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.
I am notorious for encouraging vulnerability.
My family will tell you that, hopefully, my friends will tell you that, and my students will most certainly tell you that. Even just reading this blog for approximately five minutes will tell you that.
Not too long ago though, I got myself into a situation in which allowing myself to be very vulnerable also caused me a lot of pain. Afterward, I found myself wondering if not being afraid of vulnerability was too risky a way to live. That perhaps everyone else had it right, keeping their inner selves protected for as long as possible. I spent some time in deep thought, trying to understand how vulnerability, which was something I intrinsically knew so well, could betray me so deeply and leave me hurting, rather than healed. I found myself fearful of the future. Was this a negative turning point in my life? Would I now join the masses of people struggling to open up, holding other people at arm’s length because it’s the only safe way to avoid pain?
I was terrified. I had spent my life hearing people talk about how difficult it was for them to open up and be themselves, and I was so grateful that I didn’t have that struggle (in some scenarios, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.) But now I stood on the brink of falling into that trap, and I realized that people are not naturally born afraid of vulnerability, we are trained to become afraid as a result of negative experiences.
I decided I was not going to let that happen to me. Whatever it would take, I would force myself to continue being open and vulnerable. If that meant opening myself up once again to the risk of being in pain, so be it. This realization came to me after a friend looked at me and asked me, honestly: “If you could do over the entire scenario, but this time be careful not to be as open as you were, would you make that choice?”
When I realized that the answer to that was a very strong no, I realized that I’d always rather be open as a person, no matter the potential cost. Because the reward is still so much greater.
I find comfort and joy in putting everything on the table. I appreciate knowing that the person I am talking to is learning the full extent of who I am. I don’t like hiding. I do often hide, and I always hate how it feels. The truth is, in scenarios in which it is unnecessary or unacceptable to bring up certain topics, I feel uncomfortable. As soon as I’m holding myself back from saying certain things, I struggle to come up with what to say altogether. When people are just meeting me and don’t know me fully, I am aware of the way they inaccurately perceive me – quiet, maybe shy, not very dimensional. Someone who likes to stick to the status quo. Perhaps that is why sharing my writing gives me so much joy. It’s my way of showing the world who I am in an expedited manner. We don’t have to struggle through small talk here, I just get to tell it like it is.
I’ve missed sharing.
Over the last few weeks, some very kind people have been telling me how much they appreciate my blog posts, and I’ve felt incredibly touched, and slightly guilty. I didn’t feel like I deserved compliments on my blog when I’ve consciously allowed it to completely fall by the wayside. I was embarrassed to tell people to check my blog out, knowing that they’d clearly see it was not very active.
While yes, there will always be things that I will not share on this platform, as it is a public one, I am aware that writing consistent blog posts about my world keeps me in a state of vulnerability, and reminds me that there are always benefits to share something that is a little scary to share.
I miss being in that space.
I’ve resisted this for so long, hoping that my mere self-motivation or sheer will would push me to get blog posts out there in a consistent, timely fashion.
Clearly, it hasn’t.
I obviously need the pressure of commitment to a goal to push me in the right direction.
At some point this year, I told my students: “Figure out what it takes to get yourself to write, and don’t let go of that.”
So why have I not given in sooner?
I am not going to let fear, procrastination or excuses get the best of me.
I once wrote on this blog that I never want to be someone who tells young, aspiring writers that I once had a blog, as I’ve been told many a time from many an adult. I want to be someone who can tell young, aspiring writers that I’ve had an active blog for years, and I still do.
With that in mind:
I am officially reinstating the 52 weeks of blog posts.
Today is number 1.
I am busier than I was when I did this the first time, but they say if you want something done, ask a busy person, so I’m going to put myself up to the task.
So. Here goes.
Let’s see where this journey takes me.
I’m on a mission to learn from all the people I see around me, to listen close and gain from the process.
This poem may not mean much, it may mean a lot, I’m honestly not sure, and I simply wrote it because I want to be writing more. More than once a month.
And so here is a poem born from a line overheard from a stranger in the library:
“We’re always 3 steps away
from becoming those
the boy in the library
“I always feel like
He wasn’t talking to me.
I heard it as I studied,
I sat only on the
of his conversation.
His bleached blonde hair,
and long black leather coat
said a story.
Did I fear him?
Did I pity him?
How close was I
Those we fear, and those we pity.
Bad choice or
right on the
Those I fear
and those I pity
and then me.
3 steps to an
For how long
can one balance?
Blog Post: 52/52!
. . .
. . .
I don’t give up all too quickly.
As the High Holidays sneak closer, this time of year is one of introspection. A closer look, an uncovering of what I’ve safely kept hidden all year – the more difficult parts of life, and myself, that I’d rather not confront on a regular basis.
I’m a firm believer in G-d, but I often struggle with Him.
She turned around.