This is truly an excellent piece of advice. But it took me a great deal of patience, effort, and focus to finally internalize the implications of it. The art of seeking happiness begins by looking, because to love life depends on being able to enjoy being yourself.
The whole exciting process of deciding to be happy begins with the journey of rediscovery — understanding who you are. It seems so obvious: You can’t begin to be happy until you do the things that make you happy.
But do you know what makes you happy?
In this world of 7 billion people, each of us has our own unique path to happiness. But the seemingly simple concept of nurturing your individuality while traversing your own path in this world can be a challenge.
In fact, in most cases, when you sit down and reflect (a task that most of us tend to woefully neglect), you might be horrified to realize that you have become someone you wouldn’t have recognized in your younger years.
Many of us do.
From a Happy Past to a Happier Present
After reading a wonderful book by Joseph Campbell called Pathways to Bliss, I decided to find and follow mine. I hoped it would show me the way from a happier time in the past to new, happier path in the present.
Try this: Put on an old CD or video of your college days and look at yourself. Don’t focus on the physical changes; notice the personality changes that have crept in unnoticed and taken root.
Do you recall a bubbly teenager full of life, but all you see right now is a bitter and negative middle-aged woman? Do you remember a lively twenty-something singing a song to her group of friends, but can’t think of the last time you sang anything?
Do you remember happily binging on butterscotch ice cream, but can’t recollect the last time you went out and bought yourself some?
You have to FIND yourself before you begin to enjoy yourself. Looking at the consumer-driven world around us, we are all apt to fall into the what-we-should be trap rather than enjoying and being proud of what and who we are.
With two children aged 12 and 13, I am a busy wife and mother, and I am also pursuing a career as a freelance writer. That is what I have grown into. Those are the choices I have made. But while I was drinking my tea one morning recently, my husband asked me, “Why do you always have a scowl on your face these days?”
It was then that I sat down to really think about myself and my life.
Peeling Back the Layers
In college, I had been known for my ‘’million-watt smile.” My laugh was even more famous as I used to laugh a LOT.
When was the last time that I had actually laughed — a real belly-laugh? A sudden wave of realization swept over me. Where was that?
When had she vanished and given way to this overly serious perfectionist and demanding sour-faced lady? Had I not paid enough attention to her and let her sadly creep away?
After all, I had been blessed with a happy home; a loving husband, two lovely kids and every material comfort I needed. What on earth was making me restless and irritable?
I decided that the original ME was still right there, hidden beneath layers of self-doubt, struggling to keep up with people’s approval and goodness knows how many other false standards.
So I decided to bring myself out of hiding — and this is how I did it.
Step One: Food
First, I made it a point to stock my kitchen with my favorite foods as well as my family’s. No more “Oh, my-husband-or-kids-will-not-enjoy-this-dinner-I’d-better-think-of-something-else” routine.
All of us count — including me. (Where’s that butterscotch ice cream??)
Step Two: Schedules
If my schedule occasionally clashed with household chores or child- related issues, I began to give priority to myself once in a while.
For example, sometimes I would have a friend pick them up from school (I would return the favor) if I happened to be the middle of an important article submission.
Step Three: Friendships
I began prioritizing my relationships according to the ones that added value to me as a person. I started to court the company of only those who were encouraging, positive individuals.
Similarly, I began avoiding those who expected me to conform to their way of thinking and living.
I have always loved spending time at home with my family. I finally admitted that I do not enjoy going to parties and socializing every weekend.
I began declining invitations from acquaintances when I realized that I would rather enjoy a cozy chat at home with my husband.
Step Three: Fitness
I like waking early and enjoying the quiet of dawn. I am essentially a morning person. Everyone else in my family is a late riser.
So now I make it a point to wake up and go out on my walk in the early hours. If anyone wakes up while I’m gone, they are welcome to go ahead and make their own coffee. I no longer stay home to cater to everyone else.
Step Four: Hobbies
Given a choice, I would rather recline and read a book than watch television. On the other hand, my hubby loves TV. It is his way of unwinding after a hard day.
For years, I had been forcing myself to watch TV to feel as if I were spending time with him. Now I watch TV with hubby only occasionally.
When I have a book that I cannot wait to read, I will relax with my book — and sit near him.
Step Five: Career
Many of my acquaintances and relatives pride themselves on the salary they earn. Their conversations revolve around their bank balances and the important people they’ve met.
Perhaps these are important issues to them — but they matter very little to me. Still, at some point, I had begun stressing myself out about these things.
I began thinking that I ought to be earning much more instead of “sitting at home” doing home-related chores. I had begun feeling inadequate because I was not earning big money. I even began adopting their phrases like “bored housewife.”
But I discovered that is not ME. I am not a bored housewife!
I love many things about my life! I love music. I love cooking for my family. I love cleaning, dusting, and mopping. I love hugging my kids when they get home from school.
I love working with the underprivileged. I love writing. Why was I desperately trying to be what I had never been to begin with?
So I changed my lifestyle to suit me. I now go to music classes twice a week. I spend a lot of time with my husband and children doing things we ALL enjoy. I work with under-privileged children through a U.N. volunteer program. And I write in my spare time.
What has changed after all this introspection?
- I have stopped trying to be someone I am not.
- I no longer adopt thoughts and actions that do not resonate with who I am.
- My relationship with my husband and family has been strengthened by giving more priority to my own needs and dreams.
- I have a circle of friends that consists of only positive and encouraging people.
- I laugh and smile a lot— just as I used to do in college!
- All in all, I am living a happier life. My OWN life. Not someone else’s.
This is not meant as criticism of what other people think and do. Everyone has her own life and the right to be happy living it. But no one should measure her own happiness quotient through others’ notions of what she “ought” to be.
What makes you happy? What brings a smile to your face and a song to your heart? What does it take for you to enjoy your life and cherish your existence on earth? We have been given some finite decades to live on this lovely planet. Why not dedicate our energy and effort to making the most of it?
Enjoy getting to know yourself! - Nirupama Naresh