This is a tough question.
At least, it’s a tough question for me personally. What I do know for sure is that I’m a TON more happy now than I ever was as believer. I can look at happiness as an average. Am I bouncing off the walls every day with joy? Of course not! I’d find myself in a padded cell wearing a nice new jacket with sleeves that tie in the back if I was. Am I completely miserable every day? Same answer as above. Over the last few years, however, I think that I’ve found that the average ‘level of happiness’ that I feel has increased steadily. There are lots of reasons that I can attribute this change too, but for the sake of keeping with the general topic of this blog, I’ll stick to the religious reasons.
I can remember with vivid detail the day that I finally admitted to myself that I was an atheist. (It was after a long period of teeter-tottering back and forth on the topic due to the fear of the stigma associated with that moniker.) I’ve told this to several people since then: the feeling was that of a thousand pounds of weight being lifted off of my shoulders. I felt like all the irrational guilt that I had been carrying around with me for years had finally rolled away. I was finally able to look at myself and the world objectively and determine that things are not nearly as dire as I was made to believe. I don’t have to fear infinite punishment for finite crimes. I don’t have to worry that my lifestyle (and the life I wanted to live) was in some way counter to the rules of some dictator in the sky. I don’t have to live according to a rule book that is so self-contradictory that my mind couldn’t make sense of it.
The result? A nearly immediate sense of happiness. Some of that initial ‘thrill’ so to speak, has of course subsided. But the over-all sense that life is much more worth living now continues to be tangible. I now find value in THIS life. I find value in the NOW! Not in aspirations of an eternal existence that not a single person in the world has a drop of evidence for. Why waste even a second of our time here worrying about a 2nd life? Every minute is valuable, because we don’t get that minute back. This outlook is not perfect, and it takes a conscious effort every single day for me to keep it in perspective. I fail OFTEN, but the trend, I believe is in the right direction.
Ok, so it’s been almost a month since I posted anything. And I’ll be completely honest about why. This damn depression has, once again, snuck up on me and smacked me around. While it’s not nearly the intensity that it was 6 or 7 years ago, it sucks nonetheless. It’s disappointing. I thought I had control over this. I was at peace and content with myself, and then, like it does every so often, bam! It’s back. And usually when I least expect it to be. I have so many reasons to be happy and yet, I’m not right now.
I hate even talking or writing about this stuff anymore. It’s just a repetitive, monotonous cycle. But the reality is, talking and writing about it helps me. It always has. I recently found a web-page with a bunch of my old poems and song lyrics that I wrote when I was really struggling. I am amazed how far I’ve come since then, but it’s also a reminder that I still need to make a conscious effort to focus on the positive, live life to the fullest, embrace those around me who matter, and just try to be happy. I say ‘conscious effort’ because, while I had some medical help years ago, and that did help me get through the worst of it, I’ve learned that a lot of the recovery is, in fact, a personal decision. It took me a lot of years and soul-searching (pardon the pseudo-religious euphemism) to train my mind to do that.
I realize that this pattern will soon break and everything will be back to the way it was, but I just needed to get these thoughts out of my head. I apologize to anyone who actually reads this blog for the absenteeism and the downer of a post. I shall finish with one of my writings from long ago:
It’s always raining in my dreams
The water flows from clouds above
Rain soaked memories all around me
Wash me clean of all this blood
I stare the end straight in the eyes
And it looks back and laughs
Nobody sees and nobody knows
Why I walk this darkened path
I wish I could see where this goes
I wish I knew what is around the next corner
Another fork in the road confuses
Another decision is in order
Arms stretched wide I stare at the sky
While the raindrops sting my eyes
Each one a tiny indecision
Their cold wetness cuts like knives