Once upon a time, my roommate told me that she envied one of her friends because that friend was so carefree and therefore happy. I was microwaving my meal and turned to her and asked why she was envious of her friend. She reluctantly answered me after a long pause: “Because I want to be happy like her!” I faced her with my mouth full of food and nonchalantly said, “Then be happy like her!”
Except it wasn’t always so easy for me to say this.
I think I was about ten years old when I first encountered the phrase “finding happiness in the tiny details of life.” It was such a bizarre discovery for a child who believed happiness could only be found through significant life events. One could only be happy if they received a great birthday present, money from a family member, or perfect scores in school. Happy but tiny moments in daily life, such as a sunny day or cuddling a cat, didn’t count because they were too unimportant to be noticed and appreciated. They were just ordinary moments, not exactly “happy” ones for me.
I always thought happiness was a destination I would reach one day. Throughout my childhood and adolescence I imagined I would be happy when I grew up. If someone had asked me the infamous question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I would have probably answered, “I want to be happy.” My perception of happiness was unrealistic and unhealthy. As you can guess, it extended well into my adulthood and shaped how I perceived life.
I was even more militant about happiness as I grew up. I thought tiny moments didn’t deserve to be celebrated because they gave me no concrete results. The “I woke up to some birds’ chirping in the morning” or “My favorite cake wasn’t sold out in the school cafeteria” types of happiness didn’t cut it. In my mind, happiness was such a big deal that it had to be reserved only for things that mattered, and those things that got the green light to be cherished were mostly result-oriented moments such as school grades or workplace achievements.
I did enjoy my life, and loved it most of the time, but it lacked something. I could feel that no matter how many good results I received, they were all bound to be forgotten because everything in life was impermanent. My hunger for results was so insatiable that I constantly looked for the next achievement and satisfaction, hoping happiness was just around the corner. What I didn’t realize was that I was a minuscule hamster in a giant maze—a maze that I had designed and put myself into.
It is funny that the human mind can simultaneously be its own savior and enemy. One moment it’s out to get you, and the next moment it’s trying to get you out of misery. I don’t remember when exactly my mind stopped working against me and started working for me. I believe it was around when I went on one of my trips to Hong Kong. I was head over heels with HK and felt mindful of every minute I spent there, from bubble tea breaks in the mornings to midnight McDonald’s visits.
Once my brain discovered happiness was a combination of those moments, it got addicted to them. I started looking for more of them, and, to my surprise, they were everywhere to be found! My morning coffee was one of the most incredible moments of the day, and reading during lunch breaks was an indispensable part of my life. Writing letters, taking long walks in nature, hiking, visiting different coffee shops, and talking to my mom on the phone were all “tiny” blocks that helped me build up my happiness collection.
One of the wildest things I have done in my life is letting happiness take it over and fill every inch of it. I discovered I didn’t have to chase happiness. It was already in my life, and you cannot receive something that already exists within you from other people, some jobs, or school grades.
But, of course, there are moments I still feel sad and mad, and I appreciate those feelings because they help me realize what a precious and fragile thing my happiness is. Perhaps, without the negative emotions that we are so eager to get rid of, there would not be any happiness, either. After having this epiphany, I have become an advocate for my happiness and have decided to protect it to the point of making others around me mad!
One of my discoveries through my happiness journey was that happiness helped me define my boundaries. I realized that my life became less penetrable after looking after my happiness since I was in more charge of how I felt instead of defining my happiness through others. I naturally stepped on some people’s toes when I was happy because happiness generally threatens some people, especially those who want you to be dependent on them.
So yeah, I wasn’t always good at taking care of myself and flourishing. And even writing these sentences feels a bit awkward because I am still a beginner at everything related to happiness. All I know is that I need happiness and I need to properly own it if I want a fulfilling and independent life—a life that I can proudly claim and call my own.
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