Saturday, July 11, 2015

Happy and you know it

Do we learn anything from being happy? The pursuit of happiness I would say is where the lessons are learned, where life is the most real and meanings most deeply understood. But actually being happy, although blissful—is easy. It doesn’t require the hardships and struggles or the insight that it takes to get there. I am not anti-happiness, rather pro-happy-awareness.

As an avid film watcher (and studying avoider) the best films—both documentaries and dramas alike-- are where the conflicts and struggles are the most acute. It is these plot lines that make things interesting, where I see the most growth of the characters and where we learn and imagine how to handle similar situations in our own lives.

In an episode of Modern Family, the oldest daughter has to write her college admissions essay. Having lived a comfortable middle class life (and being a sitcom character) she laments that she cannot write it as she has never experienced struggle or hardship. So her mom leaves her at the side of the road 10 miles from home and let’s her find her way back—just so she has something to write about. While fitting with the humor and fluff consistent of a television show, the episode brings up an important point. If we find ourselves in harmonious sitcom bliss—should we go searching for struggle?

Happiness is not motivational. In fact studies have shown that having it too easy in life is actually harmful. Teens who are very popular in high school don’t tend to do as well in adult life as their less popular counterparts. Children of very wealthy parents also don’t tend to achieve as much of their own success in life. Is this because they’ve had too much of a good thing?

When you imagine happiness, what do you see? Right now I imagine mojitos on a patio. Oh—and a car with working air conditioning would be okay by me too. But I’m guessing happiness is actually a little more complicated and tenuous than we know. And I’d bet that by pursing it, we find it. Oh the irony.

If you’re like most of us and don’t always find yourself in harmonious union with every aspect of life, what are you going to do about it? Study until your eyes bleed? Work out? Drink a box of wine a night?

We humans have such an incredible drive to continually alter our circumstance. Frustration, sadness, fear, anxiety lead us to action. Sometimes self destructive actions, and sometimes to the opportunity for us to show the world what we are really made of. Which one you choose is up to you.

Use your frustration, your anger, your fear, your sadness to your benefit. That's what those feelings are there for. Stress, worry, anxiety keeps us working, keeps us moving forward like happiness never could.

I don’t wish a life of uphill battles for you. But I do wish that you are never completely satisfied, so that you keep pushing, keep moving forward, keep wanting. I wish you joy—but also sadness, so you may know and cherish the good times better. I wish you success, but also failure, so you can know how truly great your accomplishments are. And I wish you peace of mind, tempered by worry, so you may better know how rare it is that any of us are here at all. Out of all of the things that can go terribly wrong in life, here you are, reading this, you amazing miracle you. 

Think about what you wrote in your personal statement for med school. I bet you wrote honestly about your life. And I bet the most interesting parts were when things weren’t all sunshine and lollipops. Hardships make us. How boring would it be if we were always happy? We would have so little to talk about. No substance. No way of relating to people. No drive to work hard to achieve the important things, or to strive to improve our communities or ourselves.

Happiness is nice. But it must be earned to be truly appreciated. From the worry lines across your forehead, to the scars no one can see, to the heaviness in your heart, embrace your struggle, your conflict. Let it motivate you as much as it scares you. And when you feel joy, embrace it too, for it was hard fought.


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