When people see me, they often think I’m a pretty happy person. And they’re right. For the most part, I’d say I’m fairly happy. Well, maybe “content” is a better word.
I remember when I was first out of Scientology and living in the “real world” (whatever that means). I was elated, as you can imagine, to be able to do what I wanted to do whenever I wanted to do it. I loved working and getting PAID for it—what a novel idea, right? I also loved just being able to go shopping, go to the movies, hang out… these were all things that I didn’t take for granted, since I’d thought I’d never be able to do them again.
Back in those first few years out of Scientology, people would say things to me like, “You seem like such a happy person.” I remember thinking to myself, “Well, YOU’D be happy too if you’d been through what I’ve been through!”
Now that I look back on those years, I’d say my “happiness” was more of a manic state—you know, deliriously happy one minute and then totally depressed the next. I was going through a lot of feelings, trying to figure things out, and mostly just keeping my head above water. But man, when I was happy, I was HAPPY. I’m surprised I didn’t scare people off with my “happiness”—I mean, it was a bit over the top at times.
Nowadays, particularly since I’ve been writing this blog and dealing with “things”, I feel more emotionally stable. I’m calmer in general. I don’t have such crazy ups and downs.
What’s Making Me Happy Right Now
The one thing I still have, though, is an intense desire to do MORE. I think it comes from my feeling of having my career aspirations cut short when I was in my late 20s. I’ve heard this before from other people who leave a cult: They feel like they’re starting their lives over from the point where they entered the cult. So for me, I feel like I’m in my 30s, not in my 50s, and I want to do everything now that I didn’t get to do then.
What it comes down to is me wanting to do right by my 29-year-old self: I want to give her the life she dreamed of. I’m definitely moving in the right direction in that regard. But when I think about whether or not that will make me any happier, I’m not so sure. Fulfilled is probably a better term.
One of the things I’ve been focused on lately is being aware of opportunities around me and leaning into them when they present themselves. Case in point: I’m about to be laid off since my company is closing all stores, but when I found out about the layoffs in May, instead of trying to find a new job in retail management, I decided that this was the universe telling me that I need to pursue my writing career full-time. I’ve been tempted to veer off that path in the past few months, but I’m not going to. I know this is the direction I’m supposed to be taking.
Plus, when I started writing this blog, a whole new world opened up to me. I feel the most excited, the most passionate, when I’m writing about my experiences in Scientology, but more importantly, about what it took to move forward in my life. I think there’s a big opportunity for me to spread this message more broadly and that’s where I’m headed.
Do I think it will be smooth sailing? Of course not. But I know it’s the right thing to do. And THAT makes me happy.
The Happiness Lab
Recently I started listening to a podcast called “The Happiness Lab”. If you haven’t listened to it, I STRONGLY encourage you to do so. It’s by Dr. Laurie Santos, a professor of psychology and cognitive science at Yale University.
In 2018, Dr. Santos created a course titled “Psychology and the Good Life”, where she lectures on things people think will make them happy but don’t, and things that DO bring happiness. The course became the most popular in Yale’s history—a quarter of their entire undergraduate student body enrolled.
The Happiness Lab podcast features some of the key points from this course, and one of the episodes in particular really struck me. It’s called “The Unhappy Millionaire.” In it, Dr. Santos discusses what happens when people actually get what they think they want. It’s fascinating.
She talks to Dan Gilbert, the author of a book called “Stumbling on Happiness”, about this. In his research, he found that when people get exactly what they want, they aren’t happy, but when they get the opposite of what they wanted, they’re often happy. Weird concept, but really interesting.
I don’t want to go into detail here, but again, listen to the podcast. I will say that what stuck with me from listening to the podcast was this: What I THOUGHT would make me happy certainly didn’t, but the ability to bounce back from a traumatic situation DID make me happy.
It’s really true. Life goes on. No matter what happens, it’s not the end of the world. I guess I never realized how powerful that concept was until I started looking back at my life. I feel proud that I’ve been able to move forward. I feel stronger than I ever could have imagined. And I know that no matter what happens in the future, good or bad, I’ll bounce back.
Proud. Strong. Resilient. If that’s a definition of happiness, I’ll take it.
2 thoughts on “What “Being Happy” Means to this Particular Ex-cult Member”
Anne, so great that you are writing – you have a talent for it for sure. I know what you mean about “happiness” – when I first left Scientology I got a kick out of everything – going to a movie, going on a hike, just walking around town. The sudden freedom was like a drug – intoxicating. Then as those things become commonplace, the goal post shifts. For me, it’s enjoying friends and family now – and I still enjoy my walks and hikes, and doing whatever I like. I still am finding damage from my 35+ years in Scientology, from living communally in such a toxic environment for so many years. Like discovering long term foundation damage in a house that is causing cracks and warping.We’ll all get through it. I found that writing for me was very therapeutic. I wrote 3 books and countless blog articles, and it all helped. I am now attempting fiction – which is a whole different thing!
That’s so cool, Jeff! So excited you’re writing fiction — you have a GREAT imagination, as I recall. Can’t wait to see what you come up with!