I’m writing a letter to my future self, because I know the moment is coming, as it always does, when scrolling down my Instagram feed leads me to start feeling sorry for myself. This is for future me, when a picture of someone else’s kitchen (who I’ll never meet) elicits the wrong belief in my heart that there isn’t enough abundance and happiness to go around. This letter is to remind myself about the lie that just because some stranger’s Instagram feed is prettier than mine, I’m missing out on beauty in my own life.
You see, today, I am overcome with how perfect my life is, for me. I am overwhelmed with the feeling that what I have is enough. I feel utterly grateful for every moment of this imperfect, overcrowded, disorganized life. Future self, you can be happy. I know this because today, I am filled to the brim with happiness. I’m suddenly aware that happiness is always within my grasp, if only I can focus on nourishing what I have and being thankful for it—and the best part is it absolutely doesn’t have to look the way other people’s happiness looks.
Self? Today, happiness looks like piled up throw pillows, goldfish cracker crumbs on the floor, early-afternoon sunshine streaming through my mid-century windows, and the hilariously witty texts from my sister-in-law making me laugh out loud as I sit alone at my desk. It sounds like the whir of the dishwasher too late in the day, the laughter of my son (and one of his best friends) happily playing video games in the basement, and the sound of falling rain coming from the sound machine in my sleeping baby’s bedroom. It smells like hours-old coffee, banana bread, and shampoo, because today I actually washed my hair, and that’s a big deal. It feels like the embrace of my dearest friend, my mother, my grandmother, and my nieces, all of whom I’ve had the pleasure of hugging today. It feels like the joy that accompanies living near my childhood friends in our childhood town, not because we haven’t been offered chances at bigger and better things further away, but because (so far) we’ve chosen to intentionally build a life that stays put and regularly crosses paths with the people we love.
Self? Happiness is in the imperfection. It’s in the gift of time. It’s investing in the people I know and love, forfeiting the magnanimous, more photographable adventures for living room book clubs, Monday night community groups, and the lake trip with supper club. It’s going to the same, imperfect church every Sunday morning. It’s choosing one group of people with which to laugh, mourn, worship, and grow. It’s going to therapy. It’s watching Netflix with the husband I’ve weathered storms with, and rejoicing that we’ve come out stronger and transformed. It’s reading good books out loud with my littles, taking the time to snuggle them, learn about their dreams, and let them talk about their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment or redirection.
True happiness cannot be captured on our Instagram feeds; it has nothing to do with the number of “likes” we get. It still flows to those who don’t have Pinterest-worthy backyards, and still floods the hearts of those who don’t blog about it afterward. In fact, it often favors the people who aren’t afraid of the mess. It nestles closely to the ones who have nothing to prove, who bravely bare the dirt of their souls to people who’ve earned the right to hear it, experiencing intimacy and grace, which is always a preferable substitution for the spotlight and the pedestal.
Happiness is for you. It’s for where you are, no matter what that looks like. It’s for the people who live in houses with fingerprints all over the walls, smudges all over the table, and overflowing laundry baskets. It’s for those of us who drink wine out of boxes and eat the same leftovers three nights in a row.
This world is not a stage. Life is not a competition. Your Instagram feed is not nearly as important as you think it is. And other people’s Instagram feeds are not the same thing as a life. Because life is messier than filters allow, it’s more meaningful than a caption can express, and the most glorious parts? Well, they’re far too precious to post online. True happiness will not fit on a social media page. It is only found deep within those who bravely take responsibility for their choices and are able to greet their lives with an open hand and a grateful heart—dirty walls and all.