Wellness Wednesday #3: Choosing Happiness

buttonIn the spring of 1999, a professor came to my French course to advertise that summer’s abroad program in Bourges. I loved the idea, but my boyfriend objected, and I discovered I could only get financial aid in the form of a loan. Reluctantly, I let the idea drop. A couple months later, the professor came again. I saw pictures of Bourges and fell in love. Despite my boyfriend’s protests, I took out a loan and signed up to go. Not long after, I was on my way to France.

path to imep 1

It was the best decision I’ve ever made in my entire life.

fav pic everIf I had to pin down the happiest, freest, most life-affirming part of my personal history, those six weeks in France would be it. In that time, I lived solely for myself. I surrounded myself with things and people and places I loved. I had adventures and romances. I left my old, worn-out, dysfunctional relationship while I was there, and I met my future husband over email through a mutual friend. I spent a hushed night in a couchette with a Venetian who didn’t speak a word of English (we communicated in broken French). I ate tons of chocolate croissants and jars of yogurt and plates of fries. I laughed so much that my stomach hurt, walked miles over cobblestones daily, and cut short the hair I’d kept long for too many years at my ex’s urging.

I have no regrets about the spur of the moment decision I made to join last-minute the program in Bourges. It may not have been practical, and other people were unhappy about it, but the decision made me happy. That was my only criteria. Everything else screamed no. My happiness screamed yes. For once, I listened to my heart.

True Confessions
That decision was the first I can ever remember making purely on the basis of what would make me happy. I was twenty years old. Furthermore, very few decisions I’ve made in the sixteen years since have been rooted primarily – much less solely – in happiness.

This has really only come to my attention recently. I’m used to making practical decisions, or ones based on necessity, or based on the best outcome for everyone else, or based on how people will judge me for it. My happiness rarely weighs in. But therapy and recent decisions have made me evaluate why I do the things I do.

Why did I choose paralegal studies? Because it was a career that wouldn’t make me feel embarrassed or inferior to admit to. WRONG. Why did I lose over 100 lbs? Because I could feel the weight of others’ judgement. WRONG. Why did I keep going to a therapist for two months when her office made me deeply uneasy and didn’t help a bit? Because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings by leaving. WRONG. Why do I refuse to self-publish? Because people would think I’m not a “real” writer if I do. WRONG. And so on.

I have a lot of decisions to make about my future right now. I dropped my paralegal course and my current therapist, and need to find new directions in both those areas. I need to decide about going back to school, and what to study, and how to move forward with my writing. I need to figure out how to balance weight loss and loving myself. But I don’t want to make any of these decisions the way I used to. I want my personal happiness, peace, and enjoyment to be a big part of that decision-making process.

Dear younger Manda,

You are an extremely practical, sensible person, and I applaud you for taking a more cautious, less Gryffindor-ish approach to life. Rushed, thoughtless decisions generally make for a lot of pain and regrets. Sometimes, however, you overthink things. Sometimes, it’s okay to just let go and do things that you suspect you will love. Perhaps allow your heart to have more say in your decisions. It’s okay to have some regrets. Without them, you’ll just end up having regrets for not doing things you wished you’d done.

Love, modern-day Manda
PS – Go to Bourges.

About Amanda

Agender empty-nester filling my time with cats, books, fitness, and photography. She/they.
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10 Responses to Wellness Wednesday #3: Choosing Happiness

  1. gricel says:

    That sounds like a wonderful experience! I definitely regret not traveling while in school, but it’s definitely something I look forward to now that I can afford the occasional pleasure jaunt. I’ve also made a lot of “safe” choices in life, part of my own baggage and background, but it’s a habit I’m starting to break from.

    plus, Paris is never a bad idea.


    • Amanda says:

      Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of travel options these days, what with kids and all. We’ve done a few cruises, but that’s very surface-level in terms of real travel. I don’t regret it, and on one occasion it was lovely to go to Puerto Rico early and spend a day walking around in Old San Juan, but I do wish I’d done more when I was single and childless! (Of course, having my first child at 21 didn’t help that, haha!) One day, right? I actually look forward to my mid-40s!

      I don’t think I really saw Paris well when I was in France. We only went for a weekend, and it felt too American to me. I’d really wanted a very difference experience, and preferred some of our other trips. But looking back, I think I was just still really jet-lagged. We walked the length of the Champs-Elysees, and it was the most exhausting walk ever. I thought it was something like five miles long and took hours to walk, when really, it was just over a mile. So, yeah, I’d love to see Paris sometime when I’m NOT exhausted, heh.

      Liked by 1 person

      • gricel says:

        My only real travel abroad experience was to London when I was 19… I wanted to see it ALL, so I kind of rushed my time in the city. I desperately want to go back and just walk around and take the time to see all the little sights that no one really pays attention to—the markets and shops and all the wonderful side streets that Londoners ignore. Some day these things will happen for us both.


      • Amanda says:

        I would love to see London one day! Though I have a feeling I’d rush through it the way you say, at least at the beginning. I want to see Platform 9 3/4. 😀


  2. Beth F says:

    Good for you for just getting up and going! Hope you’re able to find some of that spirit again.


  3. Michelle says:

    I read these posts of yours and I see a woman who is committed to self-improvement but not at the expense of her identity or her happiness. I see a woman who may be struggling but has an end goal in sight and is not going to let any setbacks detract her from achieving that goal. You are truly inspiring.


  4. Melissa says:

    I did a semester abroad in London while I was in college and I loved it so much. Travel has always been hugely important to me. A few years into my career I took a month and a half backpacking trip through Europe. Last year my husband and I went to New Zealand, Australia and Fiji. There are hundreds of ways to pursue happiness, but if you find one that makes you as happy as travel makes me, it’s worth prioritizing in any way that you can. Here’s to many years of happiness for you! Follow your heart, not always your brain : )


    • Amanda says:

      I hope one day to be able to do more traveling. With having kids as young as we did, we never really had much opportunity, and honestly Jason doesn’t like traveling very much, so what I really need is to find some best friends to travel with while Jason takes a staycation home with the boys (which is what makes him happy).


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