I remember reading interviews with famous women when I was younger where they talked about how comfortable they began to feel with themselves when they hit their thirties. At fourteen years old, thirty seemed a long way off. I was an awkward teenager, full of doubt and eager to please others. The years have, of course, raced by, and at thirty-two now, I have finally learned what is most important to me. I am more myself now than ever before. While I still struggle with the weight of other people’s expectations of my behaviour and actions, I am more likely to do what makes me happy despite the push and pull from others.
The doubting years
At school there were children who, even then, were brimming with confidence and able to express themselves freely. Looking back, I was filled with wonder at their seeming lack of inhibitions and at some level, their prowess reinforced my sense of inadequacy. Who knows, why some of us find it harder to find our place in the world? My best guess is that it is a combination of personality, culture, upbringing and opportunity. Finding happiness is after all a personal journey; the courage to be ourselves is often not something that friends and family can help us with. We can be surrounded by the most loving people, yet feel both lonely and suffocated. And there is no guarantee that we’ll hit our stride once the teenage years are behind us.
Taking responsibility for our own happiness
I know someone who for many years has been deeply unhappy. From time to time, she opens the gates to her soul and the unhappiness comes flooding out like a thick tar, sticking to anyone who will listen. She has everything she physically needs: health, youth, food, clothes and a warm home. She has a loving family, which supports and nurtures her. The problem is that unhappiness, a natural part of life for everyone, has become such an integral part of who she is that she no longer knows how to be happy.
Her dreams, once so bright, have faded and escape like ghosts through her fingers. She sees those around her moving on with their lives and instead of wishing them well, she is overcome with bitterness. Her equilibrium is so fragile that a rain shower or a broken nail ruin her day. Her weary family walks on eggshells, buffeted by her many rages. She has love to give and talent, but she is lost and it is everybody else’s fault accept her own. I see the toll she has on those closest to her. I look at her elderly mother with her bent back and roughened hands from years of caring for her family, and I wonder if she will ever see her daughter find peace. There is nothing this mother would not give to be able to wipe her daughter’s pain and bitterness away. When does too much love become a liability, a paralytic agent that smothers self-determination? Is it ever right to walk away from someone so that they can find their own wings?
I’d like to think that soon enough this person will turn a corner. She’ll be in a job she loves and on the road to building healthy mutually supportive relationships with those around her. She’ll start to chase those long-buried dreams. It won’t be easy for her to regain her perspective or her confidence. It could be that she needs professional help to get there. When she is ready to listen I will tell her that there is something wonderful about turning a new page. A fresh page, smooth to the touch, before a first mark is made, is full of promise. I will also tell her what little I know about happiness. Happiness is impossible without being comfortable with who you are. Setbacks are part of life. Just as we have talents, we all have limits and there will always be things we can’t control. And, learning to appreciate the blessings we already have is the most important lesson of all.
‘Happiness is a direction, not a place.’ Sydney J. Harris
‘Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.’ Mahatma Gandhi