My sophomore year of college, after I turned in an assignment where I “defined happiness,” Professor Ellis told me that I had the most profound grip on “true happiness” of anyone she’d ever met. Before I re-read that paper, which I was able to dig up on dust covered file in my laptop’s hard drive, I wanted to describe what I think of happiness now. I’ll attach my old paper at the end, to see how much my views have changed in the past 5 years. The moment she told me, however, is something I will never forget.
I’ve been told that I’m “too happy” more times than I can count. People have even asked me what was wrong simply because I wasn’t smiling! I’ve been accused of being fake, pretending to be happy when I’m not, but anyone who really gets to know me, and knows me long enough, knows the truth (even though some of them probably do think I’m just too happy). I’m a genuinely happy person. Randomly funny story: when a good friend of mine’s dad met me for the first time (this past Thanksgiving), he told her that he thought I was a fake person because I was too happy. The next time he met me was on a less joyous occasion, a memorial service. The next day, he talked to my friend and told her how amazed he was that I was actually just that happy of a person. Later that day when she called me and told me about it, my face hurt from laughing, even though it was a relief to hear.
So, why am I so happy? If you read my last post, it’s definitely not because everything in my life is stress free and easy. I’d say I live a pretty average life, not terrible, but I wasn’t born with a silver spoon. The way I like to explain it is that happiness is a lifestyle choice. We can’t all be happy all the time, but we can choose how happy, or not so happy, a memory is. Everything in life is a learning experience. Failures are one of the best ways to improve, but only if you let them be. In one of my psychology classes, we were taught about the Hedonic Treadmill. What I go from this is that there is no one thing that will make you happy forever, no matter how badly you want it. People, for the most part, have a stable level of happiness, really crappy and really amazing things will only affect your happiness for a relatively short while.
I wondered if I could increase my “base” happiness. I thought of all the things that regularly upset me. Things like: worrying about what others thought of me, stressing about failure, or things that haven’t happened yet, but might. I even considered why I had such negative thoughts and feelings about old friendships or relationships that had long since ended. I realized that I, like many people, tended to focus on the things that were going wrong. We’re conditioned to end conversations when we ask someone how they’re doing and they reply, “good.” On the flip side, if someone replies, “oh, not so great,” we’re curious. Then I started to think about things that made me happy. At first it was a lot of superficial things: Money, good food, new technology. Then it progressed to the simple things like going out with friends, smiling at others, holding the door for strangers. I made it a goal to make at least one other person smile every day and learned happiness really is contagious.
But we’re getting a little far from the topic of happiness as a choice. One of the best examples of a choice I had to create a good memory or taint old memories with a bitter flavor, was when a great friend of mine decided he didn’t want to talk to me anymore. It sucked. I wrote poems, cried, wrote more poems, cried more, cried to my friends while crying. The easy thing would have been to blame him; convince myself that he was a rude person who had it out to hurt me all along, but I didn’t, and still don’t believe that. Instead, I remembered all the great memories and amazing times we shared. I think of him whenever I say “it takes two” because he’d always say that when we were up chatting until dawn. I missed him, I still miss him. It was what I needed at the time though. I still try to convince myself it was for the best that we went our separate ways, and maybe sometime in the future our paths may cross again, or maybe not. What I do know is that I’ll always be grateful of the effort I took to keep my memories as good ones
To an extent, I’m doing this every day; making an effort to focus on the positive things in my day, week, month, rather than the negative. Some days it works better than others. We can’t always be happy. There are other emotions that are important to help us learn, grow, and be human. But as long as we can believe there is a silver lining with the bad, some lesson to be learned or someone new to grow closer with. If we can hold onto that silver thread, it’s my belief that we can use it to better embrace, appreciate, and enjoy the happy moments when they arrive. Or maybe, help us to see the happy moments we would have missed before.
As promised, here’s my old essay! I just read it and I do remember that in this assignment we were required to tie in our “common read book” which was a book that the entire campus was supposed to read. My sophomore year, it was a book called “The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks.” It wasn’t really my cup of tea, but I did know some who liked it.
Happiness can be defined differently for everybody. I think that’s why I want to write about it. For some happiness is related to religion, for others its family. Some find happiness in things I will never understand. Maybe where I find happiness will not make sense to some people, but that’s what makes it special. It is important to me to find happiness in the little things life gives, if you ignore them, or dwell on the bad, how can you be happy? I danced around the apartment when I found out my internet worked after a week of none. Or when I finally beat a game I’d been working at for a while. It seems weather its waking up to Mario alarms or finishing a 1000 piece puzzle, I realized if I focus on the little things that make me smile, my whole day seems just that much brighter.
But can little things alone bring true happiness? I don’t want to say no, but I think without reaching some longtime goals, the excitement of the little things would begin to dry out. Maybe not all at once, simple everyday positive events may not bring as much joy as they would before. So what brings me happiness in the long run? To me happiness is my stories. I love writing fiction stories. I don’t think much could make me happier than to get one of my stories published. Currently I am working on a 400 (approximate) page story and I hope to be finished with it by Christmas time. Once it is completely written I know I will be more than just excited, it will be the first step on a journey I hope will last me the rest of my life. Not the one story, I hope I am completely finished with that within the next few years, but I hope this may kick-start a career in writing. I will be very excited once it is edited the first time, hopefully that will be finished by the end of 2011 then I get to search for a publishing company. If it gets published I think the first thing I would do is go to a bookstore and look at it on a shelf and that would be true happiness for me.
In a way I guess to me happiness is dreaming. Something that I hope may happen that possibly never will. I hope to get a book published, I hope to have a book signing, and I hope at that book signing multiple people show up. I think happiness to me would be maybe sitting at a bus stop next to a person reading a book and just having a conversation with them about it. Maybe they wouldn’t know who I was and I would get a truly honest opinion of the story. That would be very exciting.
What exactly is happiness? It’s anything that makes you want to smile, anything that gives you that funny feeling in your stomach that fills you with excitement. Whatever makes you want to dance in the rain, whatever makes you want to give a stranger a hug. Happiness is not something you can measure, but it is contagious. If you are happy it is more likely for the people around you to be happy. For some wealth brings them happiness, however one can be penniless and happy, so money is not happiness.
To me, there is little in life more important than happiness. Why hold back being happy when happiness comes your way? If you only live life once, why not make the best of it? Why not make it a happy experience. You cannot expect everything to fall on your lap and for everything to automatically go your way, but if something nice happens to come your way, why not let it? And if you don’t ever have fun in this life, how would you expect to have fun in the next, if there is a next. Or how would you expect to be happy when happiness comes your way if you just look the other way and ignore its offers? Maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way to some, but to me, it’s how I want to see it. It’s how I feel my life is better lived, smiling at everything that makes me want to smile. And laugh when I find something funny.
In contrast to happiness we look into the Lacks family. They are a family that has few things to be happy about. Henrietta Lacks was tortured and killed for her cells to further scientific studies and make scientists a lot of money, yet they were very poor and never saw a penny of it. Even still, members of the Lacks family feel pride for what Henrietta did for science. I think the only spot in this story with real happiness is for the scientists. They benefited a lot from what happened to Henrietta Lacks and the survival for her cells. The created vaccines, found out how cells would react in space and overall saved a lot of lives. Peoples whose lives were saved are too many to be mentioned within the pages of the book. I believe all of those people in a way are thankful for the research and happy that they were able to survive. The idea of happiness is everywhere, but sometimes it isn’t positive. Sometimes it is the lack of happiness that a story revolves around. In fact, for some reason it seems most ‘good’ stories are ones that the majority of the story is chasing happiness.
Henrietta Lacks’ story is one where she was unable to find much happiness. She was taken advantage of by doctors and scientists. They destroyed her life and gave her family no compensation. However, how can you really compensate someone for destroying the life of a loved one? I would say that the least the scientific community could do for the Lacks family is allow them to afford to see a doctor. In the prologue, a member of the family states that they do not understand how although their mom has done so much for the scientific community, they cannot afford a doctor. Henrietta Lacks and her family’s story seem to have an extreme lack of happiness to their story. They do not have money, they grew up without a mother, when they did have a mother she was being tortured by medical professionals, and they were being tested by medical professionals without knowing why. There are more reasons their story is one of sorrow and unhappiness, however I have not read enough of the book yet to know exactly what else went bad with this family.
Hmm, looks like my overall idea on happiness hasn’t changed much!