We all face trials and tribulations. Some are nothing more than small blips on the timeline of life while others are course changing and Earth shaking. It’s how we handle these situations that define our character and determine whether or not we grow or atrophy from them.
Ashley McGuire is no stranger to the trials of life, experiencing several life-threatening situations as well as trauma in her personal life, however, you would never know this just by simply talking to her; she exudes positivity and happiness. It was without hesitation she offered to be interviewed, saying:
“I have a deep and profound love for my fellow human and see so clearly the truth of ‘Hurt people hurt, healed people heal.’ My purpose in life is to be the one that heals.”
Ashley is an entrepreneur and a restorative specialist, working with families and couples move through conflict as well as the implementation of restorative justice practices in schools. Her perspective on happiness is one of acceptance and self-love, two things I believe we all need a little more of.
10 Questions About Happiness
1. How do you define happiness?
A.M: Happiness is the state of knowing you are enough.
2. What has been your happiest moment in life so far?
A.M: Feeling-my-heart-might-burst happiness has happened at those wonderful key points in life that so many people point to, with good reason: my wedding, the birth of my son, the birth of my daughter. These moments were closer to ecstasy on the happiness scale. I have happiest-moments-ever nearly every day, as unlikely as that might sound. Those moments come in the time I take to breathe deeply, look around myself with gratitude, and recognize the small beautiful things.
3. Is your idea of happiness any different than 5 years ago?
A.M: My kids are in their teens now, and that has changed some of the ways I find happiness in those moments with my family. Cuddling and reading with my children, or having them jump in bed with me in the mornings made me immeasurably happy. Now, with them, that happiness comes in the quiet moments as I watch them develop and become more independent young adults. It comes in those little conversations with them where we both feel heard and understood, and we are connecting in a new, more mature way.
I used to have a craving for thrills, and that made me really happy. As I’m getting older I’m finding deeper happiness in quiet and reflection, and paying close and curious attention to the world around me, and the people in it.
4. In your field of work you work with individuals who have dealt with conflict in their personal lives – what has this taught you about happiness both in your own life and the lives of others?
A.M: I work really closely with my clients and I can often get compassion fatigue by being with them in their conflict. I have had to learn how to give myself intentional and abundant care, in whatever form feels the most relevant to me at the moment, so that I can stay happy and peaceful myself.
When I watch people in conflict I am often struck by how unaccepting people can be of themselves and others, even knowing that acceptance is so crucial to happiness. There are things that cannot be changed through resistance, and we waste so much time attempting to resist. Then there are things that can absolutely be changed, and require positive energy and forward momentum to get there. Acceptance allows you to focus on what is within your power and make positive changes. The key to getting to this place is to address shame, which can be the biggest factor in a lack of acceptance.
5. What advice would you give someone who has survived abuse and is trying to re-establish themselves?
A.M: Have faith in yourself and your ability to create the reality you want.
Give yourself an incredible, ridiculous amount of positive talk. Put inspirational quotes all over your living space if you have to.
Look at your friends and your support community. If anyone makes you question yourself at all, or makes you feel less than powerful and worthy, stop communicating with them. You can always go back later when you’re stronger, and you’ll be able to self-advocate, but for now surround yourself with anyone who makes you feel worthy and strong, and creative, and fulfilled.
Fight the gremlin voices in your head that make you question yourself, fight them with everything you can find. If that’s a new haircut, new clothes, a class, connecting with a church, crystals on your bookshelf, incense, inspirational books, new artwork, whatever you got, do it.
This time is about YOU because when YOU are whole and happy the world is a better place. When one of us is hurting, whether we realize it as a people or not, all of us are hurting in some measure. Your happiness will expand my happiness, so chase it.
6. How has experiencing trauma in your own personal life impacted your view on the world?
A.M: The first time I thought I might die, I was 6. My immediate and extended family gathered at the hospital as I underwent life threatening surgery and a difficult recovery, so I knew something was wrong. I don’t recall being afraid but I do recall feeling remarkably loved and cared for.
When a young man held a shotgun up to my face when I was 16 and working as a cashier, I recall feeling two things: paralysis and sadness. I was so sad for this young man – he looked terrified, like he just wanted to be anywhere but there. He looked desperate. I was calm. He ran out the back of the store, escaping all of us from a terrifying turning point. My heart has hurt for him ever since.
When I was 24, I faced an intruder with a gun in my apartment in the middle of the night. The familiar calm swept over me, as well as the familiar empathy. I accepted what was happening and attempted to connect with the person in front of me. I recognized his immense sadness and struggle, and realized we were both terrified. I am so fortunate to have this calm reaction to crisis and was able to talk to him. He left without harming me, and seemingly confused and touched by the encounter.
Having these experiences, intermingled with others, has led me to feel the ephemeral nature of being. Every single day can’t be super special, and yet it is – I am here on extra time. I might not have had these days were it not for good luck, good fortune, love, community, and the kindness of strangers.
I am grateful, always grateful.
7. Does your career foster happiness in yourself? Why or why not?
A.M: I spend a lot of time helping people develop their communication skills so that they can deepen their relationships and resolve conflicts. It brings me an incredible amount of happiness to be at the point in my journey where I can reach out and give a helping hand to others. After working with families, couples, or schools I am always energized, honored, and deeply grateful.
8. What has been the lowest point in your life in regards to happiness? What helped you most past it?
A.M: I have struggled with depression several times in my life, and I have always just decided to move through it, to work through the process. I have to make sure my support system is in place and that I remember to ask for help, but I just go through it. I recognize that this process and these feelings are here to teach me something important, and my job is just to sit and learn. It’s hard. Depression is very hard, but I do think can be the flip side of the empathy coin. People who are deeply empathetic and creative can suffer compassion fatigue which can lead to depression. I have learned to build a powerfully supportive community that is in place during those dark times.
9. What is one piece of advice you wish you heard when you were younger?
A.M: I would have loved to have always known that I was enough. That my thoughts and feelings were valid simply because I had them. That I was already whole and I could make choices to develop my whole self into whatever I thought might best serve me, my family, and my community.
10. Are you happy?
A.M: Yes! And then no. And then yes again! I have faith that happy always comes.
Having the ability to move past life’s traumas is one thing, but to move past it and embrace a lesson from it is another. To take that trauma and look at it from a compassionate perspective that allows for acceptance and love is something almost unheard of – something closely resembling a fictional superpower only existing in works of art.
From my brief conversations with Ashley I learned that she has confronted many challenges in her life and with every triumph her light did not dim – it only grew brighter. She has embraced the idea that happiness comes from accepting who you are and welcoming the love that comes from within.
We all hurt and there is hate and negativity all around us, but with people like Ashley in this world, beacons of light guiding us towards acceptance and self-love through the shroud of darkness, there will always be hope and happiness not too far away.