Within the last two years I have realized something that I was never told would be my own responsibility. My parents, my school teachers, my Sunday school teachers, the girl who taught me how to swim, my dance instructors, the teenagers who came in as part of the DARE program telling me to “just say no” to drugs, my college professors: Nobody, not a single one of those, told me.
How was I supposed to know I was responsible for my own happiness!
Growing up, it was always something or someone else that made me happy. The cartoon character on TV made me laugh, my mom’s pancakes made me feel good, my Sunday school teacher told me God was here to make me feel good (which, when you’re a little girl, means you equate God to mom’s pancakes).
We spend a large portion of our lives allowing, then expecting, other things and people to make us smile, laugh and feel complete.
About two years ago, I had one of those moments. “Whoa wait. Something is way off here.” My parents told me college would make me happy, so I expected college to make me happy. It did. Then college told me a full-time job would make me happy and be a sign of success, and I suppose it did and was. My full-time job told me to keep working hard to make more money, and that would make me happy. That’s when I had the moment.
I had been on a train of happy expectations. I moved from one external source of supposed happiness to the next, like a child expecting magic from every stranger they meet. Focus was never my problem, oh no. I could stay focused and achieve whatever was required of me to unlock the happy (like I was playing some video game). I kept moving to each new level, slaying dragons, following directions, until I held the prize. What I began to realize was that somewhere along the way the prize and the feeling of happiness lost its relationship. So while my life looked good on paper…I wasn’t genuinely happy…but I had nothing to justifiably complain about.
That’s when it hit me: Happiness is a rather large task; and it’s my own personal task, nobody else’s.
I have had to dig down deep to figure out exactly how I’m going to approach this task, seeing as the end goal (of being happy and then being content with that) is very complicated. Here’s what I’ve mapped out thus far:
1. Forgive yourself… thank yourself… live again. A choice is just that, a choice. Yes, it changes our lives’ path and requires investments (which take time and money) but in the end, it was just a choice. It may be good or bad, but we learn from it regardless. What we must be careful of is to not let a choice water us down. Whatever results a choice has produced, deal with it accordingly and then, live again. Make another one.
2. You must allow yourself to be inspired by everything. Our world is packed full of beautiful things, which includes grief. Grief, though we hate it, is a step toward healing. All of the dark and dirty and ugly things in our world need our attention, as much if not more than all of the beautiful things. So while you’re off taking photographs of a raindrop resting on a flower petal, remember to be inspired to act when one of the dirty, ugly things comes into your radar.
3. You have to chase down all your demons. Why do you do what you do, say what you say? What made you do it/say it? What makes you angry? What makes you cry? What makes you nervous? Figure out what’s holding you down, make peace with it, so that you may carry on. You can’t fully love the world around you if you don’t fully love yourself.
4. Understand, that if you keep comparing yourself to others and their situations, you will always end up losing. You are not them. You don’t come from their background; you aren’t working with the same game pieces. Different rules apply.
5. Make up your own definitions for the following words: Success, Happiness, Relationship, Love, Marriage, Career. And then live your life, and adjust your expectations, by your own definition.
6. We are the only species that must start planning for their retirement (60 years in advance) at the age of 22. That’s a lot of pressure, and a lot of feeling like we’re doing something wrong. Be willing to give up some control when it comes to your future. Stay aware while trusting at the same time.
7. Understand how the grass works. When we first imagine or see or hear about a new idea, the grass looks sparkling green! Fresh! Inviting us to roll all around it, run through it with our shoes off! But after all of that activity, the grass is smooshed. Then the grass runs out of rain and starts to brown. It becomes lifeless, crunchy and it hurts when stepped on at the wrong angle. Ideas, jobs, imaginative play works the exact same way. Don’t mentally torture yourself; educate yourself before jumping onto unknown lands.
And when you still feel like something is missing and you just are not and cannot be happy…
8. Sit down and think really hard about putting that something into your life. How would your life change? If you make that phone call, if you quit that job, if you sell that house, if you give up, if you hold on…what will that change? If you don’t know the answer to that, play it out in your head both ways: Positive and Negative. If you are still lost, sit down and write out everything in your own current life: Positive and Negative.
Happiness is a task and it takes work. It takes work to be content and at peace. If you’re exhausted and drained…you aren’t doing it wrong. In fact, you’re doing it exactly right. You’re on the path to creating and maintaining happiness within yourself. It’s a dizzying, tiring task. But it’s the task we’ve been given, and it’s only ours. No one else can figure this one out for us.