Storytelling has always been a big part of my life: I’m a writer, director, and actress, I run a production company focused on conscious filmmaking, and I grew up watching a lot of Disney princess movies (Beauty and the Beast was my favorite – as evidenced by my track record of dating guys who are great for me and treat me well…).
But in all seriousness, I’m hyper-aware, both personally, as well as professionally, about the impact the stories that are told in our society have on our culture, as well as on our expectations for our own lives.
Analyzing these storytelling tropes and their impact is part of the work I do through my production company, Conscious Cinema Co.
For instance, there’s the trope of “overcoming the monster,” where the hero learns of a great evil threatening the land and sets out to destroy it.
There’s also “rags to riches,” where the hero rises from dark forces who suppress and ridicule him, blossoming into a mature individual who ultimately gets riches, a kingdom, and the perfect mate.
One of the subcategories of “rags to riches” – perhaps the most damaging for young girls – and certainly one that has affected me deeply, is the concept of a young woman finding her “Happily Ever After.”
We’re taught as women that our lives suddenly take on enough meaning to have a story told about us when our Prince finally stops being an avoidant, spoiled rich kid and decides to show up at our doorstep and make us feel loved and important.
And once that happens, the world starts paying attention to us as well. We have a big fairytale wedding, where everyone in the kingdom shows up for us, we get to put on the prettiest, most expensive dress – we even get presents!! And to move into our dream home: a castle (yes, we even get a GD kingdom).
So when I turned 30, and I was still alone, I took a look around and I thought, damn… where’s my “Happily Ever After”?
Was it hiding in that guy I dated who was ancestrally part of a royal bloodline but lived at home with his mother?
I mean don’t all Princes technically live with their mothers?
Even if they’re almost 40?
Isn’t it around that time that these princes finally get their sh*t together?
Needless to say, after looking back at all of the attempted romances I had along the way, I realized that no, in fact, my “Happily Ever After” was not waiting for me in any of the lovely, but completely-wrong-for-me guys I dated in my 20s.
So then where the H was it?
And then I started thinking, wait, the phrase, “Happily Ever After,” is actually an oxymoron.
After the wedding? After you die?
None of this made any sense to me…
What I do know to be true is that happiness can only ever be experienced in the present moment.
I started thinking about the people I knew who were in relationships and what their day to day lives were like. And how there were moments of joy and there were moments of sadness. And there were ups and there were downs.
And there was only ever the present moment.
What I learned is to let go of the idea of what I thought my life should look like, based on the stories that I was taught as a woman in our culture, and to tell myself a new story.
This new story is a magnificent one and it is a story all my own (but it can be yours too)…
…the story of Happily Ever Present.
Because the only thing ever blocking me from experiencing happiness in the present moment is my own mind and my own relationship with myself.
And it is only by staying grounded in the present moment and detached from all outcomes, that I can even be open to and surprised by the beauty and magic of deep connection with another person. Even in a fulfilling relationship with a commitment in place, all we ever have is the present moment and what we each make of it, both individually as well as in partnership.
Happily Ever Present isn’t a one-off deal. It’s something I reach for moment to moment and will continue to reach for the rest of my life, regardless of whether I’m single or in a committed relationship.
And when I’m not able to find my Happily Ever Present, I know it is my job to do the work on myself to release what might be blocking that and to reconnect to peace, love, and joy.
But that’s easier said than done. And it does take work.
Thankfully, there are tools that do work to authentically cultivate that sense of inner peace, and lucky for you – I’ve put a bunch of them in one place :).
Here are my go-to tools that I use to feel empowered in connecting to my Happily Ever Present, no matter what is going on externally (including whether I’m currently in a relationship or not).
1. Shift from “he [/insert pronoun]” to “me”.
This is the quickest fix I’ve found whenever my mind has started obsessing over another person’s behavior. (As a reminder, the only person’s behavior you can control is your own.) If I find myself asking “why is he behaving X way?” I shift the focus back to myself and ask, “why am I behaving X way?”. Why am I giving my power away by letting this gentleman take up space rent free in my head? Clearing my mental clutter in this way has been life changing. Byron Katie’s “The Work” has helped me immensely with this. She starts by asking if the thoughts you’re thinking are 1. True and 2. If you can absolutely know they are true. The next step is to become aware of how you react when you believe a painful thought is true and of who you would be without the thought. And finally, to do “turnarounds.” For example, if you are thinking…
“I need X, Y, Z” in order to be happy (i.e. I need a certain partner/job/amount of money in order to be happy)… ask yourself if that is absolutely true.
A turnaround might be: “I don’t need X, Y, Z” in order to be happy (i.e. I don’t need a certain partner/job/amount of money in order to be happy)
2. Value yourself – your time, needs, and desires.
Identify your core needs and desires and value yourself enough not to compromise on them. Treat your time like the precious commodity that it is, not just when making plans with others, but when making plans with yourself. What message are you sending yourself about your worth when you don’t value your own time?
Maybe you have a deep-seated thought pattern that goes something like this…
“X doing Y hurts me and makes me feel like I’m not enough.”
And you start to turn it around into…
“X doing Y doesn’t hurt me or make me feel like I’m not enough.”
“I hurt me and make myself feel like I’m not enough” (through obsessing over the behavior of others)
In that case, how could you change your own behavior to start to send the message to yourself that your time is valuable and you are way more than “enough”?
Get real with yourself! And know you are supported (feel free to reach out in the comments for a little extra love and care).
3. Just say “no” to emotional hoarding.
It is so easy when we go through a painful experience to start to numb out and distract ourselves. This might look like drinking one too many glasses of wine, mindlessly scrolling social media, or bingeing a show you don’t even really like. When difficult emotions come up, it is natural to want to suppress them or get rid of them. But the truth is, there is no way out but through. Even if you stuff your feelings down momentarily, it is simply a form of emotional hoarding and eventually you will have to process them if you want to clear emotional space in your life. Be gentle with yourself as you allow yourself to feel your feelings fully. And know that they are valid, whatever they may be. Sitting still with painful emotions and sending love to them is a form of self-care (even if it looks like crying your eyes out or smashing a coconut.)
4. Tune into the sensations of the present moment.
This mindful attunement is what made me really fall in love with yoga – cultivating an ability to get really present with all five senses and what you are experiencing through them moment to moment. You can even find ways to romance yourself! Think about what your love languages are and how you can love yourself in them. For instance, my love languages are words of affirmation and physical touch. I’m able to nurture myself in that way through guided meditation, self-talk, movement practices (yoga, pole dancing, etc.), and bubble baths. You can also make cooking and trying new foods a sensual experience and focus on surrounding yourself with beauty (fresh flowers, scented candles, etc.) and invest more time in creating a soul-nourishing environment.
5. Write love letters.
We all have an inner force of love inside of us, and a good place to direct your focus is on connecting to it. When you feel centered in your own sense of wholeness, you’ll stop endlessly searching outside of yourself for someone to fill the God-sized hole you perceive. One of my favorite ways to hear that voice of love is through writing love letters (from my “small” self to my “higher” self and vice versa). If there’s something I’m struggling with, I’ll pour out my heart to my inner guide and then write a letter back as my higher self. This can also help you to identify what thought patterns keep coming up for you and to receive guidance on how to lovingly replace any negative trains with better feeling thoughts.
…In yourself, in your journey, in the divine timing of life. If you’re momentarily single, know that whoever is meant for you won’t pass you by and it will all unfold in the perfect time and way. If you have that kind of karma with a person, there’s nothing you can do to screw it up. You can offer all of your current relationships/attractions/fixations/desires over to the inner divine and practice the beautiful art of surrender. If you have a strong desire for a relationship, chances are, it’s in your path. Maybe the inner divine just wants you all to herself right now! And maybe she just wants you to take six months to learn how to love yourself properly so you’ll be ready when the right person shows up with an overflowing cup. Maybe she just wants you to learn once and for all what it truly means to be Happily Ever Present on your own two feet before you enter into a committed partnership.
What does your Happily Ever Present look like right now? (Leave me a note in the comments below!)
Nicole Wensel is an award-winning actress, writer and director, best known for the indie feature film, Quarter Life Coach. Her production company, Conscious Cinema Co., specializes in the intersection of wellness + social impact and she shares tools + resources to empower others on their healing journey here.
Image courtesy of Flora Westbrook.