The Happiness Within
Believe it or not, I’ve been doing this a long time. While TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less did take an 18-month hiatus while I was back in the classroom corrupting, I mean educating, the minds of America’s youth, I’ve been publishing this thing every Thursday since 2014. But even before TRUTH was anything more than a twinkle on my burgeoning horizons, I penned a similar column each week for the Summit Daily that was just shorter and had a lot less profanity. If you have been a reader since way back then, first, you really should make better use of your free time, but you will also note that the writing style and the humor haven’t changed much. In fact, I’ve probably recycled more jokes than Steve Harvey. But one thing definitely has changed, and that is my perspective on the whole process, and it speaks to a valuable life lesson I have learned along the way.
The first column I wrote for the paper came out in 2009 and was entitled “The Politics of Doing Nothing”. Using Obama’s inability to get a single-payer health care package through Congress, I made the point that nothing really changes in American government because the people who spend enough to dictate public policy are already benefitting from the system exactly like it is. I liked that column because it blended an unusual and insightful commentary with a splash of good humor, including one of my all-time favorite lines that said Obamacare had become so watered down that “I wouldn’t dare put it back in my parents’ liquor cabinet.” But some people did not find that, or any other part of the piece, funny.
Shortly after the piece hit the street, there were online comments that lambasted me both personally and ideologically. I could not comprehend how someone could write something so angry, so threatening, so vitriolic. Insulted and enraged, I started to let loose of my emotions in a torrent of return comments aimed back in their direction. I wanted to use my words to hurt these people the same way they had hurt me, but let’s face it, armed with better weaponry, I came to kill. It was at that moment that my ex came into the room and asked me what I was doing. When I showed her the comments from these hateful individuals and my subsequent replies, she turned to me and made me promise that if I was going to continue to write for the paper that I would not read the comments afterwards. She could see how personally I had taken the feedback of others.
Fast forward to a comment I got a few weeks back on my piece about the police. Understandably upset about my stance on this issue, a former friend from high school posted on my Facebook page that I was clearly “uneducated”. I pondered the comment for a moment and then laughed to myself because it occurred to me that I knew exactly what I would have written as a response in 2009, “Oh, I’m sorry. I couldn’t hear what you were saying- you know with my B.A. from Colgate shoved in one ear and my Master’s from the University of Vermont in the other.” Now this line would have been funny as hell, but it also would have been asinine and infantile. Instead, I thanked him for his comment and encouraged him to continue to give his feedback, though preferably without the name calling.
And that’s when it struck me- I don’t care what the hell anyone else thinks anymore. Now that doesn’t mean, I don’t value their opinion- I do. But I don’t care what they think about me, or my writing for that matter. I listened to an interview with legendary musician Neil Young recently, and he talked about how he appreciated and embraced criticism as much as he did praise. In both cases, he suggested, the audience was participating. At this point in my writing career, I am just pleased to know that what I wrote evoked a response in someone, good or bad, and that they took the time to read it in the first place. The rest does not belong to me.
So what has changed in me since 2009 that alters how I view my response to criticism? The fact is that I have learned to find the source of my happiness from within rather than from without. Back in 2009 when I reacted so vehemently to the criticism being thrown my way, it bothered me because I was relying on external sources to fill my cup of appreciation and acceptance. When I was instead greeted by critical feedback, I was personally wounded because whenever our happiness is dependent on the world outside ourselves, it is subject to being taken from us.
But not so when our happiness comes from within. Since 2009, I have had to grapple with why I have always been so unhappy in my relationships and why I was so quick to view the world in a negative light. The answer that came back to me was that I was trying to rely on others for what only I could provide, and that I then became upset with them when they failed to provide it. While others can bring us immense joy, it is only when we look inside ourselves for happiness that we will find the contentment that we seek.
So here I am single and getting negative feedback on my columns on a nearly weekly basis and you know what? I’ve never been happier. While the positive remarks in the comment section put a smile on my face, so too do the negative ones. And hey, I will date again someday, but, much to my dad’s consternation, I’m not in any rush, because until then, I am enjoying all the beauty and light life has to provide me. So thank you to all of you who read this drivel each and every week. And keep on posting your comments no matter what you have to say. Unlike Facebook, I’ll leave it up there for everyone to see.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com