The Pursuit of Happiness
‘Happiness’ might be the most subjective term in the English language.
What is happiness to you? Our perception of true fulfilment is individual to each one of us, because happiness means different things to different people.
Happiness has got me thinking lately, because for a long time when I was growing up the pursuit of happiness was making me – well, really fucking unhappy. I was always “going to be happy when…”, floating through life without paying much attention to what was going on around me, always planning ahead and wishing the days away so that I could reach this mysteriously elusive state of being that is ‘happiness’. For a long time, I think I expected to wake up one morning and just feel blissfully, ridiculously fantastic, flanked by woodland creatures and tiny pastel coloured birds serenading me everywhere I went as a trophy of my triumphant arrival at Destination Happy. No #freegiveaways for guessing that this never happened (although I did spend a summer waking up in a rat-infested house in Chicago if you define rodents as woodland friends...).
In 2017 we like to put a prospective condition on being happy.
‘I will be so happy when I finish school .. When I finish college and get my degree .. When I get qualified’; ‘Once I get this assignment finished, I’ll be happy .. After I get a new car! .. I’m so sick of work, I can’t wait to go home .. If I get this job, I’ll be happy’; ‘When I lose weight, I’ll be happier .. I’m getting new clothes, then I’ll be happy .. If I find someone that likes me, I’ll be happy .. I’m going to move away and then everything will be better’.
Any of these sound familiar? I’ve thought every one of these things, over and over like a scratched vinyl. If you have too, ask yourself honestly – were you as happy as you imagined you would be when the if’s, when’s and after’s became realities?
I spent a lot of my time at university thinking about what I’d do when I finished, the grades I hoped to get and how ecstatic I’d feel if I achieved them. Last summer, I found myself on the other side of college, desired grades firmly in hand and an overwhelming feeling of…. worry, dread and panic.
It took me a few days to process that I was not in the throes of contentment that I’d imagined I would arrive at once college was behind me. I was so feverishly preoccupied with moving onto the next chapter of my life that I’d completely bypassed the happiness I had wished for for more than three years. I was washing my hands in the Brown Thomas staff toilets at work when it dawned on me that I was spending my life anticipating the next big event with little regard for the joy of the present. I was allowing my happiness to hinge on a handful of major moments, without taking the time to appreciate the magic of the everyday in between.
Happiness must begin inside ourselves. Setting goals and having real ambition is important, that goes without saying. But if we don’t learn to appreciate the present for everything that it is right now, flaws and all, someday we might wake up to realise that our defining experiences and fondest memories can be counted on one hand.
We multiply our material possessions without necessarily multiplying our happiness. What’s the point in making a living if we’re not making a life? Where’s the sense in going through this existence, lost in a haze of ‘mediocre’, when there is beauty and excitement all around us? John Lennon once said that life is what happens while we’re busy making other plans. How amazing, then, could our lives be if we focused less on the negative, less on worrying about the unknown of what might never come to pass, and more on finding joy and achievement in the small experiences that we have every day?
I’m not trying to suggest that we can always choose our state of mind. Will the person who’s never had an issue with mental health please stand up, because we’ve all gone through our own struggles. You can’t simply get out of bed and suddenly decide to feel positive when you’re living with crippling depression or anxiety.
But when our world is brighter, when things are less difficult and dark, we must stop to realise it, to cherish it and to remember it. Pay attention to your perceptions. Nurture your happiness, so that you become less focused on the pursuit and more focused on appreciating the here and now. Spend time with people that influence you positively. Notice your friends and family. Maybe their outlook is ‘not so good’, and perhaps you have a chance to instil some of your happiness in them. More often than not, what you give you will get back.
Stop. Think about what is happening in your life right now. Are you happy?
If not, reshape the question. Turn an experience on its head. Step outside the box, break the box down and throw it away. Things don’t always turn out like we plan, just remember that what defines us is not our situation but how we react to it.
Is there a lesson to be learned from what you’re going through at this moment? What do you have that deserves to be appreciated, probably a lot more than you have been until now? Are you leaving yourself open to chance? To change? Listen to your heart. More importantly, listen to your gut instinct because it’s rarely wrong. You are worthy of infinite happiness – you deserve to find it in every single thing you do. Happiness does not depend on your surroundings, on your appearance or on another person. Real happiness is grown every day, little by little, when you pause to find the positive in seemingly mundane situations no matter how simple they may seem.
Roald Dahl once wrote that
“life is made up of a great number of small incidents and a small number of great ones”.
The man was not wrong. Life is made up of 90% ordinary, 10% extraordinary. Finding the best in the everyday and being consciously appreciative when things are going right for us means that we are investing in our own happiness. They say that the measure of a person is not the years of their life, but the life in their years. So after reading this, ask yourself again if you are happy. Take more time to consider things. Worry about the future a bit less, because the only thing that’s certain about life is its uncertainty. Choose your perceptions to find your happiness, and then share it.
The pursuit of happiness ends when you realise that happiness starts right now.