The question I get asked all the time is since my marriage ended is:
So are you happier now?
We humans really do love black or white answers. Certainty. Clear-cut responses. Happy endings.
But life isn't like that.
What feels more real to me is a bittersweetness. A sense of sadness and aliveness and gratitude and excitement all rolled into one.
So are you happier now?
Maybe this isn't a helpful question to ask either ourselves or other people.
When we leave something or move towards something new, maybe it isn't about better or happier.
Because blanket expectations of better or happier just put a lot of pressure on us to be at a certain point in life - for things to have to be a certain way before we can be satisfied.
When we become very attached to the thought that If I make a change, it must-be-better/happier, we focus on not regretting our decision instead of doing what truly matters to us.
This can sound like:
I MUST find a better job if I leave this one.
What if I never find a better partner?
Will I be happier if I leave xx?
I don't think we can ever win with these questions because really - what does better even mean? Better than what? Perhaps we need to define what 'better' looks like for us - what aspects we would want to be different.
Because nothing is ever really totally better - some aspects may be better and others not. And we can't be happy all the time, regardless of our choice. It all depends on what matters to us in a situation.
Closing a chapter
Questions I find more helpful when considering closing a chapter of life and starting a new one are:
Can I be enough of the person I want to be in this job / situation / relationship?
Does this situation / relationship feel alive? Do I feel alive in it?
Coming back to my recent situation, is my life 'better' now a year on? In some ways yes and in others, no. In many ways, it is less comfortable, more stressful, more difficult. In many ways, I feel less safe and less certain of my place in the world.
And yet - when I redefine 'better' as:
Can I be more of the person I want to be now?
Is it more alive?
Oh yeah. Because alive does not mean happy all the time. That isn't real. Alive means growth and vitality. It is the opposite of comfortably numb and going through the motions.
Steve Hayes, the founder of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) says: ”There’s as much life in a moment of pain as a moment of joy.”
Often what is meaningful to us is not easy. It can be challenging, draining, difficult, uncomfortable. Oh, and also: Alive.
And in the end, isn't being alive while we are living one of the most important things in life?
Writing the next chapter
So if you are wondering about closing a chapter, and opening a next chapter in life, it might be worth asking yourself:
Have I done everything I could to try be the person I want to be, given the reality of the situation?
Have I given enough of myself to make this situation feel alive?
Often changing what is in our power to change is worth trying first.
And if you notice that despite what you can change, the situation isn't working for you anymore, it might be time to look into writing the next chapter.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
- from Sweet Darkness by David Whyte