Growing up, I felt like I knew the path to happiness. The story went something like this: if I worked hard in middle school and even harder in high school, I would get into a “good” college. Then, if I worked really-really-really hard in college and pulled one or two or twenty all-nighters studying for tests and writing essays, I would get a “good” job. Then, after working a few years for sixty or more hours a week, I would be promoted to a better job with longer hours but less grunt work. Then, after a decade or two more of working for eighty or more hours a week, I would finally arrive there, to “the successful, happy place”. But, lately, I have been spending a lot of time questioning the path to happiness.
I started questioning this path to happiness when I took a joke philosophy class last year. Admittedly, a lot of the class was mumbo-jumbo; we spent most of the class analyzing our personalities and the elements of our personal spiritual chakras. But, after one of our weekly meditation sessions, my professor played the video “Life is a Dance” by Alan Watts. In three minutes, Watts convinced me that “the successful, happy place” I have been working toward does not exist. Watts’ video made me really question my path. I started really thinking about my dreams and my bucket list. This led me to realize how much I want to travel and motivated me to start planning my trip around the world (flying from Spain to South Korea next week!). Then, somehow, all of this has led me back to the beginning, questioning the American path to happiness.
I realize, especially in the States, I am surrounded by a culture of people putting up with crap to get to the imaginary “successful, happy place”. For example, just this morning, browsing through my Facebook newsfeed (a really nasty habit that I should stop but that’s a whole other story), I saw my friend had posted on her Facebook “All I do is sleep” and her friend posted in response “Lucky you! All I WANT to do is sleep.” A few months ago I would not have given this a second thought. I would have seen this and thought “of course people are pulling all-nighters, they want to do well on their assignments to get good grades to get a good jobs (which, of course, will ultimately get them to ‘the successful, happy place).’” Now I realize that this is crazy talk. If all you “WANT” to do is sleep…. sleep. If all you “WANT” to do is eat…. eat. It’s really that easy.
But, after removing myself from this crazy path to the “successful happy place”, I am more in my mid-mid life crisis than ever before. After starting classes at Berkeley, I thought I wanted to get a job in business consulting. To get there, I knew I would have to work really-really-really hard to get into the Haas School of Business and then I would work really-really-really hard to network and interview with consulting firms. Then, after hopefully receiving an offer to work at a consulting firm, I would spend the next two or three years working sixty or more hours every week. I thought burying myself in work and killing my social life would make me happy. Now I realize that this path will not lead me to happiness.
I am realizing that life has no path to the “successful, happy place”. As Alan Watts says at the end of his video, life is “a musical thing and you were supposed to sing and dance while it was being played.” Life is about long hikes and hot cups of coffee with friends whom you love and admire. It’s about climbing mountains and kayaking in the ocean and exploring gypsy caves and running on wet foggy beaches. It’s about sleeping when you need to sleep. It’s about bonfires. It’s about growth. It’s about sharing all of the love that you can possibly squeeze out of your heart. Happiness is enjoying the dance of life, not reaching “the successful, happy place.”