What determines whether we are happy?
A very timely email from a very good dragon friend inspired me to write this. Thank you dragon friend.
People who know me probably realise by now that I can be quite emo and isn’t exactly the most happy go lucky person around. So it might come as a bit of a surprise that I’m writing about happiness. But after reading the email and embedded post, I couldn’t resist not sharing it. I will post bits of the post here, but you should really be reading the entire excerpt from the link below.
I think most of us face this, that more often than not, the things that makes us happy are largely dependent on what others think about us. Whether our parents recognise our achievements, whether we are well liked amongst our friends, or the number of likes we receive on Facebook/Instagram with the evolution of social media. It is a good feeling to feel noticed, and even for the introverted, there is usually still some desire for social validation from the people that matter to you. The problem with this is that we sometimes get confused between what we want and what others want.
“Everyone goes through this, and at some point, you’re supposed to distinguish between your wants and others’ wants. But if you continue to grow up this way, a very interesting situation arises. I want to do a certain something, but whether I want to do it because I want to, or because my mother wants me to, or my teacher keeps praising me to, my friends expect me to, becomes confusing. I’m definitely putting a lot of effort into doing this something, but is it because I want to, or is it because everyone except me expects me to reach that point, and in fact I am just doing it to satisfy their wants?”
This really got me wondering whether were the things I have done up to this point in my life driven by what made me happy? Or were they motivated by the need to satisfy the ideals of society and my loved ones?
I don’t think there is anything wrong with social validation, and it is simply the way our minds work. We enter the World in a blank slate, and interactions with people naturally shapes our self concepts based on the perception of others (theory of the looking-glass self?). But if we let this confuse and consume us, it gets harder to know what truly makes us happy. I see my parents who after slogging years of their life away question what makes them happy now that they are approaching retirement.
“You must become the owner of you own wants. You must come face to face with yourself and ask, what is it that I really want? Regardless of parents, school, relatives, friends or society, what is it that excites me, and makes me happy? This is what you have to ask yourself.”
And so I began thinking about the things that truly made me happy. A pattern soon emerged and I realised that I’m happiest when I can share or experience new things. Whether it’s sharing about past experiences, knowledge or thoughts on a particular matter, the freedom to share and inspire invigorates me. I also have this obsession with collecting new experiences. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t allowed to do many things as a kid, but for as long as I can remember, trying new things excite me a lot. Perhaps that is why I enjoy traveling so much, because the likelihood of encountering new experiences are very high. What’s next then? To put it into action of course.
“People often say this – I want to do this now but instead, I will work hard to save something, get something ready, or maybe procrastinate it, and will become happy in future. They speak as if happiness can be deposited somewhere, and you can withdraw it anytime to spend it. There is no such thing. The happiness at that point in life disappears at that point, forever. There is no way to go back in time to that age and find your lost happiness. You must become happy right now.”
I don’t think it makes sense to drop whatever we are doing immediately just to pursue our lofty dreams, but we got to start now. We don’t have to abandon all our responsibilities and commitments, but we have to start now. The late Steve Jobs also shared this in his famous Stanford commencement speech:
“… for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
So what are we waiting for? Time to start working towards happiness before we lose more of our lives to the system.
Original post from: “When am I a happy person?” (나는 언제 행복한 사람인지?).