While at a family wedding recently, a relative came up to me and said, “I just want to say how happy you look and how great it is to see. It’s nice to see the new-old you.” I’m not sure she understood the magnitude of that compliment, but it is I believe the nicest one I have ever received and behind it rests not just an outlook on life, but a completely different way of living one’s life.
Over the last couple of years both my partner and I have made a concerted effort to change our lives. Thanks to a few life events, both of our making and not, we both came to the realization that the quality of one’s life is more important than just about anything else. I’ve written about this ad nauseum, so no need to completely rehash, but a few points are I think important to note.
Doing is better than having
Two years ago my partner and I had (and still do have but in different ways) successful careers, making decent money, which allowed us to buy toys and do everything we wanted to do frankly. But we weren’t happy. We rarely saw each other, stress was taking its toll and I seriously worried about both of our physical and mental well-being. Then the best thing that could ever happen occurred and I ended up parting ways with my old job. I needed that. I needed to be thrust out of a safe environment and thrown to the proverbial wolves. Sink or swim I was forced to become an entrepreneur literally overnight. In the process of developing a career of my own maaking, I realized that I was happier than ever. True, I was also working harder than ever, but the process was so much more enjoyable.
Seeing my own transformation, I believe that my partner had similar thoughts and realized at a thankfully youngish age that having a life worth living is more important than money or anything else really. So he changed jobs. Same field, not bad pay at all, but this new job allowed him something he hadn’t had before – free time. Weekends, evenings and vacations were new and novel concepts, but ones that he immediately embraced.
Happiness isn’t easy
In our example, getting to a place where we could both be happy hasn’t been easy. We have both had a lot of struggles, have had to make hard decisions and at times done things we didn’t want to. But we kept our eye on the proverbial prize; a realization that short term sacrifices would indeed lead to long-term benefits.
I believe that this is the same for everyone. Very few people wake each morning with a beaming smile, happy to be in that place at that time. Instead, being happy, truly happy, is at times hard. It’s hard raising kids and there are many days when I see parents ready to pull out their hair. But to a one they would say that their kids make them happy beyond all measure. The same holds true in our professional lives. To do things that generate money AND make us truly, honestly happy is hard and most people fail at this balance. In order to achieve it you have to be creative, willing to take risks and above all else you have to be honest with yourself. It’s hard to do this when you have a family and others who depend on you. I believe it’s also a cultural issue, I think it’s much harder for Americans to achieve this balance.
We are taught from a very young age that we must always work as hard as possible, to try to get as much as possible and that eventually it will all lead to happiness. I remember in 2nd grade seeing in the Apple Books catalog a poster with cars, planes and computers on it with the caption that read “The one with the most toys wins.” That’s us, that’s America and it has led to a nation that is dying not from cancer or contagious disease, but heart problems. Stress and poor diet take more American lives than any other ailment – now that’s not what I call happiness.
No, to break free of this mold and to live a purposeful and happy life isn’t easy, but it is well worth it for the sole reason that we may not live long enough to really enjoy our lives.
Where am I going with all this you ask? Good question. I have to return to that kind compliment by my equally kind cousin. She saw something in my partner and I that we can’t see. She saw a gentle shift in attitude to which we are blind. During the wedding my partner and I had a silly argument, it wasn’t a big deal but we were far from happy. My cousin’s compliment though proved to me that our new, inherent happiness isn’t a transient thing. It pokes through on even the worst days we may have, arguments that cast scowls across our brows are no match for this newfound spirit. It was at that moment that I really, truly understood the importance of the changes we have made in our lives and proved once and for all, without a doubt that we made the right decisions.
Making changes in order to live a happier life doesn’t mean you have to be poor or do without, that isn’t the case with us. No, it has nothing to do with material things. There are people who are happiest working as corporate attorneys or doctors, so for them happiness happens to coincide with material benefit. No, my point is that while they two may coincide, they are not inextricably linked. They are not one and they should never be considered that. You are not to measure a happy life based on toys, but instead on something far more tenuous and intangible, something that you may not even be able to see and which others must point out, as it was for me.
So if you feel like you’re in a funk and that things aren’t going your way, just step back for a moment and take an objective look at things. How hard are you really working at MAKING your life what you want it to be? How proactive are you being? Life doesn’t automatically seek to make each of us happy, so if you’re just sitting back and hoping for the best then you’ll be there forever. No, the happiest people are those who go out there and make life bend to them, they make themselves happy instead of looking for it in others.
I never know how to end these feel good, slightly ranty posts so I’m going to just stop writing now. But I’d like to hear from you, I’d like to hear what steps you have taken to make your life one you want to lead instead of a life that leads you.