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How to Be Happy: Building Joy From Suffering

06/16/2010 09:14 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Born with two strikes against me, dwarfism plus degenerative arthritis, I was hardly expected to reach the heights of happiness, right? "You've been shortchanged," the world silently chanted. "I'm not good enough!" I screamed at the gods. Doctors wrote across the clipboards of my childhood: abnormal, deformed, defective. Everyday stares and taunting stomped heavily on my heart. I'll never be okay. I'll never be enough. Little did I know, then, that two strikes against me, was like striking gold.

For years I rebelled every time I looked in the mirror. I proclaimed the world heartless when I ran into ridicule. I felt alone and misunderstood when I partook of pity, and I rallied my anger to protect my floundering fears. I became so embedded in my problems I didn't realize I was helping to sustain them. Rats.

The fear of being different, in a world that encourages conformity, kept me in cookie-cutter mode. I longed to be "normal" because I thought it meant I'd belong. I did not want to be me. I wanted to be them. But in following the herd, I was disallowing my soul. I fell inside my tears and despair. I stepped outside of my dreams.

But even my deepest fears telling me to stay hidden couldn't quell the longings. My wish list was growing larger and louder by the day: a lovable body, a husband, a home, children, a career. With no sign of any of these, I had to dig deeper. Unable to conform to the outside world, I was called to the inner one. My little "enemy" body became the catalyst for questions. It led me inside for the answers. Always the last place you look!

Personal growth books suggested that excavating inner joy would be a magnet for the outer goodies as well. Maybe I had the cause and effect backward all along; instead of joy being a by-product of my outer circumstances, it could be the producer. Hm. Instead of panning for problems, I had to mine for more.

I had thought my negative forecasting had been an accurate reflection of the world, but when I took an objective look at my life, I had made my world reflect my predictions. I'd been asking for healing and love, yet I'd been preparing for the pain I'd always known. The universe had been providing a neutral illustration of what I'd come to expect. By worrying that I was never-good-enough, I'd inadvertently built my own Ft. Knox. I'd simply landed on the wrong side of the wall. But with my beliefs, the golden creators, I could change the blue-print.

With this new understanding, my heart began to peek out from hibernation. I gradually shifted into meditation, workshops, affirmations and tons of reading. I began to repeat in quiet whispers: I am beautiful just as I am. I am valuable. I am lovable. I am. When I made the choice for joy, it rose up to replace the old lies.

Instead of fighting against the adversity, I began to prospect for possibilities, to find meaning, to tune out the status quo and to listen to my soul. As I found reasons to be grateful, I stumbled upon even more. I discovered that through the years of self-rejection, surgeries, struggles and unrequited love, I had been slowly learning, from every angle, who I was not and, in turn, who I am. My soul had been there all along, peacefully taking notes, observing the magnificent experiment of being a spirit in an uncommon costume.

Without my mind-boggling adventure, what would I have unearthed? The challenge is in the treasure-hunt. It sparks the inventiveness. It wills us to grow. It shakes us up until we become real. Without masks, without pretense, we can then sit at the mirror of ourselves and appreciate the wealth. All nuggets welcome.

It turns out, that being human is not for the faint of heart. We each bravely submit to different handicaps, and although some are more visible than others, they are equally noble teachers. It's been an eye-opening delight to discover that on the inside, where it counts, I was never so different after all. Even though we feel separated by our circumstances and secret fears, we really are one. No loneliness necessary. My once impossible wish-list was not so far off after all. Every wish came true. More are on the way.

Today, I continue to marvel at how essential it is (and sometimes so difficult) to believe in ourselves, to trust that life is working out for us, to go with the flow, to choose joy everyday, to do what inspires us, and to let the rest fall into place. You know why? It works. I'm still shaking my head in amazement. I spent a lot of my life under pressure, pushing, trying. I wanted to be responsible, serious, hard working. But my striving to make things go my way was being canceled out by my own disbelief. I was smack in the way of my dreams until I understood the magic in believing.

So most nights, as I drift off to sleep, I take time out to envision myself doing more of what I love, picturing a dream coming true and feeling it as if it has already happened. That's the key. Feeling the peace and joy of it. Feeling that I am a match to my dreams draws me right into the heart of them. With the power of imagination, delight ripples out into the universe, bringing back more of the same. It turns troubles into treasures, pain into purpose, heartache into wholeness. Joy is where we come from and it's where we're headed. Joy is just a new thought away. Striking gold is closer than we think.

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