The end of junior year, as I turned 17, I thought I’d found the blueprint to a perfect life.
It was a simple insight – that the point of life wasn’t money or social status but to be happy. And though everyone ‘knew’ this obvious fact, they didn’t apply it. There were two types of people, the ones who tossed it on top of all the other axioms casted off as ‘duh! I already know.’ and folks who publicly claimed to live by the code but in action didn’t.
For me, this was no act to appear enlightened, rather happiness actually became the north star to my life–the only thing that concerned me when it came to making decisions. And so, guided and driven by happiness, I looked forward to all of it that awaited me as I proudly marched ahead towards senior year.
I’ve recently turned 27. An entire decade has passed chasing happiness. And It’s taken all this time of doing almost everything wrong to finally realize why.
Happiness wasn’t and isn’t the key to life.
Chasing happiness, in principle, seems like a sound plan. If you want something you should go for it! Right?
But as I lived everyday seeking happiness, it appeared less frequently and in increasingly ephemeral forms. I ended up becoming a hedonist who couldn’t stand the slightest pain. I closed it off from my daily life, and when I wound up in situations where I lacked full control–like a group trip in a foreign environment–my personality changed. I would turn stubborn and see everything as everybody else’s and the world’s fault.
I was unhabituated to the pain I heard everyone else talk about. The pain of having to work a three hour shift before studying for exams. The pain of having to deal with a shitty boss or rude customers. The pain of having to pay your bills on time. The pain of shopping for groceries so that you could cook. The pain of doing dishes and cleaning up.
While watching everybody else go through that, I had only seen it as pain, when in fact they were getting used to it all, becoming hardened. To them it was no longer pain but a part of life. So when they and I met out in the real world, in those situations where I couldn’t just throw my arms up and take off… where we had to put our heads together and solve a problem or simply make due, I would be the first to fold while they persisted.
They had grit.
I liked grit. Wanted it. But I wasn’t open to the pain necessary to develop it.
Even back then I realized that grit was something that couldn’t be obtained by chasing it itself. You had to do all these other things that brought you pain, and persevere. Grit wasn’t something tangible you just reached out for, it’s what remained after a whole slew of other things. A mindset.
This is where I went wrong with happiness. It wasn’t something you could just practice everyday.
Like grit, happiness was a mindset that remained at the end of a day, at the end of a year, at the end of a life well lived.
I’ve finally come to realize that happiness isn’t the key to life but rather the goal. We all want to end up in this particular state of mind, but chasing it in itself will never get you there. I guess that’s why there’s that saying, ‘find out what makes you happy’…