People are always looking for the “key” to success. I am by no means a “life expert” — a term I’ve heard thrown around but don’t actually fully understand. How does one become a life expert? By living? In that case, all who are currently alive would qualify, technically. I digress. I am just going to do some thoughtful analysis (let’s call it creative and active thinking because it has an acronym of CAT) in a new blog series.
What determines whether someone is “successful” in life? There are far too many variables and opinions to give a definitive answer; that being said, a point on which most would agree is “achieving happiness.”
What makes one person happy would, however, not necessarily be fulfilling, exciting, or satisfying for another. I can state with complete certainty that I would not be happy as the ring leader of a rodent circus; someone right at this moment, though, is elated that they have finally realized their lifelong dream of dressing up, training, and touching rats all day long (I just can’t even…oh my word).
Unfortunately, people often rely on others to make themselves happy. They “need” a boyfriend or girlfriend, they “wish” they were popular, they “can’t live without” their cell phones, and they “would just die” if they were publicly humiliated. This type of mindset is detrimental to true happiness, which can only be found inside oneself. Other people’s opinions of my life are not something I care to lose sleep over; I do what makes me feel good, and surround myself with like-minded people. I wasted a lot of time in the past, trying to please everyone else (which, as has been famously said by one far wiser than myself, is an impossibility), and my personal happiness was often placed as the lowest priority. That, I realize now, was a mistake.
I am not attempting to say that one should always thoughtlessly choose his or her own desires over others’ at all times. That would be selfish and narcissistic, and would inevitably lead to unhappiness in the long run. I am saying that, in general, the things on which we should focus the most time and energy are the things which provide not just short-term happiness but will also lead to contentment and satisfaction over time.
Let me elaborate a little on this point. To use an analogy, I love cheesecake (I am pretty sure it loves me, too, but is afraid of commitment). Eating it makes me happy. Imagine this scenario: I choose one evening to eat an entire cheesecake for dinner, blatantly refusing to share any with my husband. It is fulfilling and full of creamy deliciousness right away. But it makes me sick when I attempt to sleep, and my husband is tossing and turning from hunger. The sicker my body feels, the more I regret the cheesecake; the more tired my man grows, the more he resents me. We end up divorcing. He moves on with someone who (begrudgingly) gives him a sliver of her cheesecake. I turn to cheesecake for comfort. I continue eating cheesecake for dinner every evening of my long, lonely, self-centered existence, because I know it makes me happy in the moment. I rue that decision every night, like a vicious cycle. My clothes stop fitting. I stop combing my hair. I can’t understand why I have no friends and am unattractive, so I drown my sorrow with more cheesecake to make myself feel better, if only for a few minutes. Even my many, many cats eventually leave me, refusing to watch me destroy myself. I can’t grasp the reality that something that makes me so happy (cheesecake) causes me to be so unhappy.
Through my long-winded explanation, it is clear that there are many different types of happiness, and even some emotions are mistaken for happiness when they are actually something entirely different. So, how can one avoid the pain of a “false” or “temporary” sense of satisfaction and focus on legitimate, lasting contentment? Henry David Thoreau once stated, “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” Put simply, honestly self-analyze and figure out what will make you genuinely happy and healthy, and do it as much as you can.
I believe that planning one’s future is essential to his or her future happiness. I don’t mean plan out every last detail down to the exact date (I was supposed to be independently wealthy three years ago, by the way). I mean, one must know what types of things will bring future happiness and what will not. Then, keep focused to make the good things happen and eliminate the bad. We must actively tend the metaphorical garden of our lives: plant our goals on the sunny side, water the dreams daily, fertilize the passions regularly, pull the destructive weeds as soon as they crop up, and watch your happiness bloom.
One final vow: I will always share my cheesecake with my husband. He makes me happier than all the cheesecake in the world.
Check out part 2 here. Peace and love.