Saturday, July 12, 2014

My Take On: The Pursuit of Happiness


Today am I reviving the "My Take On" series which I introduced back in 2012 with posts on how I dealt with body image and acne. It's hard to believe that I haven't done more of these personal heart to heart posts in the last two years. Several readers expressed positive feedback when I wrote about my struggles with physical issues and how they affected my psychological well being. I hope to gain some insight on this issue that takes place mostly on an emotional level.

The last year of high school was when everyone around me started asking me what I wanted to do. The very question is vague and any answer could be interpreted as failure on one front or another. At 17 years old, I was expected to know what field I was to embark on for the rest of my adult life. After fumbling around with terse, half-hearted answers, I probably saw an inspirational quote on Tumblr and came up with the idea that it wouldn't matter what I did as long as I was happy. I can't pinpoint when this happy ideal entered my brain but it took hold and I was intent on proudly telling off my parents' friends who badgered me with questions concerning my future.

It was only until the last few months that I realized how futile the pursuit of happiness is. The human experience is made up of so many more emotions than just "happy". There are various states of happiness from the satisfaction of getting that A+ on a term paper to the sweet relief of being told the tumor was benign. In order to properly feel happy, we need to have a spectrum of emotions. Yes, that means we have to be sad sometimes.

For the majority of my college years I believed that happiness lay in a successful career and hefty sum in the bank. I tired myself out working several jobs which were rewarding in life experiences but also grueling on my mind and body. Having to switch to different modes several times a day and having no time alone took a toll on my mental health. One minute I was exuberant and a few minutes later I could be holding back tears at the slightest imperfection. In one supremely embarrassing episode, I burst out into heaving sobs in front of around 20 coworkers when my lunch went missing from the fridge at my retail job. I hid my negative feelings underneath countless layers of artificial resilience and grit which weakened my emotional stability. Bouncing between joy and melancholy is not healthy and I am almost glad the stolen lunch episode woke me up. I quit the job soon afterwards and gave myself more time to spend mending my personal relationships which I had neglected.

Some days are rough and filled with more doubt than hope but I think we need a bit of self doubt and serious reflection to guide us in a direction that will lead to greater content. I can't say I've completely learned my lesson in terms of not wearing myself too thin for the sake of career advances. At the moment I have a full time internship on weekdays and a part time job that occupies my weekends.

I think I have gotten better at expecting less of others and anticipating the future less than I used to. I want to set myself realistic expectations instead of aiming way over my head and paving a road to additional stressors and unfulfilled dreams. For now, I aim for contentment and snippets of daily gratefulness. What do you think about the happiness ideal? Is it possible to be in a state of perpetual joy? What experiences bring you contentment and what are some of the worries that prevent you from attaining it?

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