I used to think the path to happiness was paved with superficial things. I figured as long as I was rolling in money and scientists finally invented negative-calorie French fries I’d be set. Pain and discomfort would be solved by advertisers on TV and as long as I could afford the prescription (whether it be a new pair of shoes or a dream vacation), I’d be a normal happy person.
...Aaaand I’m still waiting (ha, ha).
At some point I realized it was ludicrous to let a dearth of spending money prevent me from basic contentment; that it was insane to wait for happiness to happen to me; to rely on external forces to decide for me how I would feel. I decided to look at something I did have control over: my perceptions.
I’ve been told this is the key to happiness (many times, in fact), but being stubborn I had to discover it for myself. I looked at areas of my life that were leading me to disappointment, pain, and frustration and discovered that by changing my beliefs about their source, I was a much happier person. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
Number One: It’s okay if people don’t like you.
I used to believe if someone didn’t like me I needed to fix it. Unfortunately it takes a massive amount of energy to do this and it made me into a nervous wreck around people I thought didn’t approve of me. It made me over apologetic and high strung. The amount of pain I suffered to be likeable to EVERYONE was unbelievable and it ended up being in act of futility. It can drive people to desperate behaviors. It can kill. Stop it. Stop it NOW. Every now and then it’s healthy to evaluate people’s responses to you, but not every minute of every day. I promise you if you let this idea go, you will be healthier and happier. Besides, some people aren’t worth YOUR approval either, so who cares how they feel about you?
Number Two: Stop the glorification of “busy.”
People will moralize anything, from the time of day you get up, to how many hours you log studying (read: playing with your smart phone). As a result we’ve become a world where as long as we appear to work hard and clock the right number of hours doing so, we are diligent, good people. But it’s making cowards of us. We spend more time being busy doing things for other people’s approval than being busy pursuing our own dreams. This is because pursuing our dreams is scary; our dreams are often tied to our identity, so if we fail, we may face an identity crisis. Better to fail at our parents’ dreams. So we put our dreams on the back burner; we become lazy about them. “Someday” is said so often it might as well be a day of the week.
Famous coach Vince Lombardo said: “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” If you think cowardice and laziness aren’t directly connected to one another, you might want to meditate on it for a while. This being Korea, I doubt I will ever find a truly lazy person. But beware that being proud of being busy for other peoples’ sakes and the tiredness (and subsequent fear) this incubates within you can kill your relationships, kill your health, and kill your dreams. Take some time to think about what you should be busy doing today to make your own dreams come true.
Number Three: Happiness is a choice and it takes practice.
Every morning I’ve begun to ask myself: “Today is an amazing day. Why?” It’s easy to tell yourself you want to live each day to the fullest but then you just…forget to. You’ve got exams, homework and presentations after all. You’re “busy.” You struggle so hard to be successful at getting an A in school that you’re getting an F in life satisfaction. Of course studying hard is important. Do it. But when you wake up and pour the coffee, just STOP. Think: “What will I do to make today great”? Take a breath; make a plan. Will you be a zombie or will you do more than just go through the motions of daily life?
My answers to this question range from the practical (I will learn 20 new Korean words) to the quirky (I will try to learn how to moonwalk). The answer might be creative (I’m going to paint something new) to the heartfelt (I’m going to surprise my boyfriend with dinner). I try to make each day memorable in some small way.
Of course sometimes after all this effort I still feel…yucky. I’ve learned that’s ok. It just means I need to keep practicing being joyful. I no longer just wait for “happiness” to fall from the sky like the universe owes it to me. Thomas Hobbes said “…the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Let me emphasize the part about it being short. You can waste it by indulging in perceptions that are harming you (and complain to everyone that reality is not meeting your expectations) or you can be a beacon of joy.