Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Is happiness real?



I've been  pursuing happiness since I was a little girl. When grown-ups would indulgently ask me what I want to be when I grow up, I would shyly say: "I want to be happy."
Of course, this is not a revolutionary idea. On the contrary, it's the most common sentiment there is.

Everybody wants to be happy. We want that for ourselves, for our children, and for the people we love.
The wish is simple; to get it is trickier.

The thing about happiness is that it is misunderstood. We believe that it is a destination, and once we have reached it, we will be able to stay there without another want or need for the rest of our lives.
At least that's what I used to think. I had a few items on my list: love, a fulfilling job, great friends, a pack of dogs, finding my passion, a fit and slim body. Once I had found all the items on my list, I would be happy forever, right?

Wrong.

I started ticking off the items on my list one by one, and I noticed something unsettling.
While it was true that these items brought me great joy and happiness, they came with their own set of challenges. I had expected pure bliss and the end of all my problems, and this wasn't what I got.

The love of my life? Still frustrating sometimes.
The fulfilling job? Still annoying sometimes.
The great friends? Maintaining friendships requires work.
The pack of dogs? Smelly, dirty, oh-so-hairy, and barky.
Finding my passion? A whole lotta work, doubt, and frustration.
A fit and slim body? To get it and maintain it, it's a whole lotta work, dedication, and pain.



At first, I thought I got my wishlist wrong. Maybe these things I thought would make me happy didn't after all? I mean, they did, but not every second of every day. And wasn't happiness the ultimate destination? If it didn't work 100%, that must mean I hadn't reached the destination yet. 

But then I started thinking. I didn't get my happiness-list wrong - I got my concept of happiness wrong. 

Happiness isn't a destination - it's a path. A journey. A work in progress

When I was a junior in high school and completely at a loss about what to do with my life, I entertained the idea of studying journalism. I loved to read, and I liked to write - except for the fact that it was damn hard and a lot of work. For many reasons I decided against it, but that one - the fact that I was afraid of the amount of work it required - convinced me back then that it was wrong for me. 

Because I thought that a "dream job" or a "passion" would be easy.  
What a fool I was.

In the many years I have been on my personal happiness journey, I have learnt a lesson that was hard to swallow: Happiness doesn't just fall into your lap. It is the result of hard work. 

In fact, I would go as far as to say that if you get something for free, it won't make you happy. Not in the long run. 
Think about it: What was more valuable to you when you were young? The old beater you were able to buy with your own hard-earned money, or the car your parents gave you for your birthday?
Were you prouder of the strong body you worked hard for for many months, or the new extensions you got in a few hours?
What's more precious to you: The piece of furniture you finally found after looking for it for many weeks, or the not-quite-right piece you bought on a whim because you needed something?

Quick fixes may be satisfying in the moment, but they are empty calories. They don't keep us satisfied for long. Lasting happiness takes work. You are never "done"; you will always have to work on it. 


There are many things I wanted to do, but avoided for years because I knew they would take a long time and a lot of fucking work: Growing my hair out. Working on my flexibility. Becoming more patient. Writing a book. Learning how to handstand. Going back to school. Having house guests frequently and serving them nice meals. Learning to face my fears.

I didn't do them, but I also couldn't stop thinking about them. A year would go by, and on a particularly grey and dreary day in December, I would walk the dogs, reflect on the year that was almost over, and berate myself for not having started 11 months ago.    

Not doing the things we want because we don't want to work for them won't make us happy. I know that for sure. 
Happiness isn't a trophy you can buy. It's not something that another person can give you. Nobody else can make you happy. 

Happiness is what you get when you work hard towards something you really want. It's facing your fears, and doing something that really scares you. 
It's not giving up on the people you love, even if it's hard sometimes. It's being willing to deal with the problems that come with the dream you're pursuing.

True happiness isn't always easy. It's what you get when you're willing to struggle for something that's important to you. 
Sigmund Freud once wrote: "One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful."

And damn it, I believe he is right.

xo Miriam


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4 comments

  1. that Freud quote... so true. Dan always says he was happiest when he was working two jobs and we were barely making ends meet. We took family vacations, he didn't stress over money that we didn't have....

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    1. They do say that the more we have, the more we have to worry about...
      I think being slightly bored in life is much worse than being slightly stressed/too busy. Idle hands and all that!

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  2. Happiness is totally a journey! And there is such a spectrum along the way. Thank goodness for that reminder that even if yesterday was rough, today can be better and overall, this is a happy time! That's where I am in the journey at least.

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    Replies
    1. I'm in the exact same spot. Life is wonderful overall, but there are those pesky days where everything is a bit off. It usually happens when I have a day off where I want to do EVERYTHING, and end up doing nothing. But that's all part of the journey, isn't it.

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