraged them. I did not. It is easy to stop someone from talking to you. You simply ignore them and they shut up and go away. It is much harder and more work to be an active listener, to appear interested and to actually listen well enough to put in all those appropriate “Uh Huhs,” and “Really”s and “Go ahead”…in the right enough spots to encourage continuation. Moreover, I had many “repeat offenders! I know that certain girls would seek me out time and again to tell me their stories, and I would listen over and and over as they sobbed out repeated tales of woe. It was in that sense a two-way street, even if one, mine, was as a seemingly passive recipient and I obdurately refused to offer anything about myself at any time, not even when openly asked for information…It was in fact part of my ethic, that I was NEVER to speak of myself or my life..My self-sacrifice openly involved the sacrifice of self-talk. I was to disavow self-interest as well, and all self-talk indicated “unhealthy” and grotesquely selfish self-interestedness and self-involvement..All of which had to be disavowed entirely…You can only imagine what it was like for me to see a therapist at Brown, thinking like this. (Why did I go at all? A roommate encouraged me, but I dunno why I listened…) While I did make my appointments, I never spoke a word, but wrote her cryptic notes and sat in her office in silence while she considered them…Never did find out what she thought, about  them or me…Had no interest in that, I wanted only to increase my self-effacement, to be more successful at it, not less!

4) Value honesty in all areas of your life and tell the truth.

Original Blog: Lying is a huge source of stress, corrodes your self-esteem, and makes you unlikeable. The truth will set you free. Being honest improves your mental health and builds others’ trust in you. Always be truthful, and never apologize for it.

Pam Wagner: Let the others in your life know that they speak truthfully in all things too, without fearing your anger. They should feel free to be real with you. Honesty really is the best policy in life but brutality is not the same thing as simple honesty and one does not need to be cruel just because one values truth. If someone cannot tell the difference between truth and cruelty, it is sometimes because they are motivated to be cruel to people, not because truthfulness requires a brutal telling.

I have more to say about cruelty, truth, honesty and such, but I am tired and need to quit for now. So MORE LATER…


3 thoughts on “Three of the best ways to Be HAPPY (and how I measure up accordingly…)”

  1. Hi Pam –
    One section of what you just wrote, in particular, jumped out at me:
    “I thought the job was done after I forgave my father! Hah! Little did I know…”
    I smiled because I remember the light bulb going on over my head when I realized that whenever I thought I was “done” with some lesson in my life, some event or person or job would show me yet another lay of the problem. Entering into a committed, living-together relationship with someone – now going on four years – dumped the entire trash can of issues I thought I was done with right over my head! Top of the list is struggling to maintain my individuality while also recognizing that there has to be give and take in a relationship. Trust is also a huge issue. Being vulnerable – yikes! Not being afraid of conflict – and yet, “fighting” fair. Sharing finances. Sharing household responsibilities. Good Lord, the list seems a mile long — and in the midst of all this, is my ADD and anxiety issues. It gets overwhelming, and so I’ve decided I need to find a good therapist and work on some of this with another human being. Eventually, as I told my boyfriend, I’d like us to go to couples counseling but for now, I have to figure out my OWN head! My boyfriend, thank God, is a patient and low-key guy – on the other hand, that also means he tries to avoid conflict and that results in some unresolved

  2. THANK YOU so much for your comments as always Brenda. I have always respected everything you write about forgiveness because I know you have “been there and done it.” By the way, I wrote most of the blog post above. All the blue printing at least. Most of what is in black was quoted from Lesley Carey’s site which was taken from someone else’s…Hope that helps clear up any mystery about who wrote what. IN truth, I rarely reblog something without making it entirely my own. Yes, once in a while I have, I admit that. But mostly I write my own blog posts, as I have here. And I too have thought a lot about forgiveness in my life and others lives. I just didn’t quite understand the extent to which I needed to put it into practice until now. I thought the job was done after I forgave my father! Hah! Little did I know…It had just begun. Now I need to start the real job of forgiveness, and forgive myself for allowing all this bad stuff to just happen without protesting more…Because I really rip myself to shreds about that late at night…But no more, no more. It wasn’t my fault and I am no more to blame for the abuse than the sky is for being blue…i can take charge and let me be…let it all go. i have a life to live still and work to do that needs my energy…no time for regrets and anger, shame or guilt tripping.

    Thanks again, and welcome back…i am so happy to know you have been reading wagblog still.



  3. Aug. 29, 2013

    Hi Pam – as you know from my previous postings here, the subject of forgiveness is one that has been uppermost in my mind for much of my adult life.

    In the past, I’ve written here about my epiphany when a therapist pointed out I could forgive someone without EXCUSING what they did to me. That was huge – I truly felt like a piano had been lifted off my chest. So, that mirrors what’s said in the blog you quote, and your own comments, that forgiveness often means liberating your own self!

    I also have written here before about my amazement upon being told by a former U.S. hostage held in Iran that he not only forgave the people who took five years, FIVE YEARS, of his life – but even went back to visit a few of them.

    He said they were young men living in a dirt poor, war torn country who had no other way – in their own minds anyway – of doing something meaningful with their lives and so they threw themselves into this “cause.” I actually began crying (in front of other reporters, no less) and asked him incredulously, “How could you ever forgive someone who took five years of your life???” He responded that he wasn’t going to give them any MORE years of his life, by hating them or holding onto the pain. That was about 20 years ago and clearly, his words stayed with me.

    Likewise, I’ve written here about the Holocaust survivors whose stories I transcribed while a student working in the Oral History Dept. at UConn. I know most of us could never begin to understand what it was like to be in a concentration/death camp — but they also taught me about forgiveness… or at least, about moving beyond the horror of that part of their lives.

    The ones who were leading happy lives here in the U.S. pointed out that they didn’t consider this one part of their lives as defining who they ARE. As they said, they had normal lives before the Holocaust and went on to have normal lives – family, friends, jobs – after the Holocaust. I still find that incredible!

    In a small way, though, I can understand this lesson in my own life. As what some people call a sexual abuse “survivor,” I have chosen to think of that as only one part of my life — my life is SO MUCH MORE! Why should I let one brief period of my life define the remainder? Doesn’t make any sense, does it? The good experiences and people in my life far outweigh the ugly parts.

    So, in all of this, I see a light at the end of the tunnel for you – you are not your hospital experiences, Pam, you are SO MUCH MORE! Writer, artist, friend, thinker, do-er, adventurer, traveler — add to the list!

    The while hospitals took away your freedom and control over your own well-being — it was not for forever and always.

    I think the big hurdle in getting past your previous experiences is that you anticipate being in the hospital again and each experience in the hospital, it sounds like, has reinforced the previous ones… I think that’s pretty sticky stuff that most people would find very difficult to extricate themselves from.

    On top of which, dealing with a “mental illness” does tend to make us very sensitive to any person or situation that takes away control over what happens to us (which is threatening to any living creature) – compounded by general lack of information/exposure/understanding on the part of people in our lives about “mental illness.” If we feel misunderstood, viewed as “freakish,” and we are in reality potentially at the mercy of someone else restricting our freedoms — then forgiveness is going to come hard!

    However, as the writer you quote here points out, it is to OUR OWN benefit to try to let go and forgive, so that we FREE OURSELVES. It’s not about the other guy. It’s about treating OURselves the way we treat others in our lives who we love and respect. It’s about our own health and well-being. It’s about being good to ourselves and realizing that we do in fact deserve to be happy – joyous, even. So maybe we need to be fierce about defending the positive, life affirming parts of our lives but minimizing the time we think/feel about past wrongs.

    Thank you for being so frank about your struggle, Pam and please know that you are respected and supported for doing so! — Brenda

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