The Charlie Brown Mindset by Jamie L. Rotante

Charlie Brown Mindset Jamie L. Rotante

The Charlie Brown Mindset by Jamie L. Rotante

One Punk’s Look at Social Anxiety, Neuroticism, and Other Fun Stuff

“I think I’m afraid to be happy because whenever I get too happy, something bad always happens.” –Charlie Brown

My life has been, to put it simply, pretty good. Sure, I’ve dealt with my share of loss and failure and rejection but—and I can assure you I’m banging my knuckles across wood until they’re bloody as I write this—no more than most people. However, if you were to film the movie of my life through the lens of my brain, oh boy, would it look a whole lot different.

You see, I have this problem: I like to call it the “Charlie Brown dilemma.” Whenever I feel moments of pure, unbridled happiness (even fleeting moments of happiness) they’re almost immediately accompanied by a sense of overwhelming dread. I like to be happy—who doesn’t?—but I often find it hard to really enjoy those transitory happy moments.

Contentment creeps up on me when I least expect it: when the sun hits my face at just that perfect angle, when a song comes on which reminds me of summer, a certain scent that transports me to a spring of my youth (side note: I think I might also have Seasonal Affective Disorder but we’ll save that for another time), and I just stop and allow myself to briefly bask in it. Maybe I’ll do an introspective celebration of a recent goal I achieved or of some goal just within my reach. I stop, smile, reflect, and just get… happy.

Then it happens. The next thought follows almost immediately after—or intrusively during—my silly little internal happy dance. The ever-dreadful, “What next?” question posits itself in my brain and reminds me there is a balance to all things in this world… and with this good, there must certainly come a bad. What about one, sticking obstacle that might prevent me from obtaining almost-in-my-reach goal? What about those outstanding circumstances surrounding an already-achieved goal that could rear their ugly heads and turn everything on its ear? What if something tragic happens tomorrow and completely consumes my very being, wiping away any of my good feelings and memories from existence?

Ah, yes. It’s those fickle little “circumstances beyond my control” that manage to consistently break me to my very core. Illness, death, terrorism, war, freak accidents, apocalypse, a smallpox epidemic, a bigpox epidemic… anything is possible, especially when it comes to impeding upon my personal happiness. What if I’m so busy celebrating an insignificant victory while someone I love is suffering and I don’t even know it? What if my personal fulfillment comes at the cost of someone else’s loss? Who am I to be happy, really?

Of course, I’ve found more often in life, it’s when I start to really feel bad for myself—when work is piling up, when there are endless chores to do, when there are deadlines that seem impossible to meet—life decides to smack me in the face with something bigger than I think I can handle. Like an earth-shatteringly subtle reminder that there are circumstances outside of me and my way of life, and challenges that are much harder to endure. Events which completely make reaching any sort of deadline obsolete or cause me to rip up any to-do lists because there are more important problems to face. It’s not when I’m content the universe hurtles problems and misfortunes in my direction—it’s when things are already rough. So why? If I know this to be true, why do I deny myself my splurging moments of sheer enthusiasm and happiness?

I think it stems from my ever-present anxiety. Even when everything is seemingly copacetic, my anxiousness pokes at me from within with the “what ifs?” and negative thoughts. My anxiety wants to breed more stress and, as they say, misery loves company. So even if everything seems hunky-dory, it’s my nature to find the holes within that happiness and peel away at the potential stress-inducing situations that could occur, or could be waiting for me on the other side.

The reality is, when things are going my way, they tend to stay on a streak. When I acknowledge how good things are, better things continue to happen. PMA is a way of life for a reason. It’s not allowing positivity to break through which summons up bad vibes and cause unwanted events to occur; it’s instead negativity breeds more negativity, which makes me aware of just how selfish I’m being. Because denying myself happiness isn’t selfless—instead it’s supreme selfishness. I’m thinking of my current emotion, dwelling on the potential bad, and turning a quick moment of happiness to be a pity party of hypotheticals. It’s the worst kind of selfishness—it’s ego masquerading as some kind of weird joy martyr.

…so now what?

I, like another witty, balding child comic pal Calvin, demand euphoria. I yearn for total calm and complacency with no interruptions from stressful situations. But, let’s face it, that’s just too damn unrealistic. If our comic and cartoon pals can’t achieve it, how can us mere humans? Maybe those small moments of happiness aren’t big enough to wipe away the bad shit in this world—but how could anything? Circumstances beyond my control are just that—beyond my control. What’s the use in dwelling on what can’t be controlled? Instead, it would be much more worthwhile to allow my awareness of my own personal happiness enable me to be a positive change among others in my life. Why not turn those “selfish” moments of happiness to selfless acts of kindness toward others?

Lucy: Why do you think we’re put here on earth, Charlie Brown?
Charlie Brown: To make others happy.

Of course, as I’m writing this and thinking about how happy I am to have almost completed it, the truths I’ve learned about myself, and the steps I can take to improve my well-being, all I keep thinking is, “Great, now you’ve learned to conquer this—what awful thing is going to happen to you tomorrow?” “How wrong are you prepared to be?” “What if no one likes this or agrees?”

There’s still time for me, yet.

“I’ve developed a new philosophy… I only dread one day at a time.”

Me too, ol’ Chuck, me too.

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@jamieleerotante, @lauracollinsart

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