Love yourself first!

I’ll say this up front: Be proud and speak out loud. That is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned. This is my life, not yours.

I just don’t understand why people doubt themselves and cower through their reality. Why do they question the decisions they made in the past? Why are they insecure about the way they look? I mean, I guess I understand. I guess I was there once, in their shoes, trudging through a life that didn’t understand me. But just because I understand now doesn’t mean it needs to be that way.

People doubt because they’re forever trying to live up to what others expect. Many of us are just trying to “Keep up with the Joneses” or simply to know that the Joneses might want to be like us one day.

You know what? It doesn’t matter.

Think of it. What about that old American idiom, Keeping up with the Joneses, is so true that it gets updated in the modern era to Keep up with the Kardashians? What is so glorious about the lives of your next-door neighbor, as the original idiom implies?

The Joneses, that fictitious all-American family that was so happy in the 50s, are a lie. Dad, who works at that respectable insurance company, and Mom, the stay-at-home who is always available when her kids need her, do not live the lives others expect. They have become expert at showing only the side of their lives that others would envy.

What if that fictitious family that appears to embody perfection in their annual Christmas picture cards is not the perfection you think? What if the family picture with the daughter in the ironed dress and the son with his hair pulled back was staged?

Imagine this reality: What if daughter Sally is a tomboy who prefers torn up jeans and thrift store T-shirts rather than the ruffled pink party dresses grandma buys her? And what if son Timmy wears his dirty-blonde hair in corn rows down his back and spends his afternoons ripping through a set in his best friend’s garage with his band? Does that mean that the Joneses cannot be happy?

I’m offering to hand you, my reader, a pair of glasses that will help cut through the illusion for you. The illusion of perfection that hovers just outside the reach for most of us is a lie. The truth is, you can be happy without perfection. There is no cookie-cutter recipe for happiness. It is personal.

What if the Joneses, who are not the family you believe they are, are still happy?

Happiness exists in the person who does not care what others think. Mom Jones understands this. She adores her life and her kids and does not mind their idiosyncrasies. She is no longer stay-at-home. Instead, she has taken a low-paying job as a family counselor with the clinic across town and she helps others get past the obstacles they have created to their own joy.

And Dad Jones leaves for work at six in the morning so that he can escape during the day to take his aging father on a daily walk on the beach before he returns to his office.

Come to think of it, maybe we should be striving to keep up with these Joneses! But that is only true because they are happy in a life that is truly their joy, not the joy others expect.

I think I know the answer to some of these questions. To truly be happy with our lives, we have to love ourselves first and foremost. I know some people may throw the bible at me and say that nowhere does it say we have to love ourself, but I disagree. In Matthew 22, Jesus was asked what he believed is the greatest commandment.

“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”

Loving your neighbor as yourself is not coveting your neighbor’s life – as implied by the Joneses idiom – it is loving your neighbor. This is also implying that you love yourself, because we can’t love others if we don’t love ourselves first.

Sometimes I wonder what people think about my life. What did they used to think about me before and what do they think has happened now that a tent and a campfire are part of my joy?

Maybe they think I’ve mentally lost it because I took myself out of the Keeping-up-with-the-Joneses reality. Maybe I have lost it, but my happiness is not dependent on what other people desire or expect.

Recently, I’ve heard from people who wish they could be where I was this summer – on Mount Shasta or in the desert on the Hopi reservation or on a lonely mountaintop in Colorado.

“No, you don’t,” I want to say.

My happiness is not their happiness. They would probably not be comfortable in a pay-as-you-shower bathing facility or with a Porta Potty existence and with living out of a suitcase in the back of an SUV. How about those well-manicured hands I used to wear so proudly? Those are gone. Would you like that? Yes, I lost fifteen pounds. That’s because I was moving more and not eating very much.

But I am happy. That is true. I am happy because I am living my happiness, not searching for someone else’s. If I make a mistake, it will be my mistake that I will proudly accept because it is my life I am living, not some faceless Jones existence.

I am human, though. I am saddened when I my friends inadvertently cower into their existence because it’s not the one they think others would respect.

I want to reach through the time-space that separates us, pull them into a 20-second hug and help them accept that their reality is perfect as long as it’s perfect for them.

I say again: Be Proud and Speak Out Loud, because, as the kids say, You Only Live (this life) Once. Make it an amazing one!

Much love to you, my friends.

The Dragonfly’s Student