This post is going to be honest. Nothing fancy schmancy, nothing intentionally funny but passed off as my own natural hilarity, just straight up honest.
With it approaching the new year, people often take time to reflect and be honest with themselves about what they might need to change in their lives. Being the thinker I am, I feel like I constantly reevaluate everything mentally anyway, so it’s not particularly new to me to consider the little micro movements I need to make in order to make the most of my life. I don’t always share these evaluations publicly but today, for no particular reason, I am.
I think a part of growing up, or certainly my growing up is realising that the only thing that is important in this one life, like genuinely important, is happiness. Ultimately, every individual is in charge of their own happiness and I honestly believe that there is no greater meaning or purpose in this life than to be happy.
But this pursuit of happiness appears to be kind of long and enduring and almost requires us to try and undo many years of human conditioning that force us towards unhappiness. Does it ever feel like the natural and normal state is unhappy but you have to try to push through it to be happy?
The shitty unhappiness of the world monotonously pours through car radios, internet homepages and Facebook newsfeeds, their drivel seeping into our pathetically over influenced brains. And then we talk about it and make ourselves feel worse.
Media constantly tells us that we should be happy. Except it’s all wrong. Media exploits people’s insecurities. Media makes out like happiness comes from driving nice cars or being skinny with curves in all the right places.
Social media drives unhappiness into our lives by pushing us to compare the highlights of other people’s lives to, what seems to be, the sheer mediocrity of our own lives. So we enviously flick through other people’s travel photos and wish we were living it up the way they are, lying on a beach with two tanned thighs in sight or building orphanages in third world countries. I’m not negating other people’s experiences, just saying that the Instagram picture is never the full picture. Maybe what you don’t see behind their heavily filtered photo is that they are broke or unemployed or sick of life. This interpretation of ‘happiness’ is not real.
In our era of technology, humans are unhappier than ever.
The only thing I ever want from my life is for happiness to be my normal state. How will I achieve this?
Extensive reading and little life experience makes me conclude that happiness is possible. I have taken some steps to try and increase my own happiness but I’m still working really hard on others. Being happy almost requires us to undo all the conditioning that has made us unhappy in the first place. That’s f***ing hard, considering that the news, TV adverts and social media have created an industry that programmes us like robots to be unhappy. But there are ways. It is possible. And it doesn’t, as I often wonder, require deep meditation in the heart of the Himalayas and adopting a lifestyle that requires detachment from everything worldly or materialistic (although that would be cool too, also cold because it’s the Himalayas, sorry, I know said I wouldn’t try to be funny but it’s hard when I just… am).
I told myself I wasn’t going to do a list because lists have become so mainstream but they’re such a good way of breaking up text that I’m going to write a list anyway. (Check me out saying things like ‘breaking up text’… I’m such a blogger now.) By the way, I will not include things like ‘exercise more to release endorphins’ or ‘drink more water’. This isn’t one of those lists with pictures from google images of people looking really attractive when they go running.
The List Of How To Maybe Achieve Happiness By Undoing The Unhappiness Of Human Conditioning, Whilst Not Having To Adopt A Himalayan Lifestyle.
1. Fostering Gratitude
What I said before about ‘the sheer mediocrity of our own lives’? Mediocrity is far more awesome than it’s ever given credit for. Gratitude is really really hard to practise because it’s easier and more comfortable to suffer. The natural human response is to look at life and focus on the hard parts, the breakups, heartaches, deaths, losses, wars, illnesses and struggles. But what we don’t realise is that happiness really does come in the tiniest forms of feeling grateful.
Every moment the sun breaks out of the clouds is a moment to practise gratitude. So is every cup of tea ever made, especially if it was made for you by someone else. So is every good night of sleep, every smile from a stranger, every person who gave way to you and every conversation you got really into. Gratitude isn’t just for birthdays or christmas; it’s a way of life.
I understand that fostering gratitude must be especially hard for people fighting mental illness. What’s the point in being grateful when life feels meaningless? I haven’t experienced depression personally, but I understand this feeling of ‘what’s the point?’. In fact, I went through several weeks of feeling like that towards the end of my last semester at uni. It’s awful. Emotional instability is horrible. But I know that fostering gratitude is a skill that comes with practice. I know this because I did it for a long time, and then I lost my way a little and now I’m doing it again and everything is looking brighter.
2. Being nice to myself
I suck at this. This is exactly the thing that makes me my own worst enemy and the thing that made me have the really bad few weeks at the end of term. I always think… if your best friend was crying over something he or she was genuinely upset about, even if the reason didn’t seem valid to you because you couldn’t fully relate, would you tell him/her to man up and get her shit together? Yeah, I wouldn’t either.
So why do I do this to myself so much? I can be such a perfectionist. I can expect so much of myself, pushing myself not to slip up, to get everything right to the point where if I make a mistake I just berate myself for it because I’m not meeting my own stupidly high standards. And the worst part is that I didn’t even realise I was doing this until my best friend pointed it out to me. So this is my ‘resolution’, if you will… just to be nice to myself. All the time, if possible. Especially in the way of not comparing myself to other people. I suck at that too. I do it all the time and have done since I was a child. I fought to be seen and heard, to be the centre of attention by being good at everything. I thrived academically, pushed hard, because anything less than straight A*s in every subject, a perfect body, face, relationship, job aspiration and gleaming set of extracurricular talents was unacceptable.
I get so f***ing insecure because that’s the damage I did to myself over all those years of trying to be perfect. And now I’m suffering from it.
All by comparing my own looks, body shape, skills , talents , thoughts and abilities to people who I think are better than me in all those departments. And I really want to undo it all now, undo all those levels of conditioning and strive for happiness.
3. Ticking my own boxes
Everyone has a set of different things that make them happy, and largely this part comes down to how well we know ourselves. Though the quality of constant introspection is sometimes a curse, at least I am able to know what makes me happy. Being busy makes me happy (because I don’t get sucked into my own thoughts when I’m busy). Having lots of things to get ticked off makes me happy… and then the physical act of ticking them off makes me happy. Being really tidy makes me happy. Not having BBC News as my homepage makes me happy. Not being around leeches who suck away at the positivity I work so hard at makes me happy. Not eating meat is really hard but it makes me happy because somewhere inside me it feels quite good. Travelling makes me happy but I don’t need to travel 24/7 to be happy. The people I like make me happy. My intuition tells me that all these things are good for me, so if I can maintain the right balance of tick boxes, I should be creating happiness as I go along, hopefully without thinking too hard.
4. Letting go and living
I am a planner. I plan my whole life in advance. Ask me that ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ question and I will give you a perfect answer because the future occupies a greater percentage of my thoughts than the present. But whilst it’s good to have goals, it’s not good to forget to live for each moment. Focusing all my energy on the present is hard. That’s why I try to practise meditation, but I still find it awfully difficult.
The letting go part is hard too. It is counterintuitive for humans to be detached from other humans and possessions, but I genuinely believe that the less attached we are, the happier we are. I won’t write more on this because I haven’t figured out how to detach from a lot of things yet, but life will teach me, and eventually I’ll write another list on here for your reading pleasure.
This is the part where I go ‘that’s it folks’… but that’s not it. That is merely scratching the surface of what happiness is and how to achieve it. I will however end with this:
My mission in life is to be happy. Not just my mission for 2016. This isn’t some ‘new year, new me’ thing. This is me saying I already am and will continue to dedicate myself to this goal of happiness and will, like in the pursuit of any other goal, neither give up, nor put myself down if I’m not getting there fast enough.
And if all else fails… Hello Himalayas.