The pursuit of happiness

by Caitlin Johnson

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A few months ago a friend asked what I would wish for if I could have just one thing out of life. As nearsighted as I am, I told him I wanted to finish school.

“What else?” he asked.

Surprisingly, I didn’t know how to answer that. There was always the wish of material things, such as the fantasy of the cozy house in the mountains with the garden and the dog, but I already knew I could easily make that happen if I tried, just as I knew I was only a few weeks away from graduation. But what was it that I truly wanted?

“To be happy,” I told him. He smiled.

After that conversation I continued to think about the things that make me happy. I love cooking, and could eat everything in site as if it were going out of style tomorrow. Practicing archery still gives me an outlet for my frustrations and my childish desire to destroy things, and writing is still something I enjoy. But when compared to the idea of what it means to truly be happy, those things seemed superficial and insignificant

For as long as I can remember I’ve believed in the greater purpose of life. It never made sense for us to work so hard through school and our young adult lives, striving to get that 9-5 job we’d most likely end up hating down the road. Wasn’t the point of life to enjoy it? And sure, there are always highlights along the way, vacations and holidays and times spent with friends, but if those are the only things we look forward to, we’re not truly happy.

I have this weird morbid habit of constantly thinking about “the worst that could happen.” I often wonder, if I died today, would my ghost be satisfied looking back at the decisions my living self made? Or would she forever resent herself in the afterlife, cursing her ambitions, or lack thereof, that she missed out on when she had the chance? Because I’m such a brat I imagine my jealous ethereal self would take revenge by causing chaos among the living. For the sake of the world, I’ve taken it upon myself to try and appease my restless spirit while I’m alive.

Naturally, these thoughts are quite depressing. So after I finish cheering myself up with some sort of food, I’m suddenly motivated to do something with my life. I’m a firm believer that every day should be an adventure, that we should be able to see the successes in even the smallest victories. For example, yesterday I made it through the day without completely embarrassing myself in some way. If you think that’s easy you obviously haven’t met me. But it was a victory nonetheless, and each little win can add up to a greater sense of accomplishment moving forward, something I’ve desperately needed for much of my life.

Every day I remind myself about the conversation with my friend. I try to reassess my goals and ask myself if the things I do day to day are helping me accomplish those goals. That includes how I spend my time, the people I spend it with, and whether or not my actions are going to have some payoff for me personally in the long run. I used to have a hard time cutting unnecessary things from my life. I’d cling to everything, even if it was only bringing me pain. I’ve since learned that I too deserve to be happy, and for the most part can take an objective step back and ask myself if what I allow into my life is helping or hindering my happiness.

It’s not easy, but life is so much more rewarding when we work hard to achieve our goals. In the end, we’re the only ones that can make ourselves happy; no one or nothing is going to do it for us. It can be a tough lesson to learn, but nothing in life is worth having if it wasn’t earned. True happiness is worth it.

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