Wednesday, December 22, 2010
What is Happiness Worth?
Happiness is something that I find myself talking about over and over again on a daily basis. I find myself pushing it into almost every conversation that I have with just about every single person that I talk to and I feel this fierce urgency to throw that word into peoples faces and bang my hand on whatever table I'm sitting at because happiness simply isn't valued anymore... it's barely even an afterthought. Now I'm not saying that you're not allowed to be unhappy because I understand that everybody has their low points. We all have a struggle at some point in our lives because this ride can't have its peaks without having a few valleys. And believe me, I know that the valleys in this ride can be some of the most unbearably painful moments of our lives. However, I'm not talking about the unavoidable unhappiness that comes with the obstacles that life sometimes throws at us. What I'm talking about is the sheer fact that too many people are making choices everyday that lead to a perpetual life of dissatisfaction and completely avoidable unhappiness. It's like we've all decided to take this ride we call life, and we've collectively decided not to enjoy it. Instead, we get distracted by other rides and amusements, or we focus on the lows of the rides instead of the highs, or we just want the ride to be straight and unchanging because that's the easiest way for us to deal with it. Nobody wants to close their eyes, throw their hands in the air, and scream with excitement anymore. This is my effort to change that because this is a damn good ride!
My Background on this Issue
This topic is near and dear to my heart because very recently, I had an eye opening experience that changed my life forever. While I was studying at Penn State, I started to miss classes, I started to avoid my friends, I started to avoid conversations with anyone, and I started to stay in my bed for hours and hours because I felt hopeless. I felt so unhappy with myself and everything in my life that I decided I was giving up. I hated my classes, I had no relationship with my father, I had bitterness towards my mother, I felt as though the relationship with my girlfriend was unhealthy, and I couldn't think of a single good memory from my childhood. I would lay in bed and it would feel as though I was stuck in cement, like it was actually physically impossible for me to move. After avoiding pretty much all human contact for several weeks, I forced myself into work one day and an amazingly strong and insightful woman that I work with recognized immediately that I was not myself. She directed me to a crisis counselor to meet with and I was then diagnosed with depression and instructed to meet with a counselor at least once a week. After several sessions I realized that everything that I was unhappy with had simple fixes. They weren't easy... but they were simple. I just had to start making decisions with my own happiness in mind. I stopped worrying about what other people thought about me, I stopped caring about whether or not I was considered "successful" by today's standards and I just cared about the choices that I made to ensure my own happiness. I finally realized at the age of 21 that my own happiness was entirely dependent on the choices that I made... and my life has never been the same.
1) Happiness has lost its value.
I've come to realize that everyone on this earth has values, and we prioritize these values every single day. Sometimes we do it consciously and sometimes we do it subconsciously but it is always done and it's unbelievably evident in all the choices that we make. What I've learned to be true of the vast majority of people in the United States is the fact that happiness is listed as a low priority in all of our lives. It's moved down the list of values and now sits behind a college degree, money, a big house, a fast car, health insurance, and even societies' expectations. We put all of these things before our own happiness and it's actually outrageously scary to me. I first noticed this in high school but didn't realize how serious the situation was until I got my first internship through college. I would ask everyone that I worked with "Do you like what you do?"... and not once during that entire summer did I ever get an enthusiastic or positive response. Not only that, but everyone always complained about their lives. They complained about their marriage, or their salary, or about how they hated their jobs... I mean literally everything. It even became a networking tool for me to use. Since it was so difficult for me to find a positive topic to relate to with others, I would simply find something to complain about. Once I started complaining, I would hit it off with everyone because their lives revolved around unhappiness. I continued to ask this question at career fairs and at my two internships that followed in the coming years until I finally met a few individuals who gave me the right answer: "No I don't like it... I love it." What I realized at that moment was... I didn't even have to ask... I knew what the answer was just by the way they talked about their everyday lives, how they held themselves, and how they always had a smile on their faces. These are the people I now search for in this world, most especially in my closest friends, and when looking for a job offer... and if this says anything about those people... I've never had an interview where I didn't have an offer extended to me. The fact of the matter is that these types people are few and far between because we just don't have happiness high on the priority list anymore and this needs to change.
Here's an interesting experiment that might help to illustrate how we value things:
What are your big rocks?
2) We confuse happiness with other things.
As I've started to talk to more and more people in this world about what makes them truly happy, I realized that the vast majority of us are simply confused. We often confuse comfort with happiness, and our society only fuels this confusion. At the start of our lives, we have these dreams of what we want to do, who we want to be like, how we want to live... etc. As our lives go on, we realize that sometimes things just aren't as they seem. More often than not, we are convinced somewhere along the way that our dreams are simply not practical and/or not possible. This is where it starts. Then we begin to settle for less. We settle for a job we don't like, a relationship that we're not happy with, friends who don't actually care about us... and the worst part is that we actually convince ourselves that we're happy with this! We tell ourselves "Well, that's life... that's just the way things are..." and we let ourselves settle with comfort instead of being truly happy. We think that simply having a job and having a relationship is good enough, even when these things are actually tearing us up inside day-by-day. Then we have these little tricks to keep us going on. We say things to ourselves like "it could be worse" or "so many people in this world have it worse than I do." Many times this is true, but once again we are confusing ourselves. There is a difference between gratitude, appreciation and happiness. We should all appreciate what we have and be thankful that we do have it better than most, and more often than not, things could be worse. However, that doesn't mean that you shouldn't try and be genuinely happy in your life. That doesn't mean you should give up on enjoying this ride. What I've come to learn is that this ride is too short for us to live unhappily. If any of you have been to a funeral, you know what I mean. Let's enjoy it while it lasts, because it just doesn't last long.
3) We get lazy and we stop trying... we give up.
Once we're comfortable (and still not happy)... we just don't want things to change... because of the simple fact that we're comfortable. So this is where we stop trying because why bother? Why bother trying for a dream that may not come true? Why would I look for another job if I already have one? Why would I end my relationship if it would crush the other person? Why bother trying to be happy when so many other people have it worse than I do? I'll tell you why... because you're not happy! You deserve to be happy... everyone does! You have the ability to change this whenever you want by the choices and decisions that you make every single day. It's never too late to be happy. I've found that so many people have been unhappy for so long, that they don't even remember what happiness feels like. They have forgotten that feeling that most of us have when we're young. That feeling that we have the ability to do whatever we want in this world... that anything is possible. I have news for you... you still have the ability to be whoever you want to be!... to do whatever you want to do! I'm not saying that it's going to be handed over to you on a silver platter. We have to work for it... but it's not impossible! Sometimes we have to do some of the hardest things in the world to take that first step towards our own happiness... but as The Fray so eloquently put it... "Sometimes the hard thing and the right thing are the same." You're worth it! Don't give up on your own happiness!
Here's a great quote from one of my favorite shows that I feel is very relevant:
Some Steps We Can Take
1) Figure out if you're truly happy.
Take a step outside of yourself for just a minute and think... think about what you do everyday... think about how often you get really excited to get your hands on a project, task or activity. I mean when was the last time that you woke up and rushed to take a shower, get dressed and run out the door to do something... but you didn't rush because you were late... you rushed because you couldn't wait for the day to start! You couldn't wait to do what you had planned for that day. Think about how often you laugh... how often you smile... When was the last time you felt genuinely happy? When was the last time you felt like nothing could hold you back? When was the last time you felt like the world was at your fingertips and you could do anything? If it wasn't recently... then when was it? Can you even remember?... Maybe something isn't right but that's okay because at least you can recognize it, and that's step number one.
2) Fill your life with those that have found true happiness.
The main reason that I think this is so important is because too many of us don't even realize the power of true happiness until we get a taste of it. We are convinced that our comfort is our happiness until we are touched by those around us that are truly happy. These are the people that are enjoying the ride and showing us that anything is possible. What's so amazing is that their happiness is so infectious that you start to enjoy the ride just by being around them! I recently met a group of women who have quite honestly changed my life because I had never met anyone so in tune with themselves and their own happiness. On the coldest, rainy days filled with hard classes and intense exams, these girls could always find a way to put a smile on their faces. They could always find something to laugh about and they'd make you laugh all the same. I was even reminded of this every time that I went to the bathroom in their apartment because on the bathroom mirror, there was always a post-it note that said "Smile... you are SO loved!" The energy in their apartment was almost tangible with the joy that they provided. I am incredibly thankful and happy to have them in my life and I hope that you all fill your lives with people like this. It truly is a life changing experience.
3) Start Making the Choices.
Once you recognize the potential of happiness, then it's time to start making the choices that you need to make in order to be happy. For many of us, this is the hardest part. I have a close friend who recently graduated and I was so proud of her because, while everyone else that I knew was looking for any job that they can find and taking any salary that they were offered, she played it cool. She knew that in order to be happy, she simply needed some time off. This is not the norm in our field but five years of schooling had really drained her and she knew that jumping right into the workforce would not make her happy at all. Since she was confident in her capabilities, she knew that with her background and experience, she could really get a job whenever she wants to. So she graduated, headed home to California, and has been relaxing in the sun for several months now. From what I can tell, this is exactly what she needed and now she is ready to find her perfect job... and I know without a doubt she'll get it. These are the types of choices we all need to make. We need to stop settling for what society expects of us and do what makes us happy. Once we start making these choices, the ride becomes so much more enjoyable. What's so amazing and powerful about this is that more often than not, everything else will fall into place once you find true happiness. If you ask some of the richest people in the world why they're so successful, most of them answer with "because I simply love what I do". Donald Trump, Steve Jobbs, Bill Gates, and so many others. They are amazing at what they do because they do what they love... they do what makes them happy... and the money falls right into place.
I want to thank you for taking the time to read this and if you take anything away from this at all, I hope it's the simple fact that you deserve to be happy... because you're worth it.