We claim that happiness is the ultimate goal in life. And often, we associate this pursuit of happiness with obtaining a stable job, a certain amount of money, having a relationship, or simply reaching a certain goal.
We see here that we each have different ways of measuring happiness, and the quality of one’s happiness depends on his priorities in life. So what is it really that constitutes happiness, and how do we achieve it?
I’ve had my fair share of successes and failures. Graduating high school as the valedictorian, a lot of people had high hopes for me in college. But reaching those expectations wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be: I was no longer the brightest kid in class, I’d get an average score for school works I actually worked hard to do when in high school I’d get A’s for tests I didn’t even need to study for. I tried making up for my academics by applying for positions in school organizations but I had a hard time fitting in even in that area. There would always be someone else who was more talented or had a better experience or was more outgoing than me.
And that was really hard for me to accept. The first two years in college was a downward spiral: whilst I had to adjust to an entirely new environment, cope up with all the pressure and expectations, I also had to deal with feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, and somewhat an identity crisis.
Eventually, I realized I was not the only person in the room experiencing all these. I finally noticed that student who kept on asking questions in class, that student who made small talk with the professors once class was done, that student who hung out with the higher classmen just to ask for old notes and sample tests, and that student who would stay for hours in the library.
With that realization came the epiphany that the world did not stop revolving just because I was in despair. I realized my pride and the fear of experiencing another failure were keeping me from bringing out my full potential: that I was the very person holding myself back. And while I was busy sulking at my bruised pride, some were already taking steps to get to overcome this challenge. They have acknowledged their inadequacies: that they were in need of help, and they were not afraid to ask for it.
“I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world.” – Albert Camus
It was scary to acknowledge but it was very much empowering because this meant that only I had the capacity to change my own situation. This made me more critical of my strengths and weaknesses, and I was able to understand myself more.
By junior year, I had enough of the miserable state I put myself into. I applied for an exchange study abroad program and got accepted. And I had the best experience of my life. I applied to various positions in different organizations; I joined contests I never had the guts to join to before. I got accepted in some, and others I ended up failing. My grades got better, as I was able to set my priorities right and study at my own pace. I learned to put myself out there, and in my own little way, I was happy. By the time I graduated, I realized the version of myself right now was the kind of person I once looked up to on freshman year.
All it takes is acceptance. That is when we embrace the fact that we are mere human beings capable of mistakes, and that not everything goes the way we plan them to be. But people usually mistake acceptance with forgetting, and this is where we usually get lost. Some try to completely forget about their failures because they feel dejected from the loss. They avoid it as much as possible because they do not want to see what they are missing on, they don’t want to see what could have happened should they have not failed in the first place.
What is noticeable in modern society today is that it highlights the importance of success over failure: although we are pushed and motivated to be successful in life, we are so much blinded by it that it becomes our main gauge of happiness. However, happiness is not merely something that can be quantified with how much success and failure one has because such metric is dependent and very much subjective.
In the same way that we should not let success be our main goal in life, we shall not be discouraged by failure as well. It is imperative to recognize that in life, we do not always win everything. As cliché as it might sound, failure will only make one stronger for to experience failure is to be able to recognize the things one is taking for granted.
Once you accept yourself (with your flaws and all), you become a much braver person. Failure is an integral part of our lives because once you have experienced it; you will be open to other opportunities, a wider perspective in life. Ultimately, happiness is all up to our efforts as well: how we view the things happening around us, and how we react to them.
There are two ways in which the term happiness is viewed, according to The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: 1) as concerning the well-being of a person, and 2) as the opposite of depression. Sometimes, we are so caught up with focusing on our well being that we tend to overlook the happiness that we might have with simply being content with what we have now.
I remember this quote I once saw on Tumblr: “You’re not going to be happy all the time. No one ever is. Sometimes, you’re just going to sort of existing, and that’s okay. Learn to be satisfied with the content and calm and not sad. Not sad is good. Not sad is great”.
Happiness stands alone: it does not need anything else. This has to be our goal in life, not a stable job or having good looks or any other superficial achievement there is.
Plato, in his philosophy on happiness, concludes that the recognition of our ignorance is the beginning of knowledge, and thus, the step to the pursuit of happiness. While I can’t say that I have truly moved on from all my failures, I am honestly thankful for what those experiences have taught me. I wouldn’t have been brave enough to become who I am now if not because of those experiences.
Instead of obsessing on the question of how to be happy, why not continuously strive for it by merely living? Whenever you encounter a problem, think of it as a challenge that you will eventually be able to overcome. There is much more in life to be happy about beyond the trivial and material things you once dreamt of having.
There is so much more magnificence in the world that it is such a waste to linger on the failures you’ve once had.
Just as they say, when one door closes another door opens. But why not open it yourself? Look at every situation as an opportunity for a greater possibility. So go ahead and open those doors, the keys have been in your hands all along.