How I Learned That It's Okay To Be Happy With 'Just Okay'

by Brandi Jeter Riley
Originally Published: 
photo credit: Brandi Riley

I’d like to lose at least 25 pounds.

Things aren’t as neat as I’d like in my house.

My salary could definitely be higher.

And that’s just the beginning of the list of things in my life that could use some improvement.

Even still, I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

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It’s not that my life was terrible in the past. I’ve been happy before. The thing about this happiness I feel now is that it’s rooted in contentment and peace, and it doesn’t matter if things are perfect. Things are just okay, and that’s perfectly fine.

When I was growing up, “okay” was never an option. My family was always concerned with the future. Get a job, work hard, make good money, then retire. I didn’t come from folks who talked much about being happy as a goal

As a young adult, for practically the entirety of my twenties, all I did was strive to reach big goals. I wanted to be somebody. I wanted to be important and respected. That desire and the subsequent actions I took trying to fulfill those goals left me feeling lonely and never satisfied. It was a terrible way to live.

I don’t blame myself, though. That was in the early 2000s, the height of the self-help movement. Everybody, their mama, and Oprah was encouraging us to live our best lives. Unfortunately, I didn’t really have a personal example of what a good life looked like outside of material things.

After I had my daughter, I was forced to shift my priorities. While I was more motivated than ever to thrive for her sake, she also made me slow down and appreciate the life I had in the present. I dreamed about a new house, but she was having the time of her life exploring our little apartment. As I mourned not being able to afford to take her to the zoo, the line of ants crawling along on the sidewalk captured her attention and made her gasp with excitement. She, like most kids, was good with okay. Over the years, I learned to be, too.

Learning to be happy even when things were just “okay” came for me right in the nick of time. A lot has transpired over just the last 5 or 6 years, and more people than not are striving to live like Gwyneth and Beyoncé. Whatever you do or have, it needs to be the most or the best. You can’t just like going to the gym. You have to lose all the weight, and share about it on social media, and then begin entering (and winning) fitness competitions. If you like to bake, you have to get a fancy camera to take pictures, start a cupcake business, and get cast on a television show.

Moms don’t get a break, either. You need to record your entire life, put it online, and try to make something go viral. It’s bonkers! Everybody is just out here doing the most all the time.

Where does this need to do it all and be the best at it come from? Well, now that social media has taken over everything, we can’t get away from the messages that encourage us to want more, more, more. Remember that MTV show Cribs? Once a week we got a glimpse into a rich celebrity’s home. When I would watch, there were times when I thought, “I’d love a house like that,” but mostly it felt like entertainment. It didn’t make me feel bad about myself or like I was failing because I didn’t have 8 bathrooms. It doesn’t feel like entertainment so much anymore. Now it feels real. We see into famous people’s houses all day every day thanks to Snapchat and Instagram. Their opulence and wealth is in our faces daily, reminding us that we could be doing better.

Because of that, the gurus, experts, and coaches have arrived, and they’re convinced we all need to step up our game. They use everything from memes to expensive courses to indoctrinate us on how to be great, and we’ve all taken the bait. If your house isn’t beautifully decorated and Instagram ready, how could you ever be comfortable there? Don’t have a fancy title or flashy job? What’s the point in working? Your kids don’t like taking pictures? Then why are you taking them on vacation? How will people know that everything in your world is perfect and amazing? Are you living your best life? Are you even trying?

I had to accept that I just can’t hang with all of that. If, in order to have a life that is exceptional, I have to always be hustling and always be striving, then I’m content with just okay. Yes, I do work hard, but I still go to bed at a reasonable hour. I love the work I do, even if I won’t become a millionaire doing it. Although my house is not a mansion, it’s comfortable and feels like home. My husband is no movie star, but he’s sexy to me. My kids are cute. Even with the extra weight, I’m still a pretty lady.

Life is good.

At the end of last year, I looked at the influences around me and got rid of the ones that made me feel like being okay wasn’t enough. I gave away my old books that were all about me figuring out what was wrong with me, and started seeking out ones that would inspire me to celebrate the things that are right. Instead of following overly styled accounts on social media that made me subconsciously feel like what I had wasn’t enough, I found the ones that were fun and real and authentic. I was intentional about saying to myself every morning, “What I have is enough. What I have is good. I’m happy.”

This isn’t to say we should never strive to be better or work to have nice things, but that shouldn’t be consuming us. When it gets to the point that we’re never satisfied with the life we have when we have so much to be thankful for, then it’s a problem. That’s when it’s time to get comfortable with okay, and show some gratitude for the life we have.

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