Not too long ago, I was catching up with someone I hadn’t seen in a very long time.
As I finished bringing her up to speed about where I was in my life these days, she remarked: “You sound so happy.”
The statement startled me.
While attempting to attain happiness was no strange concept to me, someone letting me know that I was happy was a little unsettling.
After a moment or two of silence, I looked back at her, and while grasping it in my mind at the same time, I replied:
“I…am. I am happy. Thank G-d.”
I’ve been thinking about this non-incident ever since.
Am I happy?
What is happiness, really?
This is a concept I’ve grappled with in my mind for probably as long as I’ve been able to grasp that happiness was more than getting the lollipop I wanted (don’t worry, I still get confused.)
My life has been filled with ups and downs, learning and disillusion, mistakes and triumphs, as I walked my slow but steady path towards where I was headed. For a long time, I was very confused about where I was headed, career-wise. I tried all kinds of different things.
Friends and family laughed as I made self-deprecating jokes about being a quitter, about conveniently leaving jobs just in time for summer break, about how I’m a millennial who is just lazy and wants to do nothing and get paid for it.
But really, what was happening is that I tried new jobs to find a depth of happiness, and time and time again, my job was doing the opposite of bringing me happiness – it was dragging me down, silencing my creativity or leaving me completely unfulfilled.
Am I happy?
I certainly do not always feel happy. There are days that I wake up tired, stressed and anxious. Lack of sleep, an awkward interaction, missing a good meal, having too much or too little of a social life – all of these things seem to impact my day-to-day happiness on a much larger scale than anything else I’m doing with my life.
There are bad weeks and good weeks, there are painful experiences and joyful experiences, and these are all extremely intertwined on a daily basis.
There are days that I want to hurl heavy, hurtful things at G-d, stomp my feet and yell as loud as I possibly can, because I’m just so mad at Him.
Do all of these things mean that I am not happy?
I’ve often allowed myself to believe that.
When I’ve woken up in a bad mood, I have allowed that bad mood to control my day, because I was obviously just not happy. Why try to fight something that is not in my control? I’m not happy, why try to be?
Once, during a conversation with a close friend about happiness, sadness and all that comes in between, I mentioned something of that nature. I said, “I don’t feel like I control my moods, it all depends on how I wake up.”
She laughed, startling me, and refused to accept that that was the truth.
I took her laughter as a challenge, and the next time I woke up in a bad mood, I did all I could in my power to fight it, and transform that mood.
The next time I woke up in a bad mood, I tried it again, with the memory of my prior success giving me confidence.
Because there is no absolute path to happiness.
Because I’m learning that happiness does not mean that we don’t cry, that we don’t have bad days, that we don’t fight or say stupid things. Happiness does not mean that we have everything we could need or want, that everything is working in our favor, or that the sun is shining brightly.
True happiness is so much deeper, and I’ve finally begun to really understand that.
I want to say that true happiness comes from having a job you love, or being surrounded by people who love you, but these are privileged things to say. These are things that bring me happiness, but are often not possible for others to achieve, for various reasons. I have barely yet lived my life, and I am not foolish to think that I have dealt with life’s most painful challenges, and maintained my happiness through them. I have experienced pain, but in no way that compares to the level of pain that others have, thank G-d. So I feel cruel to claim that I have the key to happiness, because I most certainly do not. But, I will share the one thing that I have discovered that has brought me happiness, that I hope all can have as well.
It is an awareness that I try to sharpen every, single, day of my life:
I am not the most important person in my world.
Are you laughing? Maybe you’re saying “are you kidding, you absolute child? Obviously you aren’t, you spoiled, privileged, little girl.”
Did you say that? If yes, that’s okay. I get it. It seems like an incredibly simple concept that literally everyone should be aware of.
Yet, it is the single most powerful contributor to my happiness.
I am not the most important person in my world.
How does that practically make a mark on my happiness?
It reminds me that my job on earth is to give.
I have been given skills, gifts, and opportunities that are for me to use to make this world a better place.
It has allowed me to build a strong relationship with my G-d, even when I want to hurt Him with all my might. It has allowed my ego to step aside, even for just a few minutes each day, and recognize that it’s not about me. This world is so much bigger than I am, and it is filled with incredible, unique individuals, and I am a part of the tapestry. I have an important role to fill, and nobody else can replace me – but my contribution to this world is much more valuable than my happiness.
You may say that is the path to negative thoughts of oneself, but I’ve found it to be quite the contrary – it has made me value myself in a whole new way and keeps my perspective on how I can give, rather than in which ways I can take.
And I am happy.
Are there things that I really, really want?
Are there things that I believe I need, and that I don’t have?
Are there moments in which I collapse from the pain that life brings?
Are there nights and days that I wonder about my future, afraid?
The answer to all of these is a resounding yes.
Yet, I am grateful to G-d that He has allowed me to feel happiness in my core.
Like everything good, happiness too, comes from good old-fashioned hard work, quite conflicting with the path to happiness that we are often fed in modern day media.
Perhaps, to be happy is our generations greatest struggle.
But is it achievable?
Yes. Without a doubt: yes, it is.
This entire piece was written with the idea that what is stopping someone from attaining happiness are mindsets that they have control over. If you are struggling with depression or severe anxiety, please seek the assistance of a trained therapist or speak to your doctor. Speak to someone, reach out, and ask for help. Happiness is achievable for you too.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, you can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741, or call the suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255
You don’t have to do this alone.