Happily, n(ever) after
I never quite understood the real meaning of happiness until I was in my twenties. And how could I when nothing major had necessarily happened or gone wrong (apart from giving myself impulsive haircuts from time to time). But your twenties are funny, and I don’t mean the “haha this is hilarious” funny, I mean the “what is this absolute fuck” type funny. I like to describe them as feeling both lost and found at the same time. Ironic really. Some days you have three balls juggling in the air and for once you don’t feel like you’re winging it, dare I say we have found balance? Then fast-forward 2 weeks and those balls are nowhere to be seen. As Dad so eloquently puts it, “they are out the gap”. But today I want to talk about a different type of gap and that is, the expectation gap and why we are not as happy as we think we should be.
Sink or Swim
According to the dictionary, happiness is defined as “a sense of well-being, joy, or contentment. When people are successful, or safe or lucky, they feel happiness”. All sounds well and good doesn’t it? Sounds pretty achievable too. But one day you’re juggling away as normal when something hits you, an actual curve ball, and this curve ball is best known as life. And by “life” I mean circumstances that we were not expecting, the opposite of happiness, this ball is sadness. You now realise the job you always dreamed of was not for you. That relationship you thought would last simply broke your heart in two. A doctor informs you that you will never carry to full term. And you will never be a pilot because at the age of 16 you discover you’re colour blind. Sometimes in life surviving is just as important as being happy and I think that’s not something we are ever taught in school or at home until something truly bad happens.
Happiness? Pffftt, forget happiness, we now only have 2 choices, we can either sink or we can swim. And swimming isn’t always easy. None of us were born natural Michael Phelps. Even Buddhism’ definition of life is “dukkha” which translates as “suffering”. So maybe if we understand that life can’t always be this happy magical place, maybe we will actually find true happiness in tiny moments where we least expect it. Like when a toddler makes a funny face at you behind their parents’ shoulders, when you get a free coffee, when you finally feel confident and deliver that dreaded presentation, and my favourite – looking at the grooms face when he gets a first glimpse of his wife to be as she walks down the aisle. You see happiness to me is found when I’m not actively looking for it.
What’s mine is not yours
We live in a digital age and in my opinion, we like to share. But just like your older sibling who was very selective about which toys they would share with you, we too are selective about what we share with the world through social media. How can we be expected to deal with real lows if all we are seeing is fake highs? It literally makes no sense. We are setting ourselves out for failure if we are searching for happiness based on someone else’s happiness. To whoever is currently reading this, my happiness will be completely different to yours. For example, I am happy when my phone dies for a while and I’m disconnected to the world (even briefly), when I step on an extra crunchy leaf in October, when the tea is at perfect temperature to drink, and even when I make someone laugh when all they could do at that point was cry. Nobodies happiness is wrong, but if we are comparing ourselves and our journey to other people – it might feel like it is.
A different happy ending
So how can we be happier? Well I think we can first start off by adjusting our expectations. For example, it’s your 10th birthday. All you have dreamt about for the months leading up to it is a new pony. You have been jumping hurdles all year with “Cinderella” but sadly, she is not for sale. You have asked your parents for a pony of your very own and have promised to care for her in the local riding club. It’s the day of your birthday, your parents tell you to close your eyes and when you open them, there is the most beautiful white puppy shuffling about on your lap with a bone tag on its collar labelled “snow white”. Instead of being elated with joy that you have this tiny puppy literally dancing all over you in your arms asking to be loved, all you can think about is the pony that never came. In fairy tale terms it’s as if you got the glass slipper but it simply wouldn’t fit. Instead of gaining a puppy, you feel the loss of the pony. But what did that puppy do to deserve such grief? You see when we have our expectations set so high, we can’t even enjoy what is right in front of us. So we need to make a subconscious effort to change how we feel about things. Adjust the expectation, higher the possible outcome. And I don’t mean walk into a job interview and say, “I definitely won’t get this” but if we can adjust our mindsets to “It’s only a job at the end of the day.” That’s all it will be at.
At the end of the day what defines happiness? After all, if Cinderella’s shoe fit so perfectly then why did it fall off in the first place?
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