It is human nature to organize, categorize and methodize the way things work. We systematically search for patterns, groupings and classifications everywhere, trying to make sense of the complicated system we live in, which tends to make even less sense the more we discover. Along this constant pursuit, sometimes unbeknownst to us, we turn those curious, probing tendencies inward and channel them into our search for happiness. We examine life like a map, looking for the correct path to guide us to greener pastures. You need to go to university, get a quality education and find a suitable job. Find your perfect mate and settle down. Buy designer clothes and whiten your teeth. Follow these effectual directions to arrive at the illustrious destination of Happiness.
Yet, after all that careful analysis and observation, our attempts to pigeonhole the guidelines for a happy life turn out to be fruitless. The married woman misses her single life, the girl with a college education and a well-paying job wants more, and the man wearing Calvin Klein jeans and a Diesel watch is still unhappy.
At the end of the day, happiness is not the product of any carefully calculated equation. There is no age-old riddle that, once solved, will miraculously reveal the elusive key to happiness. After all of our tenacious investigating and hypothesizing, it turns out that the secret to happiness is that there is no secret to happiness.
But our inquisitive natures won’t accept a conundrum as the solution to such a significant mystery. We seek understanding, not further confusion. So how is it possible that there lies no secret to happiness, yet a considerable number of us are not happy? This is because happiness is not an object. It cannot be held in your hand or kept trapped in a jar on your counter. Yet for some reason, we regard it as though it is the guaranteed prize resulting from definitive meticulous efforts. As though it is a plant and if we cultivate it and nurture it to life, we will be rewarded with the most plump and juicy fruit, to be plucked and enjoyed at our leisure.
With this rigid, narrow minded thought process that happiness is concrete and definable, we prevent ourselves from ever being able to really experience it. In order to allow happiness in, we must step away from the notion that it is something we can capture and hold hostage, and embrace the idea that happiness is but a feeling, often fleeting, that requires nothing more from us than our willingness to accept it. To accept the fact that we are not all meant to be star university pupils or happy homemakers and maybe the safety and security of a nine to five job doesn’t always bring with it happiness. Happiness can be found in the aftermath of a successful job interview or in the sink when you are brushing your teeth every morning. It can be snuggled into a hug from a loved one or perched on the windowsill where you water your flowers each day. Happiness lies hidden in plain sight, yet it eludes us when we search for it. It sits dormant and unassuming in our subconscious, waiting for the perfect moment to present itself when, one day, you decide that you don’t want to schedule appointments all day and print documents for your overly neurotic boss. You want to go back to school. You want to train for a marathon and write that childrens’ book you’ve always dreamed of. And you let yourself.
Allow yourself to bask in the happiness that accompanies that blizzard from Dairy Queen on a hot summer afternoon, or the feeling you get when you are belting out your favorite song off-key in the shower. Revel in the contentment you find waiting patiently in the running shoes you’ve been neglecting for a month, or the chocolate chip cookie recipe you haven’t baked since you were a kid. Take a break from your sensibly mapped out path and cleverly devised plans and, for once, allow happiness to find you.
Illustration courtesy of The Wanderer Online illustrator Petchphilin Ismael