I once read a quote that said, “Happiness is letting go of what you think your life is supposed to look like and celebrating it for everything that it is.”
To me, that means happiness can’t come from comparing your life against others’; it can’t blossom through the virtual ideals presented to you in perfectly planned color schemes. It is a generational phenomenon that focuses so intently on social media culture — where the layout, or display, of your theoretical life resembles the ideals we aspire to, and the ideals that lower our self-esteem. Rather, happiness can only be found by stepping back and being grateful for what you are already lucky to have.
My grandfather is a very spiritual person. He teaches me the true lessons of life which his experiences of fight, strength, adventure, loss and wisdom have made him privy to. He firmly believes that the kind of energy you expel onto the world is both a reflection of your innermost person and the people whom you choose to surround yourself with. He continuously reminds me to be a “happy person” — to be the girl who expels good energy and therefore internalizes it, the girl who constantly surrounds herself with it.
I have to say, it seems like it takes a lot to be a happy person. We wake to news of discouragement, of shame, of war; we wake to personal struggle, to jealousy, to a lack of motivation. We wake to reality, to stress, to pain and to suffering. “The dark cloud of negativity generated by unhappy news doesn’t remain confined to our feelings about national and international events, however. It spreads to distort our view of the rest of our lives,” according to studies conducted by Professor Graham Davey, of the University of Sussex, and his colleagues. “Our research shows that when you show people negative news stories, as opposed to positive or neutral ones, they grow more anxious, and rate their own personal problems as significantly more problematic,” Davey says.” Sometimes, this can be overwhelming and debilitating.
And it is precisely in those days that we have to remind ourselves to be happy.
We have to wake with empowerment to fight struggle, with pride to counter pain, with motivation to expel stress and with reflection to stifle jealousy. We have to wake up with a moment to clear our heads and be grateful — grateful for the use of our minds, grateful for our bodies, grateful for the health of our families and friends, grateful for our ability to wake.
I know, personally, how impossible it feels to be happy if you equate your happiness to someone else’s standards. If we try and meet the expectations we think are expected of a certain career path, of our performance in a certain course or of the things we need to do to be “successful.” We go our entire lives being taught what it means to be happy only to one day find ourselves working toward someone else’s goal.
My grandfather preaches “mind over body” — he revels in how powerful our minds can be in changing our everyday experiences with life. He warns me about the dangers of thinking negatively, of allowing yourself to become weak and powerless to the force of self-pity. Research has proven a constant psychosomatic communication between the brain and the body. According to nutritionist Luke Coutinho, “Every thought that crosses our mind or every word that we utter, signals the body accordingly and the body responds by manifesting those thoughts … By constantly focusing on the positive aspects of life or expressing gratitude towards little things, we automatically train our brain to think positive. Even when it comes to health, one cannot take the ‘mind’ out of the equation of prevention and healing.” We even see in professional work environments a correlation between workers who meditate and practice mindfulness and increased positivity and life satisfaction. My grandfather tells me being jealous is useless, and even more so, harmful. Comparing your life against another’s is an inaccurate understanding of their experience and an insult to your personal growth and presence in this world.
To me, happiness is found in remembering the people I love and have loved, in honoring what they teach me every day. Happiness is a reminder of everything you have, everything you fought for, every moment you experienced and every person that you met. It is a celebration of any and everything that has made you the person you are today. In this case, happiness simply can’t be found in another’s life.
Happiness is not some profound, magical truth only the wise reach. We are given millions of reasons every morning to be grateful, reasons to find happiness in.
We need to revise our expectations for personal happiness because once we can become happy, we can be motivated, impassioned, driven and strong. Once we are happy, we are blessed with the ability to pass happiness onto others, to inspire and embolden those around us — to expel the goodness we have within ourselves.
All we have to do now is be happy. Just make my grandpa proud.
Hannah Gulko is a junior majoring in human development.