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The Secret to Happiness

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Come one, come all! Stare into this crystal ball and it shall reveal the secrets to happiness! Stare deeply, longingly for ten seconds and watch what happens!

warning: Designed Outta Line is not responsible for nose to screen damages

What did you see? Ahh, yes, that scantily clad Aladdin on his magic carpet heading your way to show you the world…I know, I’m still waiting despite seeing it every damn time; guess that’s how it works, yea? Yep, just gotta wait on the ball to make it happen. The end! Article done! No? No! Right, right, right! Perhaps, more realistically, what we saw was the ball itself and some residual idea of what we perceive as happiness; don’t judge Aladdin’s nonexistent arrival, he has a palace to save and is just taking his time getting to me is all.

The truth is, that ball will only tell you the same thing you tell yourself; I need this, more commonly known as I want this. There is nothing inherently negative about wanting, especially needing, though the two conflict. We need to breathe, we want to not suffer physically to the point our bodies will fight us in an attempt to not breathe so we breathe. Effortless, yes? When we apply the same formula with happiness, though, it is not so effortless. I need to be happy, I want to be happy = god dammit, I broke again!

What’s the secret to happiness, then? To visit that question, we have to take a journey through our lives and ask ourselves to reflect.

What is happiness?

By definition, happiness is an emotional state of contentment or fulfillment. Chemically, happiness is a mix of dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. But, wait! There’s more! You also have the system that in any given arrangement that is so wonderfully you, are able to chemically free range. This is basic nurture vs nature, as well as genetics, and a life lived.

Someone getting sober from long term drug usage will have issues with their dopamine levels; while using, dopamine was released in large amounts from the drug, so when they sober up they experience anhedonia, which is a loss of pleasure in activities. The drug usage causes a reduction in dopamine receptors, among other elements, that alters their ability to feel pleasure the same ways they did before using. Yet some don’t experience these issues and go on to lead lives they feel satisfied with, despite it all.

Say a child born in “perfect” balance chemically and genetically, this ultimate spectacle could be reduced even by growing in an environment that is negative and fosters nothing positive. The same way someone genetically predisposed to explosive behavior can behaviorally learn to control and adapt to more positive outcomes. In any case, the system is the system you grew within, each a different story, and each will ultimately be led to outcomes mentally and physically that bring you to you today.

So, what is happiness? In a brief overview, many factors. Let’s narrow it down to three things for now: perception, self-responsibility, and ideals.

Perception of Happiness

Let’s visit the crystal ball again; if you had to look into that ball and had the choice to see what you wanted or wished for, again no judgement if it’s Aladdin, what would it be?

Think about it a moment.

What you envision is obviously something that would make you happy. Now ask yourself if that would make you happy as a whole, cure all long term depression and your life would be this perfect consistency of everything right and great. Think about it.

I could win a billion dollars which would definitely solve a lot of problems and give me a lot of comfort in life, but it won’t make losing my parents or children to something significant like death any easier to cope with or endure.

This is where we lose grip on our perception of what happiness is and create wild expectations that demand to be met before we are entitled to this feeling. Yes, we are essentially cockadoodledoo blocking our happiness. We expect a whole cake as adults, when as a child that one slice of cake brought us the messiest joy ever. Did we want more? Of course! But that one slice was priceless.

What happened? At some point, we learned too much; there is weight to our choices, sacrifices we have to accept, lessons instilled upon us, and our own ideals we justify or deem innately bad that stand in judgement. Suddenly, we prescribed ourselves a laundry list of goals all in an attempt to feel satisfied. That’s right, goals to feel happy. Now, goals are a good thing — obviously, you know. But what if I told you that happiness is not to be found in a goal? The goal is the cake; it’s the giant cake you and Aladdin can share while on a magic carpet ride. Happiness, that’s a slice of cake.

Happiness can be found in all the fractions that make up the many, many wholes. You have a pet you love and adore? Look at that best friend, stare at your best friend. What do you feel? Look outside, do you see Godzilla rampaging? No, you hear birds chirping and cars moving, people living. If you see Godzilla, I mean I’m sure there are still birds chirping in the background noise to appreciate and maybe Godzilla’s growling is slightly beautiful in the right light. My point is, the secret to happiness is allowing ourselves to find the right perspective; allowing ourselves to be thankful for all the little things, as well as the big ones.

Think about someone who made a big impact on your life, how they gave you strength or aid when you needed it the most. What do you feel? It’s there, inside you.

You see, you’re not broken — you’ve just focused so much on the big cake that you forgot what a pleasure the slices really bring. And yet, while these slices are important, it doesn’t bring an instant satisfaction of your overall life. Our journey isn’t complete.

Ideal of Happiness

What do ideals have to do with happiness? Well, they are your direct response to yourself.

My father use to say he never understood females; if we had straight hair, we wanted curly hair and vice versa. If we were tall, we wanted to be shorter and if shorter we wanted to be taller. If we had brown eyes, we wanted blue eyes while the blue eye wished they had green. There’s a whole market that caters to the change of appearance for this reason and I can’t deny I wish I had beautiful curly black hair and some grey eyes! Needless to say, my father was a single father who raised me and all my girlfriends and I didn’t help by constantly dying our hair and complaining about ourselves.

I don’t want to say ideals disproportionately reinforce happiness in the sense they rule us, but they effectively become a representative of what we deem necessary for that happiness. I didn’t dye my hair because I wanted to look like someone, I was experimenting with my appearance and found certain looks gave effects I wanted to be viewed as me. It was more a slice of cake than the whole cake. Some ideals do act as the whole cake, however.

An ideal of appearance, while largely different country to country, is a heavy weight on our personal happiness in how we flux in it. If we see the ideal as a flat stomach with little to no body fat and we ourselves are overweight, we will feel dissatisfied with ourselves and our inability to be that image we see. No matter how many times you look in the mirror, or avoid it as much as possible with random sightings, you will see a reflection that hurts something inside of you. The same can be said for anything outside the norm; we will see ourselves and feel that weight. Understand, however, that the weight you feel is mostly what we’ve attached to the inability to do and our happiness is something we’ve attached to it. That means, it’s not dependent on it innately — we just created that stigma, that whole.

There are a lot of ideals we learn in life that affect us, even, outside of appearance. Relationships, career, religion, wealth — those are some big ones. Feeling like a failure because you haven’t become who you intended to be career wise; not making enough money, just getting by. Your religion expects certain behavior and you don’t agree with it, sometimes knowing deep down that you feel otherwise. Your marriage didn’t work out or you feel lonely cause you aren’t having much of any relationship currently. But, geez, if you just had that element life would be so different! Except it wouldn’t.

Here’s where my father may be on to something; some of us may have one, maybe even the lucky few of us have more than one, but the missing element is still looming. The effects of it, despite advantages in others, doesn’t equate to happiness. Most of the time, getting what we want just leads to more expanded wants and a continuous cycle. Before I get into happiness here, I want to give you a simple test and I will use appearance as it tends to be the easiest thing for us to pick apart. Pretend I am a genie and I will grant you the ability to change five to ten things you dislike about your physical appearance, however you must trade with those five to ten things. So, if you want x physically then you have to take y physically. For some it may be easier, but most of you will struggle with what to take on as you find what you currently deal with easier or more capable of correcting naturally. This just helps put into perspective how what we want isn’t necessarily the issue as much as what we bundle into those ideals and wants; that happiness can still thrive despite not being where we ideally feel we should.

The trick to beating happiness out of our ideals is to stop telling ourselves what we should be; forgive yourself for being everything but who you are. It is today and this is where you are. You wanted that slice of strawberry shortcake, but here is a slice of vanilla cake. You see Bobby over there with that big slice of beautiful strawberry shortcake, meanwhile Bobby is advancing Susan and planning to stab her for the piece of chocolate cake. He won’t make it in time cause she’s coming for your vanilla cake and has a gun. You see? Instead of finding satisfaction, it is easier to simmer in our feelings and seek out alternatives rather than accept what we have to work with and find joy in it.

A major mantra of mine is accepting the things I cannot change and working with what I can; I have to appreciate myself and all the positives and build the future one day at a time. Ideally, I have all these hopes and dreams that I want so badly but I am one person. I have to take each step as I go with patience, I have to support myself the same way I would support my closest ally and allow myself to appreciate today.

Self-responsibility and Happiness

And here is the big kicker, yes — you are responsible for yourself. That may not seem like such an epiphany, but it is often the most neglected feature we humans love to dismiss. How often do we make excuses for ourselves? Put things off? Ignore realities? Life is so much easier to ignore sometimes, to coast by and invest in hope which is easier than facing the situation and results to come. Yet by ignoring life, we ignore a major part of it — our happiness.

Those perceptions and ideals help function as an attempt to protect you; while not always being realistic, they are telling about your wants and needs. Yet by not taking self-responsibility, you are actively investing in stagnation rather than growth. Your sadness, dissatisfaction — these are elements begging you to expand. You see, you can never go back to who you were because you are meant to grow — every new day, you have gained something and grew from it, which adds to the collection of you. How could it ever go back to what it was when you’re not who you were a week ago, a month ago, years ago? It seems silly if you think about it.

Part of that self-responsibility is dedicating yourself to yourself like you would for anything important. You have to look at yourself today, forgive yourself, and create a plan for tomorrow. If you want to create a cake, you have to obtain the ingredients and prepare them. It takes time, investment, and learning; maybe the first cake will fall flat, maybe another will be rock hard but with patience, you will make the cake as intended. You can be satisfied and happy with that runny cake because a while ago, there weren’t even ingredients. You can be happy and satisfied with that rock hard cake, because you’re baking a cake and you never thought you’d be attempting this ever!

You have to commit and take that responsibility, but also realize while the ultimate goal is to make a perfect cake, learning how not to make a cake is part of the perfect cake. You aren’t failing, you’re learning and that happiness needs to be invested in the learning aspect far more than the end result. So, you really want to make that cake yet ignore starting it because it may not be what you expected? Too much work? Such a mess to clean up? If you keep telling yourself this then you’re left with two options; accept and find happiness in life without the cake or take responsibility for yourself and start looking up recipes.

The Secret to Happiness

So, what is the ultimate secret to happiness? What is our takeaway? The answer was there at the beginning, when you peered into the crystal ball for ten seconds and saw nothing change. Perception of happiness, ideals in happiness, and self-responsibility to happiness — they only facilitate the negotiation process. Happiness isn’t anything in particular, it’s not some ultimate goal or destination to arrive at; it’s an essence, an energy that thrives all around us when we stop looking with our eyes and look from within ourselves. It’s those little things we take a moment to appreciate, the today we grew into, the forgiveness we not only share with others but with ourselves. It can be a bird singing on a lonely day, the smile from a child as they look at you like you’re the most beautiful tomorrow they could ever hope for, it’s the kindness from a stranger who takes a moment for you, the comfort of a hug when you’re ready to break — it’s all around us, all these pieces of cakes that fill our bellies with hope and determination to carry on another day.

Maybe today won’t be the day you see it, maybe tomorrow you’ve already signed yourself off to being lost and incapable of such feelings but also maybe today you’ll take a moment to listen to the silence. Maybe tomorrow you’ll catch a smile from a stranger or lay with yourself and reflect on all the trials you’ve overcome to get to today and you’ll remember my words and they’ll tug at you, somewhere deep inside yourself will let go and you’ll feel it. And when you do, because you will, I want you to remember that you’re not broken; you’re just in the process of building a very special cake.

Originally posted 3/21

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