Vita allegre. Joyful living. His eyes danced with excitement and awe and insatiable curiousity. Not just for America. For life. I ached to feel that again. This is why I gave him a ride. This is why I rented my late husband’s studio for scraps. I hoped some of da Vinci’s joy would rub off on me, though I had meant it more in the metaphysical sense than the physical, but that wouldn’t be entirely bad, either. — Ramona in Dating da Vinci
In light of my re-launch of Dating da Vinci, (available now on Amazon) my novel about a woman searching for la dolce vita – the sweet life – two years after her husband dies, I’d like to write a few posts this summer on the topic of Vita Allegre. My job as a novelist is to create the journey for each of my characters, taking them through the highs and lows. In real life, we’re each responsible for our own story and handling those lows is what helps us grow. We can be our own worst enemies when it comes to our happiness. Let’s start with a few lies we’ve all told ourselves, shall we?
1. I don’t deserve X, Y, Z. We get to a certain point and stop believing that our own needs matter. Often this coincides with a baby emerging from our vajayjays or a certain number of candles on your cake. Yes, you deserve your hobbies, interests, me-time, companionship, love, great sex, good friends, fulfilling work, big and little adventure and whatever else strikes your fancy if it’s good for you. The bottom line: you deserve happiness and you don’t have to stay stuck.
2. My body can’t be changed. Not to pick on moms here, but often we believe after we’ve had children that our bodies are just done. While our shape changes after babies and with age, believing this lie could keep us in a cycle of unhealthy choices as time goes on. Look, we’re smart women and we need to pass on not just a healthy body image but also the importance of a healthy lifestyle and diet. Each of our bodies are unique and only 8% of women have the bodies we see in magazines so we need to strive for our own reality, not some fantasy. What can be changed and what can’t? I could reshape my body and get rid of fat and build lean muscle and still be realistic that I would never have a J Lo butt. Since I started focusing on my health two years ago, I’ve lost 25 pounds and have kept it off for more than a year. We need to be patient with ourselves and not rely on a quick fix. My aim was to be healthy and fit, not skinny. I’m certainly not shaming anyone who doesn’t want to live a certain way – it’s our choice, period as long as we realize we are making a choice. Working out regularly is good for our minds, too. I’m less anxious and worried and generally feel more positive, especially when I was going through tough times. Do you want to live longer? The wellness blog at NY Times sheds light on longevity and exercise. And if you need a documentary to prove why this lie is a load of crap, watch the incredible transformations featured in Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. What are your misperceptions about your health? Are you willing to put in the work to make it happen? Your body may not look exactly like it did in years’ past, but it can be healthier and in some cases, the best it’s ever been.
3. Believing other people’s story about you (and giving them the power). Perception is a funny thing. I read a great article last year that talked about everyone’s “story” about you being different because they see you through their own lens. Your mom has one story. Your mate another. Your children, another one still. Work, ditto. Trying to keep up with all of those “labels” and expectations on fitting into other people’s stories can make us lose our own identity. Get Real truth here: you only matter to most people based on what you do for them and of course secondarily how you make them feel. I know that sucks, but the GOOD NEWS is that you matter a ton to a smaller set of people who will love you just the way you are – weird quirks and all. What matters is who you know yourself to be. Self-awareness is crucial. Say yes when you mean “hell, yes!” and no when you sincerely don’t want whatever is being proposed. Put the power of your life back into your hands. Don’t let others make your life choices for you. I was very open to others’ advice before and after my divorce (especially the doctors, therapists and close friends) but be careful because friends and family may work more to “convince” you than listen and understand you. That makes sense because they aren’t you. They aren’t in your head. Yes, they want “the best” for you but sometimes the best means making hard choices and letting go. They may then switch to blame and finding out what’s “wrong” with you. Believe me, I’ve heard it all and while I took some of it to heart, the rest was best left in the “good intentions” waste basket. Another biggie: Be aware of your own self-limiting beliefs. Stop shoulding all over yourself and stop letting others should over you, too.
What do you want from life? Drop the labels and dig in.
4. My happiness is reliant on good circumstances (or others). When I was 28 and started an advertising agency with a friend, I found the quote, “I shall not let circumstances dictate my joy.” That’s been my mantra whenever anything shitty happens in my life. Every struggle is an opportunity to grow and personally I set a time limit on feeling sorry for myself. I also have go-to “kick in the pants” confidantes to help me see the light. It may seem counterintuitive to believe we can feel that life is still ultimately good when we are undergoing hard times (divorce, disease, grief, et al) but we can. It’s not about shrugging our shoulders and putting up with the shit, either. In fact, it’s more important than ever to be honest about what’s happening (Get Real) and see what we need to do about it. (If anything.) Divorce and the aftermath is by far the hardest thing I’ve gone through in life, yet I was still ultimately a happy, positive person through the tough times even though I was very unhappy about the circumstance. That’s the difference. Happiness is a slippery slope if you are relying on what’s happening to you versus who you are. At your core, are you happy, positive and hopeful? If not, why not? I also like the quote, “don’t put your happiness in someone else’s pocket.”
5. Love is enough. It’s a huge cliche that “love is all you need” and it’s a big lie we as women start believing when we are tiny tots in pink tutus watching Disney movies. Sure, I think love in all its forms is why we’re here but it should not be idealized or glamorized and it certainly doesn’t come easy. Yes, this is coming from someone who has a romantic sub-plot in every novel, but even in my stories it’s not roses and unicorns and hot sex and happily ever after. It’s “Wow, relationships are hard and life is tough but I choose you to share my journey with.”
And, parenting? Whew. I love my kiddos to pieces but parenting them is incredibly difficult because they are human beings separate from me, not puppets on a string. I can guide them but not control them. I have to let them make mistakes and yet consistently monitor what’s happening and when I need to step in. It’s exhausting, isn’t it? (And to make the point in #4, if my happiness was reliant on their attitudes of the day, I’d be in a world of hurt.)
Regarding romantic love, I recently discovered author Mark Manson and he does a nice job of discussing the realities of relationships and self-development. In this article, “Love is Not Enough,” his #1 point is “Love does not equal compatibility. Just because you fall in love with someone doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a good partner for you to be with over the long term. Love is an emotional process; compatibility is a logical process. And the two don’t bleed into one another very well.” In another article he defines how important chemistry and compatibility are for a solid relationship. Unfortunately, loving and caring for someone is not enough. Making worlds (dreams, goals, ambitions, lifestyle) mesh requires practical solutions, not wishful thinking. If you believe “love is the solution” ask yourself if that really solves the problem or if it’s a band-aid that lets you cover up what’s really going on because it’s painful and will require work. You don’t need someone else to complete you, but to complement you. It has to start with self-love.
In Dating da Vinci, Ramona’s inner thorn was not only her grief about losing her husband, but giving herself permission to be happy and find love again. Finally she’s ready to remove those thorns. For some deep reading on this subject, I recommend The Untethered Soul and particularly his analogy on removing inner thorns instead of creating a life to work around the thorn. A big eye opener for me.
I’ll be back next week to talk more about Vita Allegre. If you read Dating da Vinci the first time around, might you leave a review on Amazon and tell your friends about it? As ever, xo and here’s to every day adventure.
Adventures pics of the week- Grand Lake with all my guys for 4th of July weekend.