I once thought that happiness came from achieving a big milestone of success, like graduating from a good college, getting a fat paycheck every month, finding the love of your life, buying a new home and raising talented kids. It’s what everyone — including my parents, teachers, and friends — has nudged me to pursue as my ‘destiny’.
And while I’ve tried my best to follow their guidebook towards, what they proclaim as, true ‘happiness’, I’m a little disheartened to say that I couldn’t feel it. I mean I sort of did — I had a huge grin on my face and a joyful pounding in my heart whenever something amazing happened (like getting hired or moving in with the one I love). But much to my disappointment, this ‘happiness’ would only last a few minutes to a few days before it’d flicker away. Before I’d come back to my everyday sense of self and realize that I’m still not entirely happy with myself or my life.
It made me wonder, perhaps, of the possibility that there was something wrong with me.
Was it because I was wired differently and incapable of experiencing long-term happiness (genetically disadvantaged)?
Was it because I haven’t accomplished enough in life (lack of success)?
Or maybe I didn’t value these milestones as highly as I thought I should (conflict of values)?
Then again…there could be something wrong with the modern world’s conception of ‘happiness’. Perhaps this ‘happiness’ we all desire and go after isn’t just about winning and taking and walking off into the sunset with a gorgeous partner to a big cozy house. Maybe it’s something else entirely, something unique to each and every one of us. Maybe this ‘happiness’ is what we perceive it to be. Maybe it’s a sketch we haven’t fully drawn out yet. Maybe it’s hidden deep within us or maybe it’s something we haven’t yet experienced.
I don’t know.
These thoughts have been brawling in my head for many years, after having moved to China with my beloved and realizing that actually, this wasn’t the life I’d dreamed of. I wanted something else, something other than this, but I wasn’t sure what.
It was only until much later in my life, after I’d broken off from the relationship and started traveling on my own and meditating when I began to understand (a little better on) what true ‘happiness’ was and why some people could experience it and why some people couldn’t.
You see, happiness isn’t a by-product of an experience; it cannot be bought, given or earned. It’s a mindset. It’s the way we look at the world and the situation.
If let’s say, your boss fires you for…whatever reason. Are you going to see it as a loss? Or are you going to see it as an opportunity to find a better job?
Or what if you try meditation for the first time. Are you going to see it as a waste of time because it didn’t do anything for you? Or are you going to see it as a great experience you can share as a story with others?
How we think largely affects how we feel. And since we’re able to shift our thoughts much more easily than our emotions, I can calmly say that each one of us is capable of turning our experiences to a positive one — one where we feel truly happy inside.
As Buddha once said, “Happiness does not depend on what you have or who you are; it solely relies on what you think.”
So if you want to be happy, see the good in the bad. Appreciate the moment. Understand that life isn’t a perfect puzzle but rather it’s a reality to experience.