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Happiness is something that we are perhaps all in search of. We all strive to be happy and this often leads us on long journeys. But what is happiness? What does it mean to be happy?
This is more of a self-searching article. It is me (the author) exploring my own happiness.
What happiness means to me
When I was young I remember being very happy with my life. In the main I was happy, and I was content. Every day good things happened, I had fun and I laughed a lot. I am not sure when things went wrong, perhaps it was at school being bullied that set me on a different path, maybe a path of self-discovery, or maybe just a path of trying to find my way in the world, but from that point things definitely went down hill and I lost happiness. It has taken a long time to get it back – maybe 15 years at least. Now I feel like I have found happiness again, but this time I (am trying to) appreciate it a lot more and not take happiness for granted. I feel like its a very fragile thing as I know that it can easily slip through your fingers as the result of a few bad decisions and that once you lose it, it can take a very long time to find again.
My earliest memories of happiness
Sometimes bad things happened, but in comparison these things were very minor – getting told off for example, or going without pudding because I had not eaten my vegetables at dinner time. Aside from those issues I would say that my childhood was very happy. I define happiness here as most of my experiences being positive. If I were to plot all of my experiences and my emotions on a scale of 1-100 then I would say that I spent most of my time in the top end of that scale (the positive end of the scale).
Losing a Grip of Happiness
Things never stay the same though and I found that as I got older, I became less happy. The time this started to change was definitely after going to secondary school. This move signified a new chapter in my life. The environment of this new school was very new to me. I remember thinking how little I knew about life where beforehand I thought I knew everything. All of this new information made me fearful and I found it hard to cope.
At this point in my life, I was still happy but I would say the scale changed slightly. There were lots of new pressures in my life – peer pressure, pressure to achieve and pressure to find my way through these new times. This meant that on my scale of positive and negative experiences, I was now sitting somewhere in the middle. I still only had relatively tame experiences to deal with, but a lot more of those experiences were negative. I would say this resulted in my happiness being lower than in my early childhood.
As I came towards the end of high school I was really struggling. I had tried to make sense of this new world throughout the school years but still had not managed to do so. There was so much now that I did not understand and so many things I could not master. I had trouble with bullies for example, something I had never experienced before. I simply could not master how to deal with bullies and this made me question everything about who I was. In addition, I feel like there was a lot of pressure – not particularly for me, but in general for anyone in the later school years. Up until that point in my life, I had always been looked after – I was looked after by my parents, and in school I was always told what to do and helped when I got stuck. I never had to look after myself. Then all of a sudden, the big wide world is looming over me, and I had to start surviving by myself – I had to find a “job”, basically find something that I could do well enough for other people that they would pay me for it in return. I had to do that otherwise I literally wouldn’t be able to eat, I wouldn’t be able to afford somewhere to live. Further more, I really had to do these things well, because I would need to build foundations to support me for my entire life, and as if that wasn’t enough, I really needed to find a partner, and support them as well as a family.
All of these pressures on top of the general stress of school, stress of my peers and stresses of growing up became too much and I wanted an escape. I think that is where things started to go wrong. Probably my wanting to escape from these pressures led me in to bad habits and those bad habits had ramifications of their own, those ramifications resulted in more stress, more pressure and eventually lots of unhappiness.
As I went down this road I gradually became less and less happy. I believe this was due to the people with whom I was socializing and the activities I was getting involved in. At this point it felt like I was still around the mid-way point on the happiness scale. However, the difference now was that the scale had increased in length. Now the worst experiences on the scale were a lot worse than before, so being on the middle of this scale was worse than being on the middle of the scale a few years before.
It is important to note that during this period I also had some amazing experiences, so it would seem the scale increasing in size had an effect at both ends – more highs and more lows.
This road to unhappiness culminated in my late teens, at which point I had really hit rock bottom. During this time I would say that I was extremely unhappy. I was having extreme emotions at either end of the scale. The scale was also very large and I would say that I had some pretty bad experiences, nothing that I had ever imagined possible in my childhood. Of course there are many worse things in the world than what I experienced, but for me it was bad enough.
The root cause of unhappiness
That period was my lowest point and one which I was very unhappy in. I would say the source of unhappiness for me was bad choices which led to bad experiences. As those bad experiences started to become more common than the good experiences, I became more unhappy.
The funny thing is though, at the culmination of this bad period, or rather when I was made to face up to my actions, I learned some very important lessons. At that time I didn’t know it, but looking back I feel like I actually found the answers to all of the questions I had been asking as a young teenager. So it felt like I had gone on a journey, in search of answers, and I had to get to those lows in order to find them.
As a result I went from being a perfectly happy person in my childhood, to a very unhappy person. In search of what? In search of happiness ironically. Sort of like I had it, then I lost it and I had to go out in search of it again.
Development leads to happiness
Now fast forward quite a few years to me writing this article and I would say that once again I am happy. The difference now is that I am in control of my happiness (to an extent). I don’t mean that I know how to remain happy because anything could happen tomorrow. Everything could change in blink of an eye. What I mean is, knowing unhappiness has made me more appreciative of being happy. I would also definitely say that I am more careful now in the paths that I tread, knowing how easy it is to lose happiness.
Coming from those darker times, I would also say that it took a good 10+ years to get to a happy place again, following that downward spiral in my life.
The secret of happiness
I have been thinking about the secrets to happiness. I don’t think its a simple thing, for example I can’t say that “contentment is happiness” or “happiness is not wanting”. I think its more complicated in as much as happiness is made up from lots of different elements, but at the same time simpler in so much as happiness is made up from lots of small simple things, that all work together to make you happy.
The key things that make me happy
- Safety – Being safe, secure and comfortable in my daily life definitely contributes to my happiness. This is something that I always had as a child, seeing as I was protected by my parents. I have in now because I have a house, I live in a safe environment and I associate with people who look after me and care about me.
- Control – Having control over your life is important for happiness as it gives you a sense of security. I have found that if you take on too many things, or you get involved in things or situations that you don’t understand, then you tend to lose control and that often leads to unhappiness. Or at least, you have no control over whether or not you are happy.
- Self-worth – Self-worth is an important one. I think that in order to be happy you have to feel like you are worth something. This could come from personal achievement, which gives you confidence in your self-worth or it could come from other people showing that they value you as a person. Having self-worth makes you happy with yourself. The opposite is feeling worthless and I think this is definitely a contributing factor in unhappiness.
- Enjoyment – Doing things that make you laugh, or doing things that are exhilarating is definitely something that leads to happiness although depending on how much enjoyment you are seeking, this might have a negative impact on other happiness factors – for example, if you are seeking extreme enjoyment then you might be putting your control and your safety at risk.
- Friends and Family – This is an important one as it is closely linked to self-worth, safety and enjoyment. If you have people around you that care about you, then your self-worth is likely to go up, your safety will go up as you have people to look after you in times of trouble and your enjoyment is likely to go up as people often have happy and fun times together. For this reason, it is important to make sure that you associate with friendly caring people, and that you consider the happiness of those around you.
Other factors to Happiness
Looking back on my life so far, I try to think about the secret to happiness. If I could go back in time to my younger self, what advice would I give? The first thing that comes to mind is definitely to be more confident on yourself. If you face bullies for example, don’t listen to them and don’t let them question who you are. One of the biggest positive factors in my life, and one that I learnt from my bad experiences, is how to be confident in myself and to believe in myself.
However, thats not easy advice to give to a young teenager. Its all very well telling someone to be confident, but that only really comes through experience. It’s not something that you can just switch on.
I would say the more important advice would be to appreciate that we are all on a journey. To appreciate that as well as having to navigate the physical world we are also trying to understand ourselves and who we are. This is the hardest thing about life in my opinion and it shouldn’t be taken lightly.
I would say that happiness is definitely more about discovering yourself and discovering who you are than anything else.
How to be happy in life: Practical tips
In practical terms though I would say that the path you take, the people you associate with and the goals in your life will play a big part in your happiness. So whenever you make decisions in life that affect your direction, think carefully about the consequences of those decisions.
In addition I would also say that happiness is definitely a scale and you will have peaks and troughs of equal magnitude. In other words, if you seek out extreme happiness or look for something greater than you have then expect the equivalent lows. By this I don’t mean that you should not look for good experiences, I just mean that you should consider that all things have an equal opposing force and if you go after the good then you may have to face the bad.
I suppose this is why people often say that happiness can be found in contentment. If you can look at what you already have and be content with it, then feeling happy should come very easily. If you go out in search of something more, something greater, then you are essentially expanding the scale of happiness. This means opening up new levels of possible happiness but also expanding the opposite end of the happiness scale.