This article originally appeared in the July/August 2018 issue of ESSENCE
Happiness can sometimes feel like a far-fetched goal—especially for a Black woman in America. Day after day, there are forces—both seen and unseen—that surround us and fight to steal our joy. Life comes at us hard and fast. We awaken to heartbreaking headlines about our unarmed sons, brothers and fathers being gunned down. The current political climate in America, fueled by blatant racism and privilege, leaves us keenly aware of just how dangerous it can be for our families and our future.
As if that weren’t enough to plague the mind, we must keep up with the daily grind of adulting. Urgent e-mails wait to greet us in the mornings and compete for our attention as we send our children off to school. Meetings gridlock our calendars, we can’t seem to take a rain check on the drama in our personal lives and we spend our spare time scrolling through never-ending social media feeds filled with photos of moments and opportunities that we feel we’re missing out on. Soon self-doubt sets in.
But try as they might, these external factors have nothing on our power to manifest and claim our own contentment. It starts when we look within.
“A lot of times we look to external material things or people to make us happy, but happiness is no one else’s responsibility but our own,” says Atlanta-based clinical psychologist Sherry Blake, Ph.D. (aka Dr. Sherry). You take ownership of your happiness when you first learn to recognize that you’re feeling unhappy and acknowledge that this means you have some work to do, she explains. When we spot a red flag, like waking up feeling helpless or finding yourself uninterested in things that usually make you happy, Blake warns, we must stop and face the hurdles in the way of our better well-being.
As Black women, we must learn to recognize when we’ve crossed that thin line between being pillars of strength for our families and taking on more than we can bear.
The goal is to minimize stress, not completely remove it. “You’ll never eliminate all the stress in your life,” says Blake. “The key to happiness is to learn to manage life—the good, the bad, the ugly, the indifferent and the unknown.
“Happiness is a part of joy,” Blake continues. “And if you can’t find joy in little things, it will be very hard to find it overall. When you cannot find joy, or even a small sense of happiness, then something is more seriously wrong.”
Making time to see a therapist can also be a powerful tool, she says. “At some point, you may have to say, This is more than just something I can handle. This is something I really need to work out and I may need support.” Even before you make that move, you can take small steps toward improving your situation.
Here, Blake breaks down three of the most common sources of sorrow—your career, your family situation and your relationships—and suggests ways to take back your power and joy.
Be Honest About What You Need
Much of the journey to happiness is about self-discovery. With a person you love, you have to ask yourself important questions: Why am I here? Why do I really love this person? Is this love? Or is this my neediness? First, determine what you are getting out of the relationship. It may be security, financial support, sexual satisfaction or a combination of factors. You can love a person in addition to receiving these secondary things. You can also find ways to support your needs in ways that make you feel empowered.
Focus On What’s Healthy
If the relationship is no longer healthy, it’s no longer a place for you. You have to decide if you’re going to save yourself and continue on your journey toward happiness. Will you allow yourself to be detoured by whatever your partner is doing that makes you sad? If so, you risk losing sight of where you are and where you ultimately want to be. Be truthful with your feelings without guilt. What’s good for you won’t always be good for others.
Talk It Out
Many times the person we love may be doing things that hurt us and may not be aware of the impact. You have to be able to share your feelings. Also, give the other person an open-ended opportunity to express how he feels. You can start by saying, “I really love you and want our relationship to work. And I want to hear from you.” Then listen to what he has to say. Suggest working together rather than assigning blame: Say, “If you’re sure that you want this as much as I do, let’s see how we can make this work better for both of us.” And then you move into counseling—together.