Happiness is always such a sketchy topic. It’s so broad and expansive, and can cover such sweet, fleeting moments that become memories, or such incredible depth that changes you forever. I like to think that both are important, providing only the second one is the one you pursue. It’s also the harder one to obtain. Of course.
I was trying to pick the best way to describe happiness for me and I think it is this: Happiness is not a destination.
My all-time, partially cliche but seriously consistent way of elaborating my thoughts is literally straight out of the bible: a guy named Paul. Paul was the guy who had a massive heart change; went from powerfully mistreating those who did not follow his lifestyle, to becoming a man who followed Jesus and was harshly mistreated for his belief. (Ironic, but not karma.) In the bible, he talked about tons of crazy things he went through: beatings, lashings, jailed, shipwrecked, hunted down, went without food, stoned with rocks…and they’re only things he accounted for. Then, while he is in jail writing the letter to the Philippians, he talks about his heart and the joy that comes from knowing his life isn’t in vain. That for all of his “misfortune” comes a happiness from knowing God and what He is doing with the world.
Sometimes if I flip a pancake before it burns on one side, I am also filled with joy. I imagine this feels exactly the same.
Now, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt: Paul’s not daft. He’s not saying, “This is my ideal situation!” He was still human and would have struggled immensely, as anyone would in those circumstances. But, regardless of all of the terrible positions he had been in, Paul’s heart doesn’t fade from the joy of knowing what is happening outside of his own personal situation. Even more amazing, and the part that always tugs at the excuse-making part of my brain, is that he’s not in any better situation when he says this.
My sister once shared with me that everyone grows up with life expectations, and not only consciously glaring ones. For some, they can be big things, things that are instilled in us from young children: career, marriage, babies, travel, goals. I expect to study hard, pass my exams and head into my career of choice. I expect to fall in love at some point, I expect to have fun experiences, I expect to make a name for myself, become a particular person; I expect ups and downs but ultimately that life will be what I make it.
Then there are the overlooked sub-conscious things that we all form in our mind from a young age: health, friends, family, infertility, disabilities, mindsets, even stuff as simple as situations with consequences. Nobody particularly expects to lose close friends, have car accidents, be born into unreliable family, have ones you love die unexpectedly, spend a lot of money on doctors, move cities, or do even smaller things that alter your life course in its consequences.
I love my life, a lot. I often say I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s a rollercoaster but man, it’s good. One thing I don’t love about it though is my chronic back pain. It’s been around for a while. And what I used to think was that when I felt better, when the back pain had run its course, I would be a better person. I will exercise more once the hard part is finished, I remember thinking. I will read more and finish projects when the pain is gone. I will clean the house and love my husband and be happier and be more attentive and love better and work harder and be a better manager of my life… but that it can only happen when the hard thing in my life has packed up and left me to be my “normal” self again – normal, meaning what I expected of my life. As I slowly learnt, this was deceiving and if I hadn’t changed my mindset or redirected my vision, I would still be waiting. When I was a child, I didn’t dream into struggling with health problems when I grew up. I was pain-free in my vision for my life! Unexpected things happen, and it’s always a shock. It goes against our goals and our dreams, as well as our basic wants and needs as humans.
Rather than striving for an expected life that doesn’t exist at that point, it is important to stop and face these smaller things (which are actually big things) and declare, “I accept me exactly where I am. I accept that my life is not what I expected it to be, and I will start working on this as the base of my life, instead of being constantly upset that I’m not where I should have been.” Continue to dream. Oh goodness, don’t stop believing (cue Journey soundtrack) because vision is insanely integral, vitally important and aids you into putting one step in front of the other. But refocus, otherwise you will be constantly disappointed that you’re 30, 40, 50 years old before you realise that life is still happening the way it was going to, not the way you anticipated it would when you were 12. Paul was in jail, certainly not where he expected to live his life, but his heart was always in the bigger picture and it didn’t stop him from doing all he wanted to do; he just had to adjust to doing what he wanted from where he actually stood.
So, happiness is not a destination. It can’t be. You know why? Because whether we care to admit it or not, we’ve all got something going on that ‘spoils’ our ideal happiness. Whether or not we think life is going wonderfully, or if we think life couldn’t get much worse, there’s always something not yet achieved or received; something we are waiting or hoping for, dreaming of, saving for, desiring. Something will always be in our way, not quite ready, building, blocking, making us wait and stand stagnant, or taking us to the next unexpected turn. There is always more to be done, a broader scope of the world to see, friends to catch up with, more books to read, insatiable knowledge to be taken in. You won’t be able to do it all, and once you know that, by all means run full steam ahead to give it a go! Give it a burl, and enjoy it. If happiness is a destination, you will never be fulfilled, but if it’s a journey that you continually adjust with, you will always enjoy the ride. Get off the expected road and get onto the expectant road.
Plus, this journey has doughnuts. Amiright?!