In our culture, happiness is often portrayed as a goal to be achieved at some point after fulfilling all the requirements.
I often hear people say that they’re unhappy presently, but will be happy in the future, like when they finish school, meet the right person or find a good job.
But seeing happiness as an end goal makes it virtually unattainable. There will always be a nicer car, someone with more money, a skinnier physique, less acne or a seemingly “better” life. There will always be someone else who has things that you don’t.
This societal focus on comparison has had immensely detrimental effects to our view of what it is to be happy. Everywhere we look we see people who we’re told we should aspire to be like. People with lots of money. Models who are unrealistically thin. This is what you need to be happy, we’re told. Be someone else, then you’ll be happy, we’re told. But that’s not how it should be.
Each and every single one of us is exactly who we need to, and are meant to, be. We are the way we are for a reason. Being told that we need to be someone else’s idea of perfect is just plain wrong. It leads to huge internal conflict, especially in our formative years, as during the time we’re supposed to be finding ourselves we’re being told that we have to be someone else.
One in four young adults will suffer from depression before they reach age 24, and almost 20 million Americans deal with depression every year. Being depressed is not easy. In my struggle as a 21 year old dealing with depression, I didn’t know I was depressed until I wanted to change.
I had issues with substance abuse. I found myself turning to drugs whenever anything in my life happened. Happy, sad, exciting, boring, regardless of the occasion, drug use became a central part of my everyday life. As it progressed and dependencies and tolerance grew, I no longer got high. I no longer got low. And that wasn’t limited to the physical, but the mental and emotional as well. I was in a constant state of numbness. I didn’t feel anymore. I was no longer happy, nor sad, nor excited, nor bored. I became a shell of a person, merely going through the motions. I was a robot.
It was a slow process of devolution, one that I was largely unaware of while it was happening, like a frog sitting in cool water as it turns to boil.
One day, I became aware of my state of being. I realized what I had become, and I realized I wanted to change, but I didn’t know where to start. I wondered if I was a sociopath, because I had read that sociopaths weren’t capable of typical human feeling, but then thought no, as I had also read that sociopaths aren’t aware of the fact that they’re sociopaths, so it must be something else.
I started to trace it back, in an attempt to figure out what had become of me. And then it hit me. The drugs. The constant numbing of my body, mind and emotions no longer just affected me while they were in my system, but had become me. Why did I do this to myself?
Well, lots of reasons. I think it started with a need for validation. A lack of internal peace.
The fleeting moments that provided me with such pleasure I mistook to be happiness. I was constantly comparing and measuring myself against others, and I couldn’t just accept and be happy with who I was. I saw people around me seeming to have the time of their lives while smoking bowls and doing lines, and I wanted to feel that way. I wanted to feel confident and happy. And I won’t lie and say that I don’t think there are certainly beneficial effects that can be experienced from marijuana usage, but it has to be in moderation. I was no longer moderate in any of my use. I had crossed the line to abuse.
I was lost. I came to see that much of my life had become about finding identifiers. I wanted to find a group or a way to label myself, whether it be positive or negative. College student. Lacrosse player. Pothead. Fraternity brother.
I discovered that concern wasn’t about finding who I was, but rather about finding a way for others to see me. I had become more worried about my peer’s perceptions of me than how I perceived myself.
I was no longer a person I wanted to be. I was barely even a person. I had no sense of inner peace, because my peace revolved around external perception, which can never be totally satisfied, because you can’t make everyone happy.
So I decided to recreate myself. To make myself into a person I wanted to be. I stopped worrying about how other people saw me, and that was the moment I became me. I put my happiness first. I cut out the boozing, the drug abuse, and the focus on the ego. I started meditating and working towards inner peace. I became happy.
I started to feel again, and I feel everything. I feel so much now sometimes I can barely stand it. I feel the highs and the lows and every inch of the spectrum in between. But I f*cking love it. I wouldn’t change it for a second.
As a happy and loving person, I can spread happiness and love. I couldn’t do that out of numbness. All I could spread was more numbness. So now that I have nothing in my heart but happiness and love, I do my best every single day to instill happiness and love in the hearts of those who are open to a little more.
At the end of the day, you’re only responsible for one person’s happiness: your own.
We imprison ourselves within our own minds, trapped in a downward spiral of self-loathing. The trick is though, we are the only ones capable of letting ourselves out of this prison. As the late, great Bob Marley once sang, “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our mind.”
By finding a place of inner peace where our opinion of ourselves no longer depend on anyone but us, and becoming happy with who we are, only then can we be happy. We must be able to love ourselves. If we can’t love ourselves and be grateful for every day we get to be us, we’ll never be happy.
This is by no means an easy feat. It takes a long time, but recognition is the first step. Realizing that something is wrong and wanting to change is the first step towards making a change. Sustainable change takes time, but we’re all capable of it. If we wanted to, we could all break down the barriers that we’ve built and that have been built for us in separating us from happiness. We can embrace, love, and accept ourselves, and choose to be happy.
Choose happiness, friends.
“With most people happiness is something that is always just a day off. But I have made it a rule never to put off being happy till tomorrow. Don’t accept notes for happiness, because you’ll find that when they’re due they’re never paid, but just renewed for another thirty days.”
~ John Graham
Author: Max Dieter
Editor: Travis May